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Switching UAS Gears

By Patrick C. Miller | November 13, 2014

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with representatives with two big names in the defense industry—SRC Inc. and Textron Systems—about their plans to commercialize UAS technologies developed for the military.

Each has the same goal: Leveraging its military experience and expertise in the civilian commercial UAS market. But each company is also going about it in a different manner.

SRC recently spun off a subsidiary called Gryphon Sensors LLC headed by President Anthony Albanese. The new company will focus on developing a ground-based radar system that could enable the FAA to track very small, low-flying UAVs—and tell the difference between them and birds.

Albanese explained that SRC created a separate entity not only to develop a new technology, but also to get away from the costs and delays of process-heavy military development.

“You have to be very price sensitive and you have to be quick and nimble,” he told me. “Sometimes government contracting doesn’t train you that way. It’s extremely difficult to sell commercial items from within a government business framework. So we felt that it was appropriate to separate the two and take a different approach.”

Another challenge for Gryphon Sensors will be developing a ground-based UAS tracking system that’s much different from SRC’s military version. Understandably, the military has concerns about the technology it uses being made available to potential adversaries. So what Gryphon sells in the commercial world has to be different from what SRC sells in the military world.

The Unmanned Systems branch of Textron Systems is already using the company’s Aerosonde UAV—originally developed for military purposes—for civilian applications. As David Phillips, Textron’s vice president for small- and medium-endurance UAS, explained, the company has always planned to commercialize its UAS technology in conjunction with the FAA integrating UAVs into the national airspace.

Rather than waiting for restrictions on UAS commercial activity to be lifted, Textron is already flying the Aerosonde overseas for such non-military missions as surveying, environmental studies, monitoring illegal fishing and a variety of tasks for the oil and gas industry. It also plans to start flying in Virginia under an FAA-issued certificate of authorization.

One way or another, depending on the technology and the company, UAVs and UAS developed for the military aren’t going to stay in the military. Just as other military innovations have found their way to the civilian world, so too will UAS technology.