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U.S. industry touts ‘drone’ promise as public debate flares

U.S. industry touts ‘drone’ promise as public debate flares

Public backlash against deadly overseas drone strikes may undermine promising uses of such technology for anything from disaster response to mail delivery, a top U.S. industry group said as it launched a lobbying effort to “demystify” unmanned planes.

The Aerospace Industries Association wants to prevent misperceptions and regulatory roadblocks from cutting into a market it says could be worth $89 billion over the next decade, according to a report the trade group will release on Thursday.

The report comes as President Barack Obama on Thursday is expected to lay out the rationale for U.S. drone strikes in a major speech on why the strikes are “necessary, legal and just.

“Until public discussion moves beyond misnomers and false assumptions about unmanned system, it will be difficult to advance substantive policy changes that enable growth of this highly beneficial technology,” the AIA report said.

U.S. government sources told Reuters on Monday that the Pentagon would take over some drone operations run by the CIA, a move that could increase congressional oversight of such missions.

Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday said four U.S. citizens were killed in drone strikes in Yemen and elsewhere, news that could stoke further controversy.

Responding to mounting backlash, aerospace spokesman Dan Stohr said lawmakers need to be more aware of how unmanned systems could be used for everything from border patrol to weather forecasting and boosting agricultural production, or even locating stranded hikers, and be able to separate fact from “science fiction.”

“The notion that we’re going to have armed drones in the U.S. national air space is just a total misnomer,” Stohr said.

The AIA report, which kicks off a major industry lobbying effort, had been in the works for a month and was not timed to coincide with Obama’s speech, Stohr added.