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Protester interrupts congressman's speech at drone conference

February 08, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
  • An Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drone is prepared for takeoff. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) advocates replacing Cold War-era U2 spy planes with the unmanned drones.
An Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drone is prepared for takeoff. Rep. Howard… (Northrop Grumman Corp. )

Reporting from Washington — At a conference about the development of aerial drones for use in combat, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), was interrupted Wednesday by an anti-drone protester as he was giving a speech.

Standing onstage in front of a crowd of more than 500 people, McKeon was talking at the Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual program review conference at the Omni Shoreham hotel.  

McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was discussing how efforts to curtail the defense budget would hurt national security and the U.S. military when he was interrupted by a female protester.

“These drones are playing god,” she said, carrying a banner that read “Stop Killer Drones.”

The crowd, made up of defense contractors, military personnel and industry insiders, was surprised and hushed at first, but began booing when the protester continued to denounce the use of drones in combat.

Within seconds, hotel security personnel surrounded the woman. She was carried out chanting, “Stop killer drones.”

McKeon, who stood silent through the entire affair, went on with his speech, undeterred.

In his 15-minute address, McKeon lamented the Pentgon’s recent plan to continue flying the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made U-2 spy plane instead of replacing it with the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, made by Northrop Grumman Corp.

“How 50-year-old technology beats modern-day, unmanned technology needs to be explained to me,” he said of the Cold War-era U-2. Both aircraft affect his aerospace industry-rich district, as Global Hawks are built in Palmdale and U-2s are regularly refurbished there.

McKeon said current plans to cut nearly $500 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years weren’t wise. He said defense budget cuts after World War I, World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars had lasting consequences.

“I guess it’s in our DNA that we don’t want to be ready for the next [war],” McKeon said. He told the crowd to continue innovating and developing unmanned technology. “It’s never been more important .… Keep it up.”

The Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference, which covers robots on land, on sea and in the air, began Tuesday and will run until Thursday.

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