Atterbury aims to be drone test site
EDINBURGH — An Indiana military installation that has prepared thousands of soldiers for battle during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hopes to be a critical asset as Indiana and Ohio bid to become one of six sites for drone testing.
Camp Atterbury has invested about $1 million in a new runway and storage and maintenance building for drones, and leaders believe a successful bid would pay off for the local economy over the next four years.
“It’s a fairly big deal,” Lt. Col. Matt Sweeney, who manages Camp Atterbury’s airspace, told the Daily Journal.
The military has used drones in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade to gather intelligence and attack enemies with missile strikes. The unmanned aerial devices have been criticized for being used to kill individual terrorists, and some say they pose a threat to privacy.
But they are expected to be used more commonly outside the military in coming years, with uses ranging from farmers who want to dust crops and check the health of soil to utility companies and engineers inspecting power lines or bridges for damage.
Having Atterbury serve as a testing site could attract drone developers or manufacturers to the area; experts say a site could create more than 1,000 jobs and result in more than $200 million in economic development in Indiana — most over the next five to seven years.
The Federal Aviation Administration estimates as many as 10,000 commercial drones could take to the skies over the next decade. The FAA must set rules governing how drones share the airspace with planes and helicopters.
Much of that work will take place at the six testing sites.
Thirty-seven states are competing for the slots with the expectation that companies that develop or make drones would want to cluster around the testing sites, bringing jobs and investment, Johnson County Development Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer Cheryl Morphew said.
“The hope going forward is that these companies, whether relocating or starting up for the first time, will want to be right outside the wire, as they say in the military,” Morphew said. “We have an opportunity and the skilled workforce needed to support that growth from a regional standpoint.”
Camp Atterbury officials note the installation already conducts drone training. An Indiana National Guard unit flew Shadow surveillance drones over the post’s terrain as part of a training mission earlier this month.
The post has restricted airspace, which allows drones to fly freely, and has been upgrading its infrastructure, including the new runway, Maj. Lisa Kopczynski said.
The FAA is expected to announce the six testing sites by the end of the year, Sweeney said.