Tag Archives: Drones

New Policy: Military Bases Can Shoot Down Trespassing Drones

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Shoot Down Drones

A small drone crash-landed at the White House in Washington, D.C. An increase in similar private drones above U.S. military complexes led to the Pentagon issuing guidance on how bases can now defend themselves against the private aircraft. (U.S. Secret Service via AFP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“The Pentagon has signed off on a new policy that will allow military bases to shoot down private or commercial drones that are deemed a threat, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday.

The policy itself is classified and was transmitted to the services in July, Davis said. Broadly, it outlines the rules of engagement for a base when a private or commercial drone is encroaching upon its airspace.

On Friday, unclassified guidance was sent to each of the services on how to communicate the new policy to local communities.

The installations “retain the right of self-defense when it comes to UAVs or drones operating over [them,]” Davis said. “The new guidance does afford of the ability to take action to stop these threats and that includes disabling, destroying and tracking.”

Davis said the private or commercial drones could also be seized.

However, in some instances where the military leases land for operations, the use of a drone may not always be a threat — and who owns the airspace may not always be clear.

The Air Force, for example, maintains its arsenal Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles in 150 underground silos in vast fields around Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. But the land is only leased from commercial and private farmers who use the rest of the area for crops or livestock. Those farmers sometimes find it easier to launch a drone to check on their cows or agriculture than to cover the miles by foot or truck.

As of last fall, the sky above the silos at Minot AFB was also not previously restricted airspace.

It was not immediately clear whether the new policy has changed access to the airspace above the silos or at other bases.

The policy would affect 133 military installations, DOD said.

Davis said the policy was worked through the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal agencies, and the specific actions a base takes when a drone encroaches upon it “will depend upon the specific circumstances,” Davis said.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/breaking-news/2017/08/07/dod-can-now-shoot-down-trespassing-uavs/

 

 

 

Confronting America’s Misguided Drone Program

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Misguided Drone Program

Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

“THE NATIONAL INTEREST” By

“American citizens deserve to be protected and defended by our government, and that must never change.

But when the instrument that government and military leaders use to accomplish that goal instead causes serious emotional damage to the citizens operating the equipment, kills and alienates those we wish to protect overseas, and perversely creates more enemy fighters than it ever removes from the battlefield, dramatic changes are required.”


“The use of armed drone warfare by the United States has proliferated since 9/11. Advocates of the program say it is essential to American national security. These claims are far from convincing—more on that below. What gets very little examination one way or the other, however, is the effect these operations have on the U.S. personnel that serve within the drone-warfare system, and virtually none on the so-called “collateral damage” inflicted on innocents by errant or mistaken strikes.

That begins to change on Monday night, with the airing on PBS of National Bird, winner of the 2017 Ridenhour Documentary Film Award, a film that beautifully—and hauntingly—illuminates both.

Longtime investigative journalist and filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck was doing research on the drone program in 2013. “I had seen lots of commentary and opinion in media on the subject,” Kennebeck told me in a recent interview, “but couldn’t find a lot of verifiable facts or reactions from people directly involved.” The more she discovered, the more fascinating she found the subject matter, and the greater her interest in broadening the scope of the project. There came a key moment, however, when she realized the project deserved to be more than simply an opinion article.

One of the subjects of the film, Heather (only first names are used in the documentary), had recently left the Air Force after serving as an intelligence analyst in the drone program. “When I met Heather the first time she told me not only had she’d struggled with suicide because of all she had seen and experienced, three of her former Air Force colleagues from the program have already taken their own lives. At that point I knew I had to do a film,” Kennebeck explained.

As the documentary details, Heather struggled mightily after she left the Air Force because of the role she played in the deaths of numerous people that were killed in drone strikes. Very often, she explained, when targets were killed with the missile, many people around them were obliterated, body parts flying in all directions. The film also featured the experiences of two other American operators, Daniel and Lisa, who suffered trauma similar to Heather.

One of the reasons Kennebeck produced this film was to shine a light on aspects of the program that get little to no public exposure. “The public needs to understand how many people are being killed,” she said, “what countries drones are being operated in, and ultimately there needs to be more regulation because the technology has outpaced our legal and moral frameworks. Policy and rules need to catch up.”

The drone program’s efficacy in attaining U.S. security objectives desperately needs to be assessed. Advocates of drone warfare virtually dismiss the problems without examination, and instead focus on what they cite as the compelling justification. A Brookings report in defense of drone warfare argued that the United States “cannot tolerate terrorist safe havens in remote parts of Pakistan and elsewhere, and drones offer a comparatively low-risk way of targeting these areas.” Like other reports advocating the use of drones, the Brookings study cites the body count as evidence of success.

“U.S. drones have killed an estimated 3,300 al Qaeda, Taliban, and other jihadist operatives in Pakistan and Yemen,” the report’s authors claim. What is not addressed, however, is the extent to which these operations reduce terrorist threats to the United States. By any rational assessment, the terrorist threat has continued to dramatically increase—not decline—as the use of drones has risen. If more than three thousand Al Qaeda terrorists had been killed, we should have seen a serious degradation in their capability and a corresponding increase in our security. Instead, Dr. Michael Shank, professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, has considerable experience on the ground in the locations where many drone strikes occur, and provides a sobering on-the-ground perspective.

