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Anti-drone protester disrupts conference on drones in combat

The protester interrupts a speech by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard 'Buck' McKeon during the Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's annual conference.

February 09, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — At a conference about the development of 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 military budget would hurt national security and the U.S. military when the protester interrupted him.

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

The crowd, made up of military 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 interruption, went on with his speech, undeterred.

In his 15-minute address, McKeon lamented the Pentagon'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; Global Hawks are built in Palmdale and U-2s are regularly refurbished there.

McKeon said plans to cut nearly $500 billion from the military budget over the next 10 years were unwise. He said military 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 drone conference, focusing on robots on land, on sea and in the air, began Tuesday and will run until Thursday.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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