WASHINGTON: The military can’t buy enough unmanned aerial systems to suit imagery-hungry combat commanders. Procurement programs are harder than ever to start in these days of ever-tightening defense budgets. And using a 20th Century defense acquisition system to buy 21st Century technologies often means getting too little too late too expensively anyway. What to do?

Don’t buy planes, buy pixels — as the U.S. military is doing from companies offering a service best described as “rent-a-drone.” It may be too soon to call rent-a-drone contracts a trend, but they’re a solution both the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) have turned to in recent weeks to get intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability in a hurry. Those involved say it’s a new business model that’s generating considerable interest in the unmanned aircraft industry. Keep reading →