“Working in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, it’s clear that drones are creating more enemies than the U.S. claims to ever kill,” Dr. Shank wrote in a recent email message. “Drones are quickly turning the general population – many of whom the U.S. would classify as the ‘good guys’ – against America.”

The United States generally considers its enemy population to be a finite number of bad people that can be eliminated, he explained, but such thinking exposes a limited understanding of physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) and psychology. “For every so-called ‘bad guy’ killed by a drone strike,” Dr. Shank wrote, “there will be another person who witnessed that strike and who is motivated to assume the newly dead adversary’s antagonism.”

National Bird provides a moving example of how American drones impact those we otherwise seek to defend. In 2010, the United States admitted it accidentally struck a three-vehicle convoy in Afghanistan with Hellfire missiles and rockets that it mistakenly thought was affiliated with the Taliban. Instead, the vehicles contained mostly members of an extended family—twenty-three of whom were killed in the attack, including a number of children—that had no relation to the insurgency. There is a telling moment in the film when the surviving members are sitting outside, telling the story of that day, when helicopters happen to fly overhead. Their faces immediately register palpable fear as they relive that harrowing moment.”

National Bird premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 1, 2017, 10:00-11:30 PM ET (check local listings) on PBS.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after twenty-one years, including four combat deployments.

Image: An MQ-9 Reaper flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/confronting-americas-misguided-drone-program-20428?page=2&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBB%204.02.2017&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

The New Technology of Humanitarian Assistance

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“THE CIPHER BRIEF”

“Technology has already transformed the conduct of war; could it also transform approaches to aiding the victims of conflict, disease, and natural disasters?

Drones could help alleviate some of these challenges through remote delivery of high-value, low-mass goods to areas otherwise inaccessible due to hard terrain, natural disaster, or conflict.

Since the first CIA Predator drone strike in October 2001, the United States, among others, has sought to expand the technology to facilitate remote warfare. UN peacekeeping forces use drones for intelligence gathering in such places as Mali, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The commercial drone industry is booming and is expected to only grow further with hobbyists using off-the-shelf quadcopters for their scenic vantage points and Amazon’s prospective drone deliveries to customers. Even insurgents are beginning to incorporate this new technology into their arsenals, setting their sights on recruitment messaging, intelligence collection, and explosives delivery.

To understand how drones could transform the provision of humanitarian aid, it is important to first acknowledge the areas of difficulty humanitarians often encounter. Jack Chow, a former U.S. ambassador and the first Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, points out that “the barriers to providing humanitarian aid are numerous and evolving. Chief among them are extensive operational obstacles that involve myriads of personnel, assets, and supply chain links. Complications and breakdowns among any operational components will cause delays and losses of aid. Chokepoints and tenuous routes invite corruption and pilferage.” Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, a professor at Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and co-founder and former director of the Norwegian Center for Humanitarian Studies, says that “the humanitarian sector struggles with lots of unresolved challenges with respect to obtaining adequate situational awareness for aid workers; getting sufficient information about the size and whereabouts of crisis-affected communities; and overcoming the logistical problems of timely and appropriately scaled last-mile delivery of cargo.”

The issue of supply chain logistics became a major hindrance in the timeliness of the international response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, particularly with fears of the virus spreading internationally. Drones could help alleviate some of these challenges through remote delivery of high-value, low-mass goods such as everyday medicines as insulin, antibiotics, and painkillers, or of communications equipment such as phones and computers, to areas otherwise inaccessible due to hard terrain, natural disaster, or conflict. For example, in Malawi, UNICEF sees drones as a method of transportation for blood work to help HIV testing, while in Rwanda, a humanitarian drone startup known as Zipline is also delivering blood supplies to remote hospitals in the region.

Similarly, the negotiation of humanitarian access in conflict and post-conflict countries often includes tradeoffs between an organization’s freedom of movement and concessions made to local authorities operating in a vacuum of formal government control. However, as Sandvik points out, even if drones could potentially replace caravans of trucks to mitigate the problem of access, “most of the models offered by the drone industry are too expensive for the humanitarian sector and the available models often not powerful enough to stay for any significant time in the air,” let alone “transport tons worth of relief items.”

While larger drones are available to the U.S. military, they require more advanced pilots and could also be targeted by the anti-aircraft systems of belligerents purposely using starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of war. For example, to deliver aid to the Yazidi population trapped on Mt. Sinjar in August 2014, the U.S. military had to first conduct airstrikes on ISIS positions to ensure safe passage of their cargo planes.

