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US selling combat drones to undisclosed countries

Published time: May 07, 2012 20:45
Edited time: May 08, 2012 00:45
A man walks past a US Air Force Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle hanger during a preview day of the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition at a military air base in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on October 17, 2011. (AFP Photo / JungYeon-Je)

A man walks past a US Air Force Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle hanger during a preview day of the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition at a military air base in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on October 17, 2011. (AFP Photo / JungYeon-Je)

The unmanned aerial vehicle industry is expected to bring in billions for domestic drone makers over the next few years. Where are the robotic aircraft manufacturers sending their stealth spy plans though? They aren’t saying.

The American Independent reports that Texas’ Vanguard Defense Industries, a US Defense Department contractor that outfits the Pentagon with unmanned aerial drones, has inked agreements with several overseas governments. According to the Independent, Vanguard is expected to see most of their profits in the next year occur from selling airships to foreign nations. Just exactly who is on the receiving end — and to the tune of how many crafts — remains a mystery.

“I thought it was going to be a brutal process,” Vanguard CEO Michael Buscher explains to The Independent in discussing how his company went about gaining US State Department approval. He says that he imagined the procedure to outfit foreign nations with the controversial aircraft would be difficult, but was surprised to see how easy it was to have Uncle Sam authorize his company to deal the drones overseas.

“It was well orchestrated and extremely thorough. But when you follow their guidelines and provide copious details, the process is not as burdensome as I would have thought,” says Buscher.

Not only does an easy process mean easy income for Buscher and Vanguard — it also means that the foreign entities seeking spy planes and other drone crafts can come into possession of them much easier.

“It is just the beginning of it,” activist and author Medea Benjamin tells the Independent, adding that the distribution of drones across the world is “horrifying.”

“There is so much power these companies have with government agencies, and this places extremely powerful pressure on the executive and on the Congress. We are at a very dangerous stage because the American people know so little about the use of drones by our government, much less about these sales overseas,” adds Benjamin.

More would be known about those international drone deals, of course, if the defense contractors were obliged to identify their customers. Since they are not, however, Vanguard’s roster of regimes that depend on their drones are unknown, calling some skeptics to question if the US is indirectly assisting in foreign governments that use unmanned crafts to spy on its citizens—or perhaps even more. Although Vanguard manufactures drone planes used in surveillance missions, they have also been linked to producing stealth crafts that are fitted with firearms and high-tech weaponry.

Last year, the Anonymous hacktivist offshoot LulzSec hacked the servers of Vanguard, revealing private correspondence containing businesses deals between the Texas-based DoD contractors and overseas entities.

“Vanguard Defense Industries manufactures unmanned ShadowHawk drones which cost $640,000 and are equipped with grenade launchers and shotguns,” reads a statement that accompanied last year’s LulzSec hack. “ShadowHawks are currently in use by law enforcement, military and private corporations

deploying them in the US, the Horn of Africa, Panama, Columbia, and US-Mexico border patrol operations.”

Lulzsec described the emails as containing “contracts, schematics, non-disclosure agreements, and more” and warned the defense industry that they would need to be on the offensive if they wish to prevent future hacks. Months later, however, Vanguard is still filling international orders and expected to do so for the unforeseeable future.

The Independent quotes Vanguard as expected to accumulate upwards of $40 million during the next year by selling drones domestically — in the end, however, they estimate that the majority of their deal will be done with foreign countries.

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