August 8, 2015

Tom Kratman on “killer ‘bots”

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

SF author (and former US Army officer) Tom Kratman answers a few questions about drones, artificial intelligence, and the threat/promise of intelligent, self-directed weapon platforms in the near future:

Ordinarily, in this space, I try to give some answers. I’m going to try again, in an area in which I am, at least at a technological level, admittedly inexpert. Feel free to argue.

Question 1: Are unmanned aerial drones going to take over from manned combat aircraft?

I am assuming here that at some point in time the total situational awareness package of the drone operator will be sufficient for him to compete or even prevail against a manned aircraft in aerial combat. In other words, the drone operator is going to climb into a cockpit far below ground and the only way he’ll be able to tell he’s not in an aircraft is that he’ll feel no inertia beyond the bare minimum for a touch of realism, to improve his situational awareness, but with no chance of blacking out due to high G maneuvers..

Still, I think the answer to the question is “no,” at least as long as the drones remain under the control of an operator, usually far, far to the rear. Why not? Because to the extent the things are effective they will invite a proportional, or even more than proportional, response to defeat or at least mitigate their effectiveness. That’s just in the nature of war. This is exacerbated by there being at least three or four routes to attack the remote controlled drone. One is by attacking the operator or the base; if the drone is effective enough, it will justify the effort of making those attacks. Yes, he may be bunkered or hidden or both, but he has a signal and a signature, which can probably be found. To the extent the drone is similar in size and support needs to a manned aircraft, that runway and base will be obvious.

The second target of attack is the drone itself. Both of these targets, base/operator and aircraft, are replicated in the vulnerabilities of the manned aircraft, itself and its base. However, the remote controlled drone has an additional vulnerability: the linkage between itself and its operator. Yes, signals can be encrypted. But almost any signal, to include the encryption, can be captured, stored, delayed, amplified, and repeated, while there are practical limits on how frequently the codes can be changed. Almost anything can be jammed. To the extent the drone is dependent on one or another, or all, of the global positioning systems around the world, that signal, too, can be jammed or captured, stored, delayed, amplified and repeated. Moreover, EMP, electro-magnetic pulse, can be generated with devices well short of the nuclear. EMP may not bother people directly, but a purely electronic, remote controlled device will tend to be at least somewhat vulnerable, even if it’s been hardened,

Question 2: Will unmanned aircraft, flown by Artificial Intelligences, take over from manned combat aircraft?

The advantages of the unmanned combat aircraft, however, ranging from immunity to high G forces, to less airframe being required without the need for life support, or, alternatively, for a greater fuel or ordnance load, to expendability, because Unit 278-B356 is no one’s precious little darling, back home, to the same Unit’s invulnerability, so far as I can conceive, to torture-induced propaganda confessions, still argue for the eventual, at least partial, triumph of the self-directing, unmanned, aerial combat aircraft.

Even, so, I’m going to go out on a limb and go with my instincts and one reason. The reason is that I have never yet met an AI for a wargame I couldn’t beat the digital snot out of, while even fairly dumb human opponents can present problems. Coupled with that, my instincts tell me that that the better arrangement is going to be a mix of manned and unmanned, possibly with the manned retaining control of the unmanned until the last second before action.

This presupposes, of course, that we don’t come up with something – quite powerful lasers and/or renunciation of the ban on blinding lasers – to sweep all aircraft from the sky.

April 21, 2015

US Navy and Marine Corps to go all-drone after F-35

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the USNI News, Sam LaGrone says the F-35 is the last piloted strike fighter the US Navy and USMC will ever “buy or fly”:

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be “almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly,” signaling key assumptions in the Navy’s aviation future as the service prepares to develop follow-ons to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

“Unmanned systems, particularly autonomous ones, have to be the new normal in ever-increasing areas,” Mabus said. “For example, as good as it is, and as much as we need it and look forward to having it in the fleet for many years, the F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”

To address the emerging role unmanned weapon systems, Mabus announced a new deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems and a new Navy staff position — alongside warfare directorates like surface and air warfare — N-99.