Potential advances in artificial intelligence (AI), however, could allow swarms of small drones to slip by air defense systems to individually deliver small packages of cargo—possibly even create impromptu networks for Wi-Fi and establish phone signal availability. Chow asserts that “as costs come down and AI-driven avionics accelerate in power, flotillas of drones over vulnerable regions can provide constant coverage for early detection and rapid response to humanitarian crises.” Artificially intelligent drones could also address major impediments to post-conflict reconstruction, such as landmine removal to enable locals to return to an agricultural economy while mitigating indiscriminate casualties largely affecting children. The Mine Kafon Drone seeks to autonomously map a designated area, detect the positioning of mines via GPS and then safely detonate them at a pace unmatched by even skilled personnel.

Drones could also be a source of information for aid workers on developing crisis situations. Chow notes that “on-board sensors will acquire information about conditions on the ground, presence of detectable dangers, and the numbers and locations of affected people,” and “in the future they may detect the first stirrings of violence by picking up sounds or flashes from gunfire.” Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China that killed over 69,000 and left 18,000 missing, Chinese responders used drones to locate downed bridges, collapsed tunnels, and other chokepoints hindering rescue efforts, while assessing damage to critical buildings such as schools and hospitals. In Nepal, the Humanitarian UAV Network used drones to create clearer photos than existing satellite images while also using 3D modeling of the damage to identify which houses were prone to collapse.

The problem with humanitarian drones monitoring from the skies is that governments and their populations will be uneasy about what the data will be used for. The association of drones with military intelligence collection creates a stigma not easily avoided, and governments may fear footage could be shared with human rights organizations documenting war crimes. Some of this can be addressed through technical solutions such as geo-fencing, whereby drones are only able to gain access to certain airspace, but ultimately, as Chow notes, “expanding drones’ powers will also force a need for a regulatory framework at the national and international level in order to establish technical standards and rules for operations.”

Sandvik suggests the major criticisms of the humanitarian use of drones now are over “concerns the technology creates distance between beneficiaries and aid workers,” “the potential association with military applications” such as intelligence collection, and ultimately, “the lack of added value delivered by the use of drones,” whereby the technology is simply not sufficiently developed yet and therefore a “distraction from other work.”

While drones would likely augment, not replace aid workers—or other longer-term projects such as infrastructure development—there is still enormous potential for drone technology to change the provision of humanitarian aid. There are, however, numerous steps before such technology becomes meaningful, let alone systematically normalized. While the hype over the humanitarian application of drones may have spurred the discussion, persistence is needed to determine how drone technology will actually contribute to future humanitarian efforts.”

https://www.thecipherbrief.com/article/tech/new-technology-humanitarian-assistance-1092

 

 

 

UK Plans to Buy $1 Billion Worth of Enhanced Reaper Drones

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(General Atomics photo illustration)

“DOD BUZZ”

“The British government plans to buy $1 billion worth of the U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency in a release this week on its website announced the State Department supported the proposed sale of as many as 26 of the Certifiable Predator B remotely piloted aircraft made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., based in San Diego.

The transaction was previously reported by The Washington Post.

The unmanned system is an enhanced version of the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper — which the British military already operates — and is designed to soar as high as 50,000 feet for more than 40 hours at a time, thanks to new fuel-economy features such as a 79-foot wingspan and winglets.

The drone “will also be used to support the UK’s armed forces and coalition forces engaged in current and future peacekeeping, peace-enforcing, counter-insurgent, and counterterrorism operations,” the release states.

The Certifiable Predator B meets the air worthiness requirements as defined by NATO’s Standardized Agreement, or STANAG, 4671 and similar regulations in the U.K. with new features such as lightning protection, different composite materials and, most importantly, sense-and-avoid technology.

While the release doesn’t specify an armament package, the Predator B is designated by the U.S. Air Force as the MQ-9 Reaper, a larger and more lethal drone than the MQ-1 Predator.

While both are considered medium-altitude drones, the Air Force’s Reaper has a 66-foot wingspan, 50,000-foot ceiling and can carry a combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway II bombs and GPS-guided GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions bombs. Meanwhile, the Predator has a 55-foot wingspan, 25,000-foot ceiling and can carry Hellfires.

The British government also plans to buy up to a dozen of the new-and-improved cockpits, called the Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Stations, each of which features a high-definition touch screens, a video game-like controller, and keyboard for chat and other messaging functions.

Operators sit in front of a bank of six 24-inch monitors arranged in two horizontal rows.

The upper monitors provide a 120-degree view of the battlefield using a combination of live video, synthetic images and air traffic information. The wider field of view comes from digital-terrain data fed into the left and right screens complementing the live video in the center screen.

The lower monitors display mission systems, maps including 3-D graphics and a general screen for chat, e-mail and other mission applications. A quick tap of the finger to various boxes on the lower left screen brings up different systems, including the mission check list, command and control pages, and warning system.

The sale also calls for new launch-and-recovery stations, multi-spectral targeting systems, AN/APY-8 Lynx IIe Block 20A synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicators, embedded global positioning system/inertial guidance units, among other equipment.”

UK Plans to Buy $1 Billion Worth of Enhanced Reaper Drones

40 Countries Agree to Declaration on Armed Unmanned Systems

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(Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)gettyimages-503831464

                                                         (Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

“DEFENSE NEWS”

” Joint Declaration for Export and Subsequent Use.

