Drone Almost Shot Down by Fighter Jets Near D.C.

U.S. military considered it after drone veered into restricted airspace

Friday, Sep 10, 2010  |  Updated 8:45 AM EDT
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Drone Almost Shot Down by Fighter Jets Near D.C.

AP

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The U.S. military thought it had a national security situation on its hands.  What it really had was an errant Navy drone.

According to a senior military official, the military almost launched fighter jets and discussed a possible shoot-down when a Navy drone briefly veered into restricted airspace near the nation’s capital last month.

Navy Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., head of Northern Command, said the August mishap could hamper the Pentagon's push to have the FAA ease procedures for drone use by the military in domestic skies.

“It certainly doesn't help our case any time there's a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that wanders around a little bit outside of its controlled airspace,” said Winnefeld.  “We realize the responsibility on our part to include the technical capability and proper procedures.  We'd just like to be able to get at it quicker.''

Currently drones are used for patrols and surveillance along the nation's southern border, and sometimes at the northern border.  But the military wants to use them more during hurricanes and other disasters to evaluate damage or target rescue efforts.

FAA officials say there is a greater danger of collisions with such smaller aircraft in the U.S., particularly when drones are flying at lower altitudes.

Winnefeld said he agrees with the need for airspace safety, but maintains there is great demand for the drones and the military should be able to get them into the air more quickly when needed.

“We can't move quickly enough for me to solve this problem,” Winnefeld said.  “We need to push forward into getting the technology and the permission and the comfort level up to where we can do this as a matter of routine.  This is where the future is going.”

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