The positions were created “so that all aspects of unmanned – in all domains – over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land – will be coordinated and championed,” Mabus said.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are currently part of the Navy’s N2/N6 Information Dominance portfolio as primarily information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform while undersea and surface unmanned systems are owned by a myriad of agencies.

March 17, 2015

The drones in the FAA don’t want you posting drone footage to YouTube

Filed under: Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Take it away, Tamara:

The FAA says no posting of drone footage on YouTube?


That’s a good one, Canute. Have fun with that.

Anyone want to start a betting pool on how long before we have a drone footage on YouTube of another drone hovering along with a Guy Fawkes mask over its camera?

October 12, 2014

The unique challenges to UAVs in the Canadian Arctic

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Ben Makuch looks at the severe environment of Canada’s Arctic and how UAV design is constrained by those conditions:

The rotary-wing UAV tested, and its view from the sky. Image: DRDC

The rotary-wing UAV tested, and its view from the sky. Image: DRDC

“A lot of these systems — UAVs particularly, and rotor-wing (that is to say helicopters or quadrotors) — are even more sensitive. They require a good understanding of what they’re heading in. And by heading, that’s kind of the direction you’re facing,” said Monckton.

And because of those difficulties, finding headings for aerial drones in the Arctic requires stronger GPS systems to establish a “line segment” of locational data, ripped, according to Monckton, from a “crown” of satellites hovering on top of Earth.

In terms of weather conditions, the extreme sub-zero temperatures is devastating on a UAV when you mix in fog or clouds. While crisp cool air with clear skies provides excellent flying conditions, once you mix in ice fog, it becomes a major risk to small UAVs.

“The biggest risk in the Arctic is structural icing,” said Monckton who explained that water in the clouds is so cool that when “you strike it, it actually crystallizes on contact.”

At CFS Alert, the Multi-Agent Tactical Sentry (MATS) UGV travels through rough Arctic terrain during an autonomous path-following test without the use of GPS. The Canadian Armed Forces Joint Arctic Experiment (CAFJAE) 2014 tests autonomous technology for Arctic conditions and explores its potential for future concepts of military operations through experiments carried out August 2014 at Canadian Forces Station Alert, Nunavut.  CAF and Defence Research and Development Canada's (DRDC) JAE work will benefit multiple government partners and centers around a fictitious satellite crash with hazard identification, telecommunication and other search and rescue tasks.

At CFS Alert, the Multi-Agent Tactical Sentry (MATS) UGV travels through rough Arctic terrain during an autonomous path-following test without the use of GPS. The Canadian Armed Forces Joint Arctic Experiment (CAFJAE) 2014 tests autonomous technology for Arctic conditions and explores its potential for future concepts of military operations through experiments carried out August 2014 at Canadian Forces Station Alert, Nunavut. CAF and Defence Research and Development Canada’s (DRDC) JAE work will benefit multiple government partners and centers around a fictitious satellite crash with hazard identification, telecommunication and other search and rescue tasks. Image: DRDC

Unsurprisingly, the wings of a drone being enveloped in ice presents “a major impediment to general unmanned air operations,” Monckton said. In part, because “UAVs are too small to carry standard deicing equipment [as used] on a commercial aircraft. So that’s a major problem.”

For the project, DRDC took a previously manned helicopter and modified it into an unmanned vehicle. They had help from Calgary-based Meggit Canada for the project, a defence and security contractor also responsible for this armed training hexicopter.

As for ground drones, or unmanned ground vehicles, Monckton said weather and temperature were an afterthought. The real challenge, was the actual terrain.

“The arctic has a really peculiar surface,” said Monckton, adding that the high Arctic offers mostly marshlands, rocky outcrops, or elevated permafrost that produces spiky formations. “So the UGV was kind of going between easy riding on sloppy stuff and then getting pounded to pieces on the rough frost boils.”