One-page statement lists five general principals, in line with those established last year by the US, for the import and export of armed drones.

In addition to the US, signatories include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, , Romania, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Last month, analysts questioned whether countries would actually sign onto the agreement, in part because the language could be seen as restricting to international drone producers. But Brian Nilsson, deputy assistant secretary for defense trade controls with State, told Defense News this week that the US agency is cognizant about not impacting local industrial concerns.

“We’re not attempting to discourage the development of indigenous industry, but it is a topic that needs to have a specific discussion, because there is a lot of misconceptions and controversy around UAVs,” Nilsson said, adding that he hopes to bring industry into future discussions.

State is following the blueprint used for the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, commonly called the Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC), Nilsson explained. In that treaty, a small number of countries initially agreed on principals, then hammered out the details over a series of meetings before coming to final conclusions. That small group has now expanded widely as more countries came on board.

And those future discussions are, in many ways, the core of this declaration. Those countries who sign onto the agreement now will have “a seat at the table” come early 2017, when the signees will sit down for the first of several meetings which will hammer out further details, Nilsson said.

Michael Horowitz, a former Pentagon official who is now an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and has focused on drone export policies, sees some merit in that process.

“There is a difference between starting a process designed to promote the responsible export and use of UAVs around the world, which it appears the United States is doing, and a process designed to halt UAV proliferation,” Horowitz said. “The former could succeed — though it may eventually require bringing all UAV exporters to the table. The latter is unlikely to succeed given the existing rate of proliferation and the enormous growth in the global robotics market.”

“In the medium term, getting all UAV exporters on board would help if the goal is creating a more formal regime,” Horowitz said. But, “the Joint Declaration also seems to provide a clear statement of US principles, which the US could use to influence the behavior of other states over time, particularly if they seek US UAV platforms.”

Added Rachel Stohl, an analyst with the Stimson Center: “The United States already has high standards in its national export laws and its export policy. The standards in the joint declaration are lower than those standards. This could harm US industry, which would be subject to higher standards than their competitors.”

Notably missing from the list of countries are Russia, China, India and Israel, seen as current or future exporters of armed drones. Israel, in particular, had previously expressed great skepticism about the deal.

For years, experts like Horowitz have warned that countries that may look to operate armed UAVs without regard for US norms would turn to those nations, a concern that still exists.

“One challenge for the United States and its allies and partners will be getting China, Russia and other actors on board with any joint declaration,” he said. “China, in particular, may view reluctance on the part of the US to export UAVs as a market opportunity.”

Nilsson said there was “extensive engagement with both China and Israel,” and also had talks with Russia despite them being “not so much a producer or exporter.”

As to concerns that without big exporters of armed UAVs on board, the group has less impact than it otherwise might, Nilsson called it “a fair criticism — just as it’s fair to point out most governments don’t belong to [the informal, non-treaty Missile Technology Control Regime]. But there is merit to maintaining those export control regimes, even if the memberships are small.”

Limited Language?

The final version of the declaration makes it clear that individual countries will retain their own standards for use of armed systems.

Ahead of listing five principals, the language notes that “none of [the principals] should be construed to undermine the legitimate interest of any State to indigenously produce, export, or acquire such systems for legitimate purposes.”

In another bullet point, the language notes that “both the law of armed conflict and international human rights law, as applicable, to the use of armed or strike-enabled UAVs” should be followed.

Such language is worrisome to Stohl. In a Sept. 29 editorial for Defense News, she blasted the agreement, concluding that “sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something.”

A week after her op-ed, Stohl remains concerned.

“Higher standards on drone exports and use are desirable and needed, but this joint declaration doesn’t go far enough to ensure that those standards actually set that bar high enough,” she said Tuesday. “If standards are low, they provide a blank check to governments to act with impunity and claim they have acted responsibility.”

Nilsson countered Stohl’s concerns, saying they don’t acknowledge that “this is the beginning [of] a decision, not the end — this is a way to get governments to agree to have this dialogue.” He added that the initial wave of close allies contacted by State were initially skeptical, and urged the department to approach the process in this manner .

“We had several governments who said ‘this is a lowering of standards.’ We said: ‘No, this is setting a bar for working towards having the standards,’ ” Nilsson said. And since then, many of those governments “turned around and actually joined us.”

Horowitz, meanwhile, warned that focusing solely on UAVs may prove to be limiting in the future.

“It is important to keep in mind that UAVs are just one instance of a broad expansion in the use of military robotics by the United States and many other nations — a trend that will continue regardless of the joint declaration,” he said. “While UAVs get the media attention today, the next decade could feature countries deploying a range of emerging robotic capabilities across the spectrum.”

In the meantime, interested parties will turn their eyes toward early 2017 and the first meeting of signatories. Exactly where and when that will take place is still being sorted out.

“This will be the first step,” Nilsson said. “I think it will take some time for the scope of what we want the standards body to look like, what it does.”

http://www.defensenews.com/articles/white-house-rolls-out-armed-drone-declaration

 

Special Ops Microdrone – No Human Piloting or GPS (Video)

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                                                                          Shield AI Autonomous Drone

“DEFENSE ONE”

“Taking off with the push of a button, the Shield AI drone flies into a building and autonomously maps its interior using cameras, lasers, and inertial and ultrasonic sensors.

