The Big Business Of Drones, Who Is Profiting?
Above Photo: dreamsaredestiny/Flickr
This summer flew by. While many of us were baking in the heat, the U.S. war industry was raking in the money, selling unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. “drones”). All told, summer sales of drones and related technology topped $3,509,000,000. Such waste is a national tragedy.
Boeing’s main drone division is known as Insitu. It manufactures and assembles its products in Washington and Oregon along the Columbia River. Two of its bestsellers are the Blackjack and the ScanEagle.
Boeing sold Blackjack parts worth roughly $9 million to the U.S. Marine Corps in July and again in August, capping off the summer by selling Blackjack drones and equipment worth $53.9 million to Poland.
Poland wasn’t the only country that Boeing successfully courted this summer. At the end of June, Boeing sold Lebanon ScanEagle drones worth $8.2 million. This deal included helping set up the equipment and training the Lebanese military on how to operate it. Lebanon is a long-term Boeing customer. In September 2015, for example, Boeing sold ScanEagle drones to Lebanon, delivered to a base in Hamat.
Endless war brings endless opportunity to create and market new weaponry. Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray is a good example of this. On 30 August, Boeing sealed a deal (worth a cool $805 million) to provide the Pentagon with four MQ-25A vehicles, which are capable of flying from aircraft carriers.
Like any proficient war corporation, Boeing spreads production across congressional districts. The MQ-25 Stingray is worked on in St. Louis, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Cedar Rapids, IA; Palm Bay, FL; San Diego, CA; and many overseas locations. Take caution. The claim that the “defense” industry brings “jobs, jobs, jobs” is a stale public relations ploy. It hides the truth: spending on healthcare, education, or clean energy creates more jobs than spending on war.
Sometimes allied governments get weapons for free. In the middle of the summer, Boeing sold the Pentagon over $10.8 million worth of ScanEagle systems and spares, which the Pentagon is giving to Afghanistan’s military. The Pentagon paid for this with “building partner capacity funds,” not through foreign military sales (FMS). Building partner capacity funds come directly from the U.S. taxpayer. The war in Afghanistan is now entering its seventeenth year—seventeen years of corporate profit.
Owned and Operated
One of Boeing’s bigger payoffs of the summer came in early August when the war corporation sold up to $232 million worth of drone services to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in a continuation of an earlier deal. Under the terms of the deal, Boeing contractors—what one might call “mercenaries”—support USSOCOM operations, using Boeing’s proprietary drone infrastructure. This is a stellar example of how war corporations now run the wars.
Not to be outdone, Textron is offering its drones to protect the Pentagon’s footprint in Afghanistan. In early August, Textron’s AAI division sold over$12 million worth of “force protection efforts” at Bagram and Kandahar airfields. Under the deal, Textron provides and operates various drones to protect the aforementioned bases.
Boeing, General Atomics, and Textron make millions selling and operating drones in war zones overseas, further increasing the corporate takeover of what was once an inherently governmental job: waging war.
The General Atomics MQ-9 “Reaper” is the Pentagon’s workhorse. When there’s a drone strike, the MQ-9 is most likely the culprit. In recent years, General Atomics has sold the MQ-9 to Spain, the U.K., Italy, and France. It’s a cash cow.
General Atomics produces many pricey gizmos for its drone fleet. On 14 June, General Atomics sold the Pentagon nearly $23 million worth of engineering on MQ-9 radars. On 20 August, General Atomics sold $133.9 million worth of new sensors on the MQ-9. On 22 August, General Atomics sold over $11 million worth of engineering services on the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drone. (The MQ-1C is an upgrade of the Pentagon’s former favorite, the MQ-1 Predator, which was retired in recent months.)
CAE USA Inc. creates the training curriculum for MQ-9 drone pilots and sensor operators. At the end of the summer, CAE USA sold the Pentagon four months of air crew training and course work development for General Atomics’ drones. CAE USA delivers the curriculum to major drone hubs within the United States: Creech Air Force Base (AFB), NV; Hancock Air National Guard Base, NY; Holloman AFB, NM; and March Air Reserve Base, CA.
“The Hive” is what I’ve nicknamed a cluster of towns in northeast Texas where the U.S. war industry produces some of its most profitable and destructive goods, including the infamous F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The towns comprising The Hive are Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, Grand Prairie, Greenville, McKinney, and Richardson.
Raytheon produces many of its aircraft sensors in McKinney, including electro-optical, infrared (EO/IR) devices that are bolted onto the underside of drones. These devices cost an arm and a leg, bringing Raytheon a lot of money.
In McKinney, Raytheon makes the targeting system used on the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C “Triton” drone. At the end of the summer, Raytheon received millions to get this multi-spectral targeting system up and running on some of the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C drones.
