Daily Parse | As northern Norway embraces drones for their civilian potential, military units training in the region are swatting them away
Drones still have a long way to go before they become a common sight in the skies above northern Norway. This is not for a lack of effort.
One of the bigger pushes came in 2015, when Tromsø became the home of AUSF, a centre for drone education, training, research and operational services. The outfit is a partnership between Norut, a research institutute; UiT/the University of Tromsø; and Lufttransport, an air ambulance operator.
In 2016, seeking to make sure there was a steady supply of qualified workers to feed the local industry, UiT added a bachelor’s programme in drone technology to its offerings.
In the latest development: Norut, this week, used the attention surrounding a second drone conference in two years held in Bodø, also in northern Norway, to announce it was adding new staff to a drone division established there in April.
The office, the company says, will do things like co-ordinate drone operations, test equipment and develop best practices, including their ethical use.
“We want those who think it is fun to fly drones and those use them to carry out important tasks to have good guidelines,” wrote Geir Wiik, the head of Norut’s Bodø office, in an article about the need to establish healthy drone-use manners if the industry is truly to take hold.
“In the drone world, we see a lot of young people who think this is fascinating. But at the same time there are probably a lot of slightly older people who are worried,” Mr Wiik wrote.
As of last week, it the military, of all organisations, that may have a foot in this camp. Like other militaries, Norway’s armed forces are no stranger to deploying unmanned flying vehicles. But after unidentified drones were spotted last week in the skies near one of its most important military exercises, army commanders are now busy trying to determine whether the airspace violations are more a safety or a security concern.
The twice-annual ‘Rein’ manoeuvres test how well the Army’s Brigade Nord, which is its largest and its most important battle unit, can manoeuvre in winter conditions. Lately, though, the exercises, taking place in Troms County, of which Tromsø is a part, have also given unknown drone pilots the chance to test their flying skills.
During its ‘Rein 1’ exercise, which ran from February 6-10, army observers recorded a dozen or so drones flying nearby. This, according to an Army spokesman, was slightly fewer than the number recorded during last year’s ‘Rein 2’, held in November, but both have posed concern enough that PST, the national investigation bureau, was asked to investigate.
Regardless of who is flying them, the drones, the military says, are a safety threat: the army uses manned and unmanned craft during the exercises, and an in-air collision could cause injury to other pilots or soliders on the ground.
However, Lt Colonel Ole Johan Skogmo, in connection with the discovery of the drones flying over the Rein 2 exercises, suggested the drones might also turn out to be a security threat. One clue this might be the case was the fact they had been flying patterns typical of intelligence-gathering runs.
“We’re not ruling out the possibility that it is curious local residents who aren’t being careful. But, it could also be other groups that are interested in collecting intelligence on how we operate or train,” he said.
The military had warned ahead of the Rein 1 this week that unidentified drones risked being “taken down”. No such measures were taken, but, next time, the military says it will likely take a less passive approach to aerial intruders.
Even though drones’ day is approaching fast, Norway’s military seems to be hoping widespread civilian use always remains a day away.
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