A San Diego company called Shield AI is bringing that vision to life.

On Sept. 1, the company received $1 million from the Naval Special Warfare Command and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUX, the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley outreach office, for a nine-month prototype project.

Shield AI’s creation is not the only microdrone on the battlefield. Norway-based Prox Dynamics makes a bug-sized reconnaissance drone called the PD 100 Black Hornet, which British special operators have used on the battlefields of Afghanistan since 2011. U.S. special operations forces and U.S.Marines have also conducted tests with it. At a Defense Oneevent in March, Prox Dynamics demonstrated a new version of their drone that could function without GPS.

But only the Shield AI microdrone can fly without a human.

“Our drone can operate completely autonomously (no remote pilot) inside dense urban environments and GPS-denied areas (inside buildings, tunnels, beneath heavy tree coverage),” ShieldAI’s Brandon Tseng said. “Most commercial-off-the-shelf drones say ‘autonomous flight’ but what they means is they can followGPS way points. If you launch our drone outside of a building, it will fly inside without GPS, map the building, and multi-cast HDvideo of what’s inside to any number of users…It is the AI that makes it more suitable for all ground operations. Infantry and special operations forces need to have situational awareness at all times, and they lose it if they’re trying to pilot a drone inside. Our AI removes the requirement for a remote pilot.”

The push for drones that are GPS-independent says as much about bigger computer intelligence coming in ever-smaller packages as it does about the strategic vulnerability in relying too much on GPS. In 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, put out a request for new algorithms to help small drones navigate the same way that birds do — in other words, without receiving a spoofable signal from an aging satellite.

“Goshawks, for example, can fly very fast through a dense forest without smacking into a tree. Many insects, too, can dart and hover with incredible speed and precision,” program manager Mark Micire noted in the announcement.

The following year, the Army issued a call to “expand the capabilities of GPS Denied (GD) autonomous unmanned systems sensing and collaborating architecture and related components.”

But where nature soars, humankind can but crawl. Birds and insects come out of the egg with onboard visual sensors fully integrated into complex processors that exemplify size, weight, and power efficiency. (That is: Birds have eyes and brains.)

In this 2014 paper, a group of researchers, primarily from NASA, explain why building those same smarts into a micro drone is so hard. The human-designed platforms of 2016 can host only a small camera, computer, and battery. That puts extra pressure on the software – and the algorithms behind that software —to turn that sensor data into autonomous flying, landing, etc. (The paper also introduces the world’s smallest autonomous quadcopter drone that can fly on its own. It weighs in at less than 500g, or half the weight of the Shield AI drone.)

The good news is that the same market forces that are bringing better cameras and more processing to smartphones will also make micro drones smarter as well.

“As recent developments in multi-core smart-phone processors are driven by the same size, weight, and power constraints, micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) can directly benefit from new products in this area that provide more computational resources at lower power budgets and low weight, enabling miniaturization of aerial platforms that are able to perform navigation tasks fully autonomously,” they write.”

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/09/special-operators-are-getting-new-autonomous-tactical-drone/131431/?oref=defenseone_today_nl

 

The Pentagon Needs Help To Take Down Small Drones

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Image:  Accutech.com

“DEFENSE ONE”

“Tiny drones are proliferating and making their way onto the battlefield.

The Pentagon calls for solutions.

The FAA isn’t the only government body worried about the harm that small drones could cause. On Thursday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA,released a request for information for new measures to defeat small UAVs, which, they say, are “creating new asymmetric threats for warfighters.”

Small “UASs’ size and low cost enable novel concepts of employment, which present challenges to our current defense systems,” according to the request.

DARPA is looking for technology to “detect, identify, track, and neutralize these systems on the move, on a compressed timeline, and while mitigating collateral damage and providing flexibility to operations in multiple mission environments.”

More than a few technologies exist to counter drone threats, but jamming can pose a threat to nearby electrical and computer equipment. One of the more interesting solutions so far comes out of Japan where Tokyo police are deploying drones armed with nets to capture other drones.

By itself, most small drones don’t pose a great danger but they can easily be modified with a variety of payloads. Pro-Russian forces fighting in Ukraine use drones to spot and target enemy positions. Last August, a group of hackers at DEF CON unveiled a small garage-built drone that flies around looking for vulnerabilities in computer networks.

Isreali Aerospace Industries markets something that they call a multi-rotor loitering munition for ground forces, basically a quadcopter with a bomb strapped to it that hovers in the air until the operator decides to kill someone with it. Hamas and Hezbollah’s use of small drones goes back to 2004. ISIS, too, is experimenting with small intelligence drones (and possibly armed ones as well). In July, the Pentagon switched $20 million toward a new anti-drone effort.