February 3, 2014

New technology invades the vineyards – is it now the Côte-du-Drône?

Filed under: Europe, France, Technology, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:48

Jack Flanagan talks about the most recent technological intrusions into innovations being introduced into traditional European winemaking:

It is a new age in winemaking. The old days of doing everything by hand is ending. And while large-scale harvesters and flood-lights might not be news, the vintners of tomorrow have a few tricks up their sleeves.


And yet as advanced technology, the sort-of thing that requires a Masters of Science to understand, becomes available at lower prices (well, hovering among the thousands), vineyards in France and areas outside are adopting them.

Perhaps least surprising, if you’ve noticed a trend lately, is the addition of drones. Right now, they have a simple task: flying over vineyards, checking for damage or anything suspicious.

In the future, however, they may be required to do more labour-intensive tasks such as vine maintenance, e.g. pruning and checking how ripe the grapes are. This, specifically, is the task of a little droid resembling a rover: it skates along the vineyard floor, analysing and remembering the details of the vines. If they’re getting too long, the robot prunes them back.

January 25, 2014

War in the 21st century

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Jim Dunnigan wrote this short piece as a proposal for a longer work to follow-on to his book The Perfect Soldier in 2003.

There are many new trends producing the dramatic changes in warfare. Many of these changes are missed by the media and even many military analysts because so much has changed so quickly. The new technologies and trends include;

Robots. Combat robots have actually been around for over a century. Naval mines and torpedoes are robotic weapons that proved themselves in the early years of the 20th century. There were some more robotic weapons in World War II (cruise and ballistic missiles plus the first “smart shells”), but the momentum for combat robots really didn’t get going until the late 20th century, when smaller, cheaper and more reliable microprocessors and similar electronics made it possible to create inexpensive, “smart”, dependable and useful battle droids. Combat robots have sneaked into the military, without many people in, or out of, uniform paying a lot of attention. That’s still the case, especially because the media and even many senior military and political leaders don’t fully understand the technology nor how it is implemented. One example of this confusion can be seen with the constant reference to UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) as “drones” or “robots.” They are neither, they are simply remotely controlled aircraft, something that’s been around for over half a century. But these UAVs are being given more and more robotic (operating autonomously) capabilities. This isn’t new either, as torpedoes have had this ability for over 60 years and missiles for over 50 years.

Battlefield Internet. The Internet appeared as a mass-market product in the mid-1990s just as a generation of PC savvy officers were rising up the chain of command. These guys had encountered the first PCs as teenagers and then had access to the pre-World Wide Web Internet in college. PCs and the web were not mysteries, but tools they were familiar with. By 2001 these men and women were majors and colonels, the people the generals turn to when they want something done, or explained. When the World Wide Web showed up in the mid-1990s, generals turned to the majors and colonels for an update and were told, “no problem sir, good stuff. We can use it.” There followed a scramble to create a workable “battlefield Internet.” But there was another trend operating, the 1980s effort to implement “information technology.” But as the ideas merged with workable and affordable hardware and software, sparks began to fly. Unlike earlier ventures into new technology, this was not just a case of the troops being given new gadgets and shown how to use them. With Internet stuff, and Internet savvy troops, a lot of the new technology was being invented by the users. This has created high speed development of new technology, putting new stuff through development, testing and into use much faster than ever before.


Commandos. These specialists have always been around. Think of the “Knights of the Round Table” or any legendary super warrior. During the 20th century, methods were developed to produce commando class troops at will. This was not possible in the past. While commandos are specialist troops that are only useful in certain situations, when you can use them, they often have a devastating effect. Those nations with large commando forces (the US, Britain, Russia, etc.) have a military advantage that is often the margin of victory.

