U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon welcomed defense contractors to the Rayburn House Office Building’s foyer Wednesday for the second annual Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus Technology Fair.
The fair gives contractors an opportunity to display their latest unmanned military and security vehicles – i.e., drones – to influential members of Congress who make defense funding decisions – and in turn, provides opportunities for congressional representatives to see what they’re buying and stay on the cutting edge.
McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, co-chairs the caucus with Texas Republican Henry Cuellar.
“We now have over 50 members in the caucus,” said McKeon, R-Santa Clarita. “What that means is, we can reach out to more members (of Congress) for more education (and) let more members know what’s happening.”
An unmanned Global Hawk aircraft by Northrop-Grumman at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center.
McKeon said the unmanned systems industry grew dramatically in the past 10 years. At the beginning of the Iraq war, he noted, the military had just a small, hand-launched airborne vehicle. Today it has a vast array of unmanned vehicles at its disposal to aid the security efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In fact, the expansion of the drone business prompted a name change. Initially the congressional group was called the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Caucus; today it’s the Unmanned Systems Caucus in recognition of new land-based robots and unmanned submarines.
“We’re in the air, we’re on the ground and we’re under the water,” McKeon said.
Some vehicles fit easily on a desktop. Some barely fit in an airplane hangar.
And it’s not just military hardware.
Several manufacturers at the fair hailed from McKeon’s own 25th Congressional District in California including Northrop-Grumman, whose RQ-4 Global Hawk is used by NASA for spotting fires and studying hurricanes.
Cuellar noted that Homeland Security uses unmanned vehicles for surveillance at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well. Cuellar chairs the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism.
An unmanned Global Hawk aircraft by Northrop-Grumman at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.