Any drone under 55 lbs is considered small by FAA standards. The agency projects that more than seven million small UAVs could cloud America’s skies by the year 2020. The development community for small drones is also growing rapidly, bolstered by trends in 3D printing and tiny off-the-shelf computer systems like the Raspberry Pi. Anybody with an internet connection can create their own drone at minimal cost. As large as seven million sounds, the figure might be woefully conservative.”

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/08/pentagon-needs-you-help-them-take-down-small-drones/130727/?oref=defenseone_today_nl

 

Halfway To Transparency On Drone Strikes

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“BREAKING DEFENSE”

“Discrepancies in [reported] civilian deaths underline the unspoken message on drones: trust us because we have better information and are doing the right thing.

Imagine if Vladimir Putin or Bashar Al-Assad made the same argument.

It wouldn’t be tolerated. Surely the world’s leading democracy should hold itself to a higher standard?

As Pentagon enthusiasm grows for robotic weapons, and drones proliferate to militaries and terrorists around the world, it’s worth remembering some basic questions of ethics, law, and strategy remain unsettled. For insight, we turn to Rachel Stohl, the director of the Conventional Defense program at the Stimson Center and the primary author of the recently released report Grading Progress on U.S. Drone Policy. — The Editors

More than three years after promising greater transparency over the U.S. lethal drone program, the Obama administration took a significant if belated step towards that goal. Late on a Friday afternoon before the long Fourth of July weekend, the administration released the first official government data on the number of civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes, along with an executive order that requires annual disclosures of the numbers of civilians killed in airstrikes conducted against terrorists outside of designated war zones. The release of these two documents represents an important move by the Obama administration to increase accountability over the U.S. drone program and adhere to its stated commitments of greater transparency. Even so, not enough light has been shed on the controversial, secretive drone program.

The Obama administration says that since taking office in January 2009, 473 strikes against terrorist targets have been taken “outside areas of active hostilities” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. That means the estimate includes strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Africa. The administration estimates that 64 to 116 non-combatants have been killed since January 20, 2009 in comparison to 2,372 to 2,581 combatant deaths. .

But serious questions remain. The administration did not explain their methodology, which strikes they have counted, or how they count and identify non-combatants.

These figures are also vastly lower than those compiled by credible non-governmental sources. Indeed, non-governmental estimates of civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes range from just over 200 deaths to more than 1,000 since the program’s inception. Estimates from the Long War Journal and New America, both Washington, D.C.-based research organizations, indicate that at least 200 civilians have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen alone. By comparison, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 325 and 745 civilians have been killed in the time frame provided in the DNI release.

There are also numerous questions of policy and practice that remain unanswered about the legal basis, efficacy, and strategy behind the drone program. With the limited time President Obama has remaining in office, achievable steps can be taken to add clarity to the program and put the next administration on a firmer strategic footing. As soon as possible, the administration should release, in full, the Presidential Policy Guidance to provide the context and the basic framework for U.S. lethal drone strikes. This release should be accompanied by the domestic and international legal framework for the U.S. drone program, including the release of legal memos.

As part of the annual disclosure on civilian casualties, the administration should provide the numbers of strikes by geographical location, the number of casualties in those locations, and who conducted the strikes. The administration should also provide these figures retroactively. Over time, this data can contribute to a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the drone program.

Without providing detailed information on the methods and metrics through which the administration reaches these conclusions, we are stuck with an overall lack of information that inhibits objective evaluation of the effectiveness of U.S. drone strikes and the extent to which the program supports larger strategic objectives. Without contextual data — such as geographic location or a year-by-year breakdown of the statistics — and absent a clear methodology for counting casualties, the figures cannot be fully understood.

Transparency and accountability are bedrock principles of American democracy — and President Obama has called his the most “transparent administration in history.” The administration does have a lot it can be proud of on transparency, but creating an environment of extreme secrecy with limited oversight and accountability on the drone program sets a dangerous precedent. The recent disclosures on drones are a clear positive step in the right direction. With his time left in office, President Obama can take even more meaningful action to ensure that the drone program adheres to U.S. values and fosters constructive international norms. That is a legacy on drones more significant than any single strike.”

Halfway To Transparency On Drone Strikes

 

Drone Strike Statistics Raise Many Questions

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Drone Strike Stats

“NEW YORK TIMES”

“The promise of the armed drone has always been precision. [But] there is no certainty about whom it has killed.

The Obama administration’s unprecedented release last week of statistics on counter terrorism strikes underscored how much more complicated the results of the drone program have been.

And it highlighted the skepticism with which official American claims on targeted killing are viewed by human rights groups and independent experts, including those who believe the strikes have eliminated some very dangerous people.

“It’s an important step — it’s an acknowledgment that transparency is needed,” said Rachel Stohl, an author of two studies of the drone program and a senior associate at the Stimson Center, a research group in Washington. “But I don’t feel like we have enough information to analyze whether this tactic is working and helping us achieve larger strategic aims.”

More broadly, President Obama’s move to open a window on the secret counterterrorism program takes place against a background of escalating jihadist violence that can be called up by a list of cities that includes Paris; San Bernardino, Calif.; Brussels; Orlando, Fla.; Kabul, Afghanistan; Istanbul; Baghdad; and now Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Apart from the dispute over the number of civilian deaths, the notion that targeted drone strikes are an adequate answer to the terrorist threat appears increasingly threadbare.