Off the Shelf Mentality. Since the 1980s, the military has increasingly looked to commercial companies for the latest combat equipment. This recognizes that military procurement has become too slow, and technological advances too rapid to get the latest gear into the hands of troops before it becomes obsolete. In most cases, civilian equipment works fine, as is, for the military. This is because over half the troops that work at jobs that never take them from shops or offices indistinguishable from the work places civilians use. But even the combat troops can find a lot of equipment that is rugged enough for the battlefield. Soldiers have long noted that civilian camping equipment is superior to most of the stuff they are issued, and many soldiers have supplemented, or replaced, issued equipment with better off-the-shelf gear. In the last decade, it’s been common for combat troops to bring civilian electronics gear with them. Everything from laser range finders to GPS units, all of which are issued, but the official stuff tends to be heavier and less capable.

November 25, 2013

What hasn’t been told in the official story about drone hit on USS Chancellorsville

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Recently the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville was hit by a target drone that reported malfunctioned. There were some injuries onboard, but none were said to be serious and the ship was safe and could continue operations. However, as this post shows, there are some pretty big open questions based on what the US Navy’s public relations department has shared:

The Navy tells us the drone malfunctioned, and apparently the combat system on the ship had no problems if the ship remains capable of operations, so based on those details of the press release the officers and crew of the USS Chancellorsville tracked the target missile drone — during the radar tracking exercise — apparently as it scored a direct hit into side of the ship.

But the ship was unable to defend itself? I get it that the safety systems were probably engaged that would prevent the full capabilities of the AEGIS combat system from being employed against the rogue drone, but what about the independent close-in point defenses of the cruiser?

The official story, based on the details as released officially, is that the most advanced AEGIS warship in the world tracked a direct hit by a missile drone and was apparently unable to defend itself successfully. Did the ship even try to defend itself from a rogue drone? We don’t know, because the press release focuses on telling the public the technology of the ship is sufficient enough for the ship to conduct normal operations, but tells us no details at all regarding what the crew did or did not do to defend the ship from a direct hit.

There is a detail that is omitted in the official press release, and because it is a detail of the incident known at the time of the press release, we can only assume the omission is intentional for purposes of protecting a reputation. The ships officers and crew apparently did try to defend the ship. The CIWS apparently fired at the BQM-74 but was unsuccessful in defending the ship. That detail matters, because the omission of that detail is the difference between protecting the reputation of the ships officers and crew who tried to defend the ship, or protecting the reputation of a piece of technology that was unsuccessful — for unknown reasons — in performing the technologies primary role as the last line of defense for the ship.

You can understand why a detail like that would fail to make the cut for what the PR department wanted to release to the media.

H/T to John Donovan for the link.

August 21, 2013

Ottawa deploys drone to … chase away geese

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:48

Not every drone carries missiles:

Fed up with geese fouling the grass and water at its Petrie Island beaches, the city government is calling in drone strikes.

It’s proving amazingly effective, said Orléans Coun. Bob Monette. The place used to be haunted by as many as 140 geese, which can eat several pounds of grass in a day and poop out nearly as much in waste.

“Now we’re down to anywhere from 15 to 20 on a daily basis,” Monette said. The weapon the city’s deployed is a “hexcopter,” a remote-controlled chopper with rotors that can hover, soar, circle and — most importantly — scoot along just above the ground, scaring the bejesus out of dozing geese. It’s operated by contractor Steve Wambolt, a former IT worker who launched his own business after one too many layoffs.

“When he takes it out, they put their backs up straight and they’re watching,” Monette said. “When he starts it and it goes up off the ground, they sort of walk into a formation, and as soon as it starts moving, they all take off and they don’t come back until the next day.”

Wambolt starts buzzing the geese at about 4 a.m. The drone also works on seagulls, though they’re a bit braver and have to be harassed almost constantly to keep them away. Both sorts of birds can be territorial and nasty to beachgoers. Their droppings also feed bacteria in the water, which can make swimming dangerous.

