Military has key role in Arizona’s commercial UAS development

By Patrick C. Miller | November 08, 2016

The role of the military in helping Arizona develop its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry was the opening topic of the first-ever Arizona UAS Summit & Expo being held Monday through Wednesday near Scottsdale.

A three-member panel featured Joseph Cuffari, policy adviser with the Office of the Arizona Governor; Ron Sites, president and executive director of the Fighter Country Partnership; and Mignonne Hollis, executive director of the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation (AREDF). They detailed community efforts to support the military facilities that create thousands of jobs and contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

Taking place at the We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center as a collaboration between UAS Magazine and AREDF, the panelists agreed that the UAS Summit represents an important achievement in the advancement of Arizona’s UAS industry.

Although the state has been working with the Arizona Aerospace Association on commercial UAS development, Cuffari said, “This actually is the first open dialogue that we’ve had to my knowledge. I’ve been in this position for three years and this is the first time there’s been a conference like this.”

One of many military facilities panelists discussed is Fort Huachuca, home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) and the 9th Army Signal Command. It’s also the headquarters of Army Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) and the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) and the Electronic Proving Ground (EPG).

Located in southeast Arizona near Sierra Vista—about 15 miles north of the Mexican border—Fort Huachuca not only has wide-open airspace, but it’s also perhaps the only airspace in the U.S. where manned fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters operate with UAS.

Fort Huachuca has been involved in testing NASA’s UAS traffic management system. Libby Army Airfield is located on the post and shares the runway with Sierra Vista Municipal Airport.

Sites noted that Arizona has been proactive in identifying potential problems between the military and the commercial UAS industry.

“They’ve done a lot of work on the front end to make sure that as this industry comes into the state of Arizona, those showstoppers are pre-identified so nobody’s going to be wasting any time,” he said.

In addition to using UAS for fighting wildfires, Cuffari pointed out that some local Arizona law enforcement agencies and the Arizona Department of Public Safety have employed drones or are considering their use.

The panelists joined Hollis in thanking U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his work “in pulling the military installations together and making sure that every community has a support group.”

She added that conversations about the development of Arizona’s UAS industry are have started and are ongoing. “You can see from the presence of employees of the state of Arizona who are here today that they’re really active and engaged,” she said. 


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