“There’s a massive failure of strategy,” said Akbar S. Ahmed, a former Pakistani diplomat and the chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington. Drones have simply become one more element of the violence in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, not a way to reduce violence, he said.
How Many People Have Been Killed in ISIS Attacks Around the World MARCH 25, 2016
Among young people attracted to jihadist ideology, “the line to blow yourself up remains horrifyingly long,” he said. “That line should be getting shorter.”

A senior Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified program, said the recent series of major terror attacks in urban areas had all been directed or inspired by the Islamic State.

The classified counterterrorism drone campaign, he said, has targeted other groups, notably Al Qaeda’s old core in Pakistan, its branch in Yemen and the Shabab in Somalia. (Because the strikes in Pakistan are a covert action program, the official was not permitted to name that country.) No attack in the West in the past year has been traced to those groups, suggesting that the strikes have been effective, he said. The drone strikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are, for the most part, carried out by the military in a separate program.

In Friday’s release, the White House made public an executive order laying out policies to minimize civilian casualties in counterterrorism strikes and a plan to start making public the basic statistics on strikes each year.

At the same time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the first official estimates of those killed during Mr. Obama’s presidency in strikes outside the conventional wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Though the announcement did not say so, the classified strikes took place in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and the vast majority used missiles fired from unmanned drone aircraft, though a few used piloted jets or cruise missiles fired from the sea.

Military officers prepared an American drone for a mission at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan in March. Credit Josh Smith/Reuters
Since 2009, the government said, 473 strikes had killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants. They are defined as members of groups, like Al Qaeda and the Taliban, that are considered to be at war with the United States, or others posing a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans.

In the most sharply debated statistics, the statement estimated that between 64 and 116 noncombatants had been killed. Officials said those numbers included both clearly innocent civilians and others for whom there was insufficient evidence to be sure they were combatants.

The numbers were far lower than previous estimates from the three independent organizations that track strikes based on news reports and other sources. The Long War Journal, whose estimates are lowest, counted 207 civilian deaths in Pakistan and Yemen alone. The security policy group New America in Washington estimated a minimum of 216 in those two countries, and the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated the civilian toll under Mr. Obama between 380 and 801.

With no breakdown by year or country, let alone a detailed strike-by-strike account, the Obama administration’s new data was difficult to assess. For example, according to multiple studies by Human Rights Watch, Yemen’s Parliament and others, an American cruise missile strike in Yemen on Dec. 17, 2009, killed 41 civilians, including 22 children and a dozen women. At least three more people were killed later after handling unexploded cluster munitions left from the strike.

If those 41 are included in the new official count, as appears likely, that would leave only 23 civilians killed in all other strikes since 2009 to reach the low-end American estimate of 64. By nearly all independent accounts, that number is implausibly low. Obama administration officials declined over the weekend to discuss any specific strikes or otherwise elaborate on the statistics.

Scott F. Murray, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel after 29 years, was a career intelligence officer involved in overseeing airstrikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. He said that while he had not been involved directly in the counterterrorist strikes outside those war zones, the civilian death estimates were “lower than I would have expected.”

He said civilian deaths could result from multiple causes, including incomplete intelligence about the identities of people on the ground, equipment failure and human error.

Perhaps most often, Mr. Murray said, problems arise when civilians enter a target area before drone surveillance begins, or when a civilian suddenly enters the strike zone just before a strike.

“The night you choose to strike, it may be that the in-laws arrived earlier in the day or the children’s birthday party is ongoing and you weren’t watching when everyone arrived,” Mr. Murray said. “Those are the things in war that drive you to drink. You never ever have perfect information.”

Brandon Bryant, who worked on Air Force drone teams from 2006 to 2011 and has become an outspoken critic of the program, recalled one strike in 2007 targeting a local Taliban commander. As the Hellfire missile sped toward the small house, he said, a small child — possibly frightened by the missile’s sonic boom — ran into the house and was killed.

“Those things are burned into my brain — I can’t really forget them,” Mr. Bryant said. He added that he believed total civilian deaths were much higher than the administration’s estimate because of officials’ wishful thinking, rather than deliberate deception. “They’re just deluding themselves about the impact,” he said.

The senior administration official acknowledged the fear and frustration produced by the recent urban attacks and said Mr. Obama’s strategy went far beyond drone strikes, incorporating the military battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, counter-messaging against jihadist groups, and support for allies facing the same enemies as the United States.

American officials strongly defend the necessity of targeted killing, and the president’s executive order suggests that he believes the drone program will endure far beyond his presidency. But deaths from terrorism have risen sharply since 2011, according to the Global Terrorism Index, compiled annually by researchers, and there is worry inside and outside the government that the United States and its allies are winning battles but losing the ideological war.