Update: Reason.tv attended a recent gathering of civilian drone manufacturers and users:

When you hear the word drone you may immediately think of bombs being dropped in the Middle East or the surveillance of citizens here in the United States, but engineers and aviation geeks have wondered for decades if unmanned flight might solve a few of our world’s problems or just make our lives a little easier.

Over 30 years ago, science magazines wondered if drones would “sniff out pollution,” or, “make pilots obsolete,” and engineers are saying that those ideas may be possible now.

“The technology has reached a point where it can be very inexpensive to buy [unmanned aerial system technology],” says John Villasenor, an engineer at UCLA and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Villasenor says that advances in GPS, airframe design, and flight control methods have made unmanned flight available to pretty much anyone.

As a part of the FAA’s re-authorization of funds in February 2012, Congress passed a bill that included the integration of unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace. First for public entities like law enforcement or fire fighters and second for civilians like farmers or filmmakers with full integration by 2015. In July, the FAA approved two drones for commercial use which could fly as early as 2013.

May 18, 2013

US Navy’s UAV conducts touch-and-go landing on carrier deck

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:24

It’s still a work in progress: perfect conditions, no particular weather concerns, totally clear flight deck, but it shows that unmanned aircraft are becoming capable of much more than they’ve done so far:

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator conducts a touch and go landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), marking the first time any unmanned aircraft has completed a touch and go landing at sea. George H.W. Bush is conducting training operations in the Atlantic Ocean.

May 15, 2013

US Navy successfully launches UAV from aircraft carrier

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Spencer Ackerman talks about yesterday’s step forward for unmanned aircraft in the US Navy:

ABOARD THE U.S.S. GEORGE H.W. BUSH — At 11:19 a.m. today, for the first time in history, a plane without a pilot in it executed one of the most complex missions in aviation: launching off an aircraft carrier at sea. Only the Navy can’t yet land that drone aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, an even harder but necessary maneuver if large drones are really going to operate off carriers.

On a crisp, bright and nearly cloudless day, about 100 miles off the Virginia coast, the crew of the Bush and the team behind the highly autonomous X-47B loaded up the deck’s second catapult with the drone and shot it off into the sky above the eastern Atlantic. The drone — which has its own callsign, “Salty Dog 502″ — turned downwind and passed over the ship twice, first from 1000 feet overhead and then from 60 feet overhead, before flying back to dry land in Maryland. The launch went exactly as the Navy hoped.

With that, the era of the drone took a major step toward patrolling the skies above the world’s waterways. It’s something the Navy hopes will have big implications for supplementing manned fighter jets in a carrier air wing, providing both persistent surveillance far out at sea and ultimately firing weapons in highly defended airspace that might mean death for human pilots.

Senior Navy officers openly likened the X-47B’s launch off the Bush to the first-ever launch of a plane off the U.S.S. Birmingham in 1910. “It’s one small step for man,” remarked Rear Adm. Matt Winter, the Navy’s chief program officer for unmanned systems, “and one significant technical step for unmanned-kind.”

April 17, 2013

More on the US Navy’s laser weapon development effort

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:37

Earlier this month, it was reported that the US Navy had successfully tested their ship-mounted laser defence system called LaWS (earlier story here). Strategy Page has more information about the weapon system’s development:

The U.S. Navy believes it has found a laser technology that is capable of being useful in combat. This is not a sudden development but has been going on for most of the last decade. Three years ago the navy successfully tested this new laser weapon (six solid state lasers acting in unison), using it to destroy a small UAV. That was the seventh time the navy laser had destroyed a UAV this way. But the LaWS (Laser Weapon System) was not yet powerful enough to do this at the range, and power level, required to cripple the expected targets (missiles and small boats.) The manufacturer convinced the navy that it was just a matter of tweaking the technology to get the needed effectiveness. Three years later another test was run, under more realistic conditions. LaWS worked, knocking down a larger UAV at longer range. The navy now plans to install the system in a warship within the year for even more realistic testing.