Raytheon makes the targeting system for the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper as well. In July, Raytheon received over $10 million to upgrade this targeting system in McKinney. On 31 August, Raytheon received over $281 million for targeting system (MTS-B) turrets, upgrades, and spares.
Money flowed swiftly to Raytheon this summer. In June, Raytheon received$29.6 million to develop a Low Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) prototype. The next day, Raytheon received $45.8 million for work on the Common Sensor Payload (CSP) system, which is used on General Atomics drones. It is worth noting that the current Raytheon CEO used to be the executive supervising development of such technology.
The Pentagon is throwing money at the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, a new drone designed to complement Boeing’s P-8A maritime surveillance aircraft.
At the beginning of June, Northrop Grumman received $61.7 million to “provide operator, maintenance, logistic support and sustainment engineering” in support of MQ-4C drones “to ensure the aircraft are mission-capable.” In straightforward terms, Northrop Grumman got paid to keep doing what it’s doing, keeping a costly weapon of war up and running.
War corporations are greedy, just like other corporations. In mid-July, Northrop Grumman received over $41 million for MQ-4C drones, field service representatives, and work on training devices. Five days later, Northrop Grumman received $19.3 million for MQ-4C software updates. Selling software updates on a brand-new weapon of war is a blatant rip-off. No consumer would ever pay for mandatory software upgrades on their 2018 automobile immediately after driving it off the lot, yet this sort of abusive deceit is commonplace in the war machine. Such treachery highlights the real relationship between the U.S. war industry and its primary customer, the Pentagon. War corporations are running the show.
Many leeches are attracted to the funding associated with endless war. The day before U.S. Independence Day, the British corporation Rolls-Royce sold the Pentagon $420 million worth of maintenance and repair on the MQ-4C’s engines. At the end of July, Northrop Grumman received $7.5 million to incorporate “interoperability” in support of the RQ-5 Hunter drone, which was originally an Israeli product, tested in the skies over Palestine.
Millions Up For Grabs
There are many more players in the drone racket. Millions are to be made from selling surveillance drones and associated technology to the Pentagon and allied governments around the world.
SSC Pacific is an integral military node through which the U.S. war industry profits. SSC Pacific uses cyber, drones, and information technology to help the U.S. Navy dominate the Pacific Ocean. Towards the end of August, four corporations sold engineering services to SSC Pacific. Their work focuses on providing “emerging positioning, navigation and timing technologies for C4ISR applications,” basically helping to develop reconnaissance technology and the related command and control equipment.
AeroVironment Inc. sells small drones to the Pentagon and allied nations. At the end of June, AeroVironment sold hardware for its Switchblade drone. A month later, AeroVironment sold communications devices to Norway for use on drones like the RQ-12A WASP. Just like all U.S. war corporations, AeroVironment sells to governments with dismal or questionable human rights records. Previous customers of AeroVironment include Egypt and Ukraine.
War corporations like CACI and L3 sell goods and services that comprise the information technology backbone of the U.S. Armed Forces. At the beginning of June, CACI (Six3) received $48.6 million to help the U.S. Navy deploy “counter-UAS” technology. Counter-UAS equipment tries to stop drones (“unmanned aerial systems”) from approaching U.S. government facilities, usually by jamming the incoming vehicle.
On the last day of July, Leonardo DRS, an Italian war corporation, sold the Pentagon its expertise to engineer and test counter-UAS technology. At the end of August, L3 sold sensors, which will likely be used on Textron’s RQ-7Shadow drone. The sensors (“Electro-Optic/Infrared/Laser Designator Payload”) sold for $454 million.
Academic institutions like Johns Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the Pentagon’s favorite bastions of scientific and mathematical knowledge. But endless war corrupts all corners of academia. In mid-August, George Mason University received over $60 million to help the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) improve the hardware and software that connect and synchronize small drones.
Unmanned vehicles are not limited to the skies above. Increasingly, the U.S. war industry lobbies for dominating the depths of the oceans with unmanned vehicles. In mid-June, Metron Inc. sold its expertise ($8 million) to work on advanced modular payloads for unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV). Later in the summer, several war corporations and academic institutions, including Draper Lab, L3, SAIC, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, sold over $561 million worth of UUV research and development.
While the Pentagon spends billions of tax dollars on drones, students struggle with mounting debt, children go hungry, and the nation suffers from stagnant wages and a lack of universal healthcare. Boeing, General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and other war corporations do not care. They are busy developing, marketing, and selling weapons of war to the Pentagon and allies worldwide. These same corporations fund think tanks, bribe U.S. Congress with campaign contributions, and lobby Capitol Hill daily in order to sustain endless war. Drone sales over the summer months—totaling over $3.5 billion—show how profitable this racket really is.