Of particular concern is the possibility that the rash of attacks carried out in the name of the Islamic State is just the beginning — not because the group is getting stronger but because it is getting weaker. As the United States and its allies uproot the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, its supporters may turn to terrorism wherever they are, many terrorism experts believe. In most of those places, like the cities hit hardest in recent months, no drone strikes will be possible.”

 

Implications Of New FAA Commercial Drone Rules

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Drones FAA Rules

“THE CIPHER BRIEF”

“The FAA on Tuesday released the first operational rules for commercial use of drones.

Experts say it will help stoke business and innovation even as it leaves a number of critical issues unresolved.

The long-anticipated rule — Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations — details a number of regulations for the commercial use of drones that weigh less than 55 pounds. The stipulations cover new restrictions and safety provisions, as well as an update to who can operate the controls of a drone. Mike Blades, a senior aerospace and defense industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said the new rule “essentially makes it easier to conduct commercial operations.”

“I don’t think it will have a huge impact on security, because most of the additional use will involve those wanting to make a profit and not hobbyists, who are likely the ones responsible for most of the flying that goes on outside regulatory guidelines,” Blades said, referencing flying close to airports or over people. “However, the simple fact that there will be more operators will have some impact on security and, likely, a heightened demand for counter UAS systems.”

Rachel Stohl, a senior associate with Stimson’s Managing Across Boundaries Initiative and Cipher Brief contributor, said it is important to note these guidelines are for a very specific set of unmanned commercial systems, and not hobby or recreational drones. For commercial enterprises, these regulations are much needed — U.S. companies have fallen behind their European counterparts waiting for guidance, she said.

“The Europeans are way ahead of us, and that has a national security impact,” Stohl said. “These are commercial systems, but if we are relying on other countries to make components, people get nervous about what that means for security.”

As “economics and national security are more and more linked, a really important piece of this is allowing companies to develop and grow in a way they know is consistent with norms, standards, regulations,” Stohl added.

One of the most significant changes revolves around who can fly a drone — instead of the previous requirement of holding an airplane pilot’s license, remote operators now will just need to pass a written aeronautical knowledge test every two years. Qualifying for a remote pilot certificate can also be accomplished if the person has an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate, and has completed a flight review in the last 24 months and taken a FAA training course.

Before a certificate is issued, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will conduct a security background check of all applications. The FAA also noted that to qualify for a certificate, applicants must be at least 16 years old. People can also fly drones if they are under the direct supervision of someone who holds the remote pilot airman certificate in question.

All drones must be registered.

The 600-plus pages of the new regulations also lay out guidelines for keeping unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight and prohibiting flights over anyone not directly participating. Drones can operate only within daylight hours and during twilight, if the drone has anti-collision lighting. Limits on height, speed, and weight are also included. Drones can fly up to 400 feet high and 100 miles per hour, and weigh less than 55 pounds. Flying above 400 feet in order to inspect a structure will be allowed, but the drone must remain within 400 feet of the structure if it does exceed that ceiling.

The FAA noted there will also be a process to waive some restrictions if operators can show they will be able to fly safely.

But Blades — who called the rule a “large step in the right direction even if it did take an inordinate amount of time” — said more needs to be done to realize the full commercial potential of the drone industry. For instance, he suggested that it would have been more advantageous if there had been a stipulation for operating a micro drone, under 4.4 pounds, without needing to complete the same certification process as a pilot who operates a 55-pound drone.

“Australia and Canada both allow commercial operations without extensive certifications for operators using platforms under 2 kg,” he said “The FAA is supposed to be implementing a micro rule, but it did not come with 107 as far as I can tell.”

To help further enable the commercial industry, Blades said the FAA next needs to look at approving night operations and allowing operations beyond visual line of sight. In addition, boosting the commercial sector in the future will require integration into the National Airspace System, above 500 feet, and then instituting a regulatory framework for drones over 55 pounds in the NAS, according to Blades.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, meanwhile, said Tuesday’s rule marks only the “first step” for the agency as it continues to navigate drone use.

“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” he said in a statement. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

The regulations note — but do not directly tackle — a number of privacy concerns related to drones, such as issues of intellectual property, data privacy and operations over private property. The FAA “intends to continue addressing privacy concerns through engagement and collaboration with the public, stakeholders and other agencies with authority and subject matter expertise in privacy law and policy,” the rule states.

These regulations are not “grand policy prescriptions or even a laying out of what that policy might be like,” Stohl noted. They detail very specific regulations, like pilot certification and operational standards, rather than broader policy concerns connected to privacy and surveillance.

“I’m not surprised it didn’t address the whole menu of items people are eager to have resolved,” Stohl said. “These are very basic standards, but it’s important because people like to know what they’re expected to do. I do think there are other things that are going to need to be addressed at some point in terms of privacy and surveillance, and how all of these things integrate into the airspace. But it’s progress.”

The rule will take effect following a 60-day comment period.

“It doesn’t answer all of the questions or deal with all the issues, but we’re moving, and we need to continue to move forward in order to allow the commercial sector to grow,” Stohl said.”

http://thecipherbrief.com/article/exclusive/tech/implications-new-faa-commercial-drone-rules-1092