The LaWS laser cannon was mounted on a KINETO Tracking Mount, which is similar, but larger (and more accurate than) the mount used by the Phalanx CIWS (Close In Weapons System). The navy laser weapon tests used the radar and tracking system of the CIWS. Four years ago CIWS was upgraded so that its sensors could detect speedboats, small aircraft, and naval mines. This was crucial because knocking down UAVs is not something that the navy needs help with. But with the ability to do enough damage to disable boats or missiles that are over two kilometers distant meant the LaWS was worth mounting on a warship. LaWS may yet prove incapable of working under combat conditions, but so far this new development has kept passing tests.

[. . .]

The LaWS uses electricity and more and more U.S. warships are producing a lot of electricity, mainly because it is used to operate electrical motors to propel the ship and, as part of that plan, operate weapons like LaWS. Thus a warship with an electrical drive (propulsion) system would be able support multiple shots from LaWS at low cost (a few dollars per firing). By current standards that’s pretty inexpensive ammo. The 20mm shells for the Phalanx cost less than $30 each, but you have to fire a hundred or more at each target. The 20mm cannon is being replaced by RIM-116 “Rolling Air Frame” missiles that have a longer range (7.5 kilometers) than the 20mm cannon (two kilometers) but cost nearly half a million dollars each.

Nearly half a century of engineering work has produced thousands of improvements, and a few breakthroughs, in making the lasers more powerful, accurate, and lethal. More efficient energy storage has made it possible to use lighter, shorter range ground based lasers effective against smaller targets like mortar shells and short-range rockets. Northrop’s move a decade ago was an indication that the company felt confident enough to gamble its own money, instead of what they get for government research contracts, to produce useful laser weapons. A larger high energy airborne laser would not only be useful against ballistic missiles but enemy aircraft and space satellites would also be at risk. But companies like Northrop and Boeing are still trying to produce ground and airborne lasers that can successfully operate under combat conditions. The big problem with anti-missile airborne lasers has always been the power supply. Lots of chemicals are needed to generate sufficient power for a laser that can reach out for hundreds of kilometers and do sufficient damage to a ballistic missile. To be effective the airborne laser needs sufficient power to get off several shots. So far, no one has been able to produce such a weapon. Shorter range solid state lasers need lots of electricity. This is difficult for aircraft or ground troops but not for properly equipped ship. That’s why these lasers remain “the weapon of the future” and will probably remain so for a while.

LaWS takes a different approach, using existing solid-state laser technology tweaked to complement the 20mm cannon shells normally used with Phalanx. Unlike the 20mm autocannon, the power of LaWS can be adjusted down to non-lethal (but blinding to the human eye) levels. That makes LaWS more flexible than the 20mm cannon and cheaper to operate. That will happen if LaWS proves able to operate under the same conditions that the 20mm cannon in Phalanx has operated for decades.

March 31, 2013

The question is not whether armed drones will be deployed domestically, but when

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:01

Glenn Greenwald presents a strong case that it is inevitable that armed drones will be deployed over the US:

The use of drones by domestic US law enforcement agencies is growing rapidly, both in terms of numbers and types of usage. As a result, civil liberties and privacy groups led by the ACLU — while accepting that domestic drones are inevitable — have been devoting increasing efforts to publicizing their unique dangers and agitating for statutory limits. These efforts are being impeded by those who mock the idea that domestic drones pose unique dangers (often the same people who mock concern over their usage on foreign soil). This dismissive posture is grounded not only in soft authoritarianism (a religious-type faith in the Goodness of US political leaders and state power generally) but also ignorance over current drone capabilities, the ways drones are now being developed and marketed for domestic use, and the activities of the increasingly powerful domestic drone lobby. So it’s quite worthwhile to lay out the key under-discussed facts shaping this issue.

