Tag Archives: Drones

Hi Tech Weapons Today – A 40 MM Drone Canister With A “Can-Doom” Attitude – And It’s Cheap

(Image composite, DefendTex / US Army photo by Tia Sokimson)


Drone 40, produced by Melbourne-based defense technology firm Defend Tex, is a drone whose niche involves a 40 mm grenade launcher.

It is a range expander for infantry, a new and novel loitering munition, and a testament to the second-order effects of a thriving drone parts ecosystem. Drone 40 is designed to fly with minimal human involvement


“A 40mm canister is an unusual form factor for a quadcopter, but not an unproductive one. Like the endless variation on a simple form seen in beetles, quadcopters combine four rotors, internal sensors and remote direction with the adaptability to fit into any ecological niche.

Drone 40 was created as a solution to the problem of range; specifically, the problem of a range disparity between the infantry weapons carried by Australian infantry, which are accurate to about 500 meters, and the AK-74s carried by adversaries, which can reach out to 800 meters (though the accuracy at that range is disputed). Even if the fire is just suppressing fire, Australia was looking for a way to let its infantry fight back, but not one that required changing the gun or adding a lot more weight to what soldiers were already carrying.

“The only thing that we had in the infantry kit with any utility was a 40 millimeter grenade launcher,” which led to the design of the Drone 40, said DefendTex CEO Travis Reddy. Rather than overtaxing the launcher with a medium-velocity round that could travel the distance needed, the launcher would instead give a boost to a drone-borne munition that would then fly under its own power the rest of the way to the target.

The overall appearance of the Drone 40 is that of an oversized bullet. Four limbs extend from the cylindrical body, with rotors attached. In flight, it gives the appearance of a rocket traveling at perpendicular angles, the munition suspended below the rotors like a Sword of Damocles. It is a quadcopter, technically.

Drone 40 is a loitering munition, for a very short definition of loiter. When carrying a 110 gram payload, it can fly for about 12 minutes. The person commanding the Drone 40 can remotely disarm the munition, letting the drone land inert for later recovery. When not carrying an anti-personnel or anti-tank munition as payload, it can be outfitted with a sensor. For an infantry unit that wants to scout first, fire later, the sensor module can provide early information, then be swapped out with a deadly payload. Beyond Australia, the company envisions providing the Drone 40 to the Five Eyes militaries.

The drone’s video streaming can transmit 10 km over direct line of sight. Drone 40 can also record video and retransmit it when it comes within range, or it can take still images. With the radio frequency relayed by another aerial system, that range can be expanded. Using GPS, the drone can follow a waypoint plotted course to a target, or it can use its own synthetic aperture radar to identify and track a target. Reddy says it can distinguish the radar profile of, say, a T-72 tank, and then follow it autonomously.

The unit’s development was largely funded in collaboration with Autonomous Systems Collaborative Research by the Australian government, and the drone can work collaboratives, with multiple Drone 40s flying together and operating off the sensor data from a single ISR drone in the swarm. Most of the flying, identifying and tracking of targets is done autonomously; however, human control remains an essential part of the machine’s operation.

“The Department of Defense has very strict rules around any use of autonomy in the battlefield,” says Reddy. “We always have to have either man in the loop or man on the loop. The weapon system will never be autonomous, fully acquire and prosecute target without authorization and confirmation from the human.”

The autonomy is there, in a sense, to pass off the task of flying a drone into position and only task the operator with making a call once the drone is in place.

“If there’s someone flying this thing or looking at the video feed, they’re not in combat and someone else is not in combat because they have to be protected at that point in time,” says Reddy. “Everything we do is trying to ensure that we have almost fire and forget, just a reminder when it’s on station or it requires a decision to be made; the rest of the time, the operator is in the fight.”

To make Drone 40 work at the small size and desired price point, its makers had to lean on the commercial drone market. Existing versions, Reddy says, cost less than a $1,000 apiece, with a goal of getting the cost down to around $500.

“To hit the price point that we are using, we are heavily leveraging the current drone market. We have companies, large companies that sink hundreds of millions of dollars into R&D and we can leverage that investment,” says Reddy. “If we wanted to design a radar on a drone ourselves, it would cost us many millions of dollars to achieve and end up in a price point of $10,000 to $15,000 a unit. Instead we let the automotive industry spend all that money and now they’re producing chips that are in the tens of dollars.”

Drone 40 is also designed to be scaled up. DefendTex is working on Drone 81, a larger round designed to work with mortar tubes, and there are other drone models in the works matched to specific munition sizes. If the iteration is successful, it will create a whole arsenal of possibilities for range-expanding munitions that fit into existing platforms.”


“Drone Warrior” – A Stunning First Hand Memoir


After a careful review by the Intelligence Community for Publication, Drone Warrior has performed a stunning service, giving the reader a gut level feel for the U.S. War on Terror from a decorated soldier’s perspective. 

Those of us who served in Vietnam and similar conflicts since can totally relate to this masterpiece of  honesty.  

Brett Velicovich pulls no punches. The mental stress, teamwork, tragedy and after effects in this modern, technological killing process can be felt with every line.  The impact on the man himself and on those with whom he worked has not been spared in its detail and its effects. 

Having left the service, Brett is now involved in harnessing and controlling the technology for peaceful purposes like wildlife preservation and management.  Those of us who have made similar transitions applaud, commend and recommend the book and the man. 

Read it to become informed and consider the billions we are spending on this warfare today as well as the impact on our youth and our future. 

Drone Warrior

New Policy: Military Bases Can Shoot Down Trespassing Drones



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)


“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.”





Confronting America’s Misguided Drone Program


Misguided Drone Program

Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt


“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


The New Technology of Humanitarian Assistance




“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.”





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



(General Atomics photo illustration)


“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


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

                                                         (Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)


” 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.”



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



                                                                          Shield AI Autonomous Drone


“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.”



The Pentagon Needs Help To Take Down Small Drones


Drones dangerous-payloads-en

Image:  Accutech.com


“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.”



Halfway To Transparency On Drone Strikes


Effect of Drone Strikes


“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