DENVER, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- U.S. Army officials expect increased flights of unmanned aerial vehicles over Iraq despite Washington's decision to withdraw American combat troops, Defense News reported.
Citing Gregory Gonzalez, the project manager for unmanned aircraft systems in the Program Executive Office for Aviation, Defense News reported that while "all combat units have pulled out of Iraq … [there] have not [been] any reduction in the number of unmanned aircraft flight hours."
Gonzalez told delegates of a conference organized by the association for unmanned vehicles in Denver that an increase in flight hours was expected in the next year.
"It's not going to slow down any time soon," he said.
Indeed, of all the technological innovations involved in the war in Iraq and the running conflict in Afghanistan, security industry experts note the widespread adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles conducting a wide range of operations, stemming from reconnaissance to bombing runs.
"The drones were around before the two wars but they've truly proved their use in the post 9/11 security environment," a Portfolio blog post said. "That has meant a great deal to the businesses that have brought the technology together and made it a key tool in America's arsenal."
By some accounts, contracts have ranged between $69 million -- a fee awarded recently to Boeing to build drones in its St. Louis operation plant -- to $250 million. The latter concerns a deal clinched between the U.S. Defense Department and L-3 Communications Geneva Aerospace, to provide unmanned vehicles for U.S. Special Operations.
It is expected that the U.S. Army will have a better assessment of the use of drones in Iraq by October.
"What we're seeing is a significant increase in the use of communications relay and communications extension," U.S. Army Col. Robert Sova, an unmanned aircraft systems capability manager told the Denver conference. "The need to cover a geographical area is still the same, but now we have less troops."
That spells higher surveillance needs.
The military's insatiable appetite for drones has seen the profits of some defense companies soar. Among them: Textron Systems, which produces products ranging from guided missiles and drones to armored military transporters.
Senior analysts expect the market for unmanned aircraft will grow to nearly $40 billion.
"That breaks down to about $17 billion spent on research and development, with another $20 billion on putting the craft into production," said Larry Dickerson, a senior analyst at Forecast International, a research firm specializing in aerospace and defense.