Governor Mary Fallin joined officials from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) and the Oklahoma National Guard in announcing that Oklahoma has been chosen as the test site for the DHS Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (RAPS) Program. The program will research and test Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS), focusing on possible applications for first responders, including search and rescue scenarios, response to radiological and chemical incidents and fire response and mapping.
Work is expected to begin this fall at Oklahoma State University's Multispectral Lab (UML) test site near Lawton, Oklahoma. The program will be operated by UML and takes advantage of the restricted airspace around Fort Sill, a U.S. military base also near Lawton. The Oklahoma National Guard will be a key partner with both DHS S&T and the UML as the RAPS program develops.
RAPS is expected to represent a $1.4 million investment in Oklahoma in the first year of operations with potential for significant growth in future years. The program is expected to last at least three years.
Fallin said the announcement represents an exciting development for Oklahoma, and a major success for the Unmanned Aerial Systems Council assembled by her in 2011 and headed by Secretary of Science and Technology Stephen McKeever.
"Aerospace is one of the most important sectors of Oklahoma's economy, supporting over 150,000 jobs around the state and accounting for more than $12.5 billion in industrial output each year," Fallin said. "Within that industry, unmanned aircraft systems represent the fastest growing part of the aerospace sector. For that reason, Oklahoma is committed to becoming the number one place for UAS operations, research, experimentation, design and testing in the country. Today's announcement represents a big step in that direction."
"Not only does UAS research attract investment and jobs to the state of Oklahoma, but it allows us to be part of an exciting new technology that will help our first responders as they work to save lives and keep our citizens safe. My thanks go out to all the parties involved in this exciting new project, especially Dr. McKeever and the other members of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Council."
Dr. John Appleby of DHS S&T, a senior program manager at the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency Science and Technology Directorate and the director of RAPS, said that he was impressed with the potential for UAS development in Oklahoma.
"After visiting more than a dozen sites in various southwestern and western states, I have selected Oklahoma as the venue for the Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety Program, with the intent to begin flying at Fort Sill as soon as possible," said Appleby. "I continue to be impressed by the quality of UAS ideas and approaches in Oklahoma, the high level of experience and subject matter expertise concerning this technology and the breadth of available resources in the state needed for the program."
Adjutant General Myles Deering of the National Guard said UAS technologies have the potential to provide invaluable assistance to guard members in first-responder scenarios.
"Whether it's responding to severe wildfires, floods or other state emergencies, the ability of the National Guard to react quickly to events on the ground is one of the most important factors in preventing loss of life," said Deering. "The use of unmanned aerial systems can help the Guard to gain quick tactical awareness, locate individuals who may be in immediate danger and respond accordingly. It also allows us to do all this at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft and without putting Guardsmen in danger."
McKeever said today's announcement was a precursor to more work in the field of UAS.
"Our hope is that today's announcement is just the beginning," McKeever said. "When it comes to UAS technology, the possibilities are nearly endless. We expect UAS to be the wave of the future in the aerospace industry, and Oklahoma will continue to be on the cutting edge of this exciting new technology."