I’m going to focus here most on domestic surveillance drones, but I want to say a few words about weaponized drones. The belief that weaponized drones won’t be used on US soil is patently irrational. Of course they will be. It’s not just likely but inevitable. Police departments are already speaking openly about how their drones “could be equipped to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun.” The drone industry has already developed and is now aggressively marketing precisely such weaponized drones for domestic law enforcement use. It likely won’t be in the form that has received the most media attention: the type of large Predator or Reaper drones that shoot Hellfire missiles which destroy homes and cars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and multiple other countries aimed at Muslims (although US law enforcement agencies already possess Predator drones and have used them over US soil for surveillance).

March 19, 2013

Considering the future of the aircraft carrier

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

At the Thin Pinstriped Line blog, Sir Humphrey considers the arguments put forward by a US Navy officer on the viability of the USN carrier fleet:

Humphrey was lucky enough to be tipped off about the existence of an extremely thought provoking article by a US Navy officer (Captain Hendrix) on the future viability of the US carrier fleet. This was an alternative thinkpiece, produced in an unofficial capacity, but one that does raise some extremely searching questions about the viability of the long term future of the US carrier fleet.

The author conducted a detailed analysis of the cost of the CVN fleet, and also of the airwing attached to it, and broadly concluded that in terms of delivering effect, there were other means that could deliver similar effect for less cost (e.g. stand off missiles, more escort vessels etc). He was also scathing about the overall cost effectiveness of a current airwing, suggesting that large amounts of an aircraft’s use was linked to carrier qualification and not necessarily the delivery of effect. At the same time, the increased use of long range anti-ship missiles will make it more difficult to operate close in to an enemy coastline without being at increased risk. He believes that because of this, in future the F35 will simply not have the range to be able to penetrate enemy air defences, and that instead efforts should focus on development of a navalised UCAV to take over instead of the F35, with any future force structure being built around UCAVs and SSGNs using land attack missiles.

[. . .]

What is perhaps interesting about the paper is that in many ways it revisits a lot of the long term arguments about the validity of carriers, and revisits them to show that the perceived weaknesses remain the same as they always have. One only has to think of the argument in the UK in the 1960s, when the decision was taken to move away from fixed wing carriers that they were inherently vulnerable to attack and could be sunk with ease. Humphrey is always somewhat sceptical of claims about ‘wonder weapons’ that can take out a carrier battle group from nowhere with ease. While there are indeed many very potent long range weapons out there, the problem remains one of getting accurate enough real time intelligence to be able to ensure accurate targeting of the carrier in the event of war.

[. . .]

The issue for UCAVs at present is that they are probably not at a sufficient level of maturity to conduct the wide range of operations that are being envisaged for JSF. It is worth considering that while there is plenty of use of so-called ‘drones’ like the Predator, these are fundamentally fairly simple aircraft designed to not be used in hugely complex missions. To meet the requirements of a new UCAV, you would essentially need to design an entirely new platform from scratch, adding in technologies never used before and then integrate it with all the likely weapons systems expected to be used. You’d then need to ensure the platforms were capable of flying the missions expected of them, which are likely to be very different to the so-called ‘racetrack’ circuits flown by drones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

March 12, 2013

US Army to standardize on four current UAV models

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:56

The US Army reasonably expects their budget to be under strain for some time. Here’s at least one sensible economy move:

Faced with smaller budgets over the next decade the U.S. Army has halted evaluation of new UAVs and is standardizing on four existing models (Gray Eagle, Shadow 2000, Raven and Puma). All four of these were developed and purchased in large quantities over the last dozen years and will remain the primary army UAVs for the next 5-10 years.

The army currently has nearly 7,000 UAVs. Over 6,000 are micro-UAVs like the Raven and Puma, These tiny (under six kg/13.2 pound) reconnaissance aircraft have become very popular with the troops, anyone of which can become an operator after a few hours of training. These tiny UAVs are a radical new military aircraft technology that is took air recon to a new level. That level is low, a few hundred meters off the ground. The army has nearly 1,798 Raven and 325 Puma UAVs systems in use by ground troops. A complete system (controller, spare parts, and three UAVs) costs $250,000 for the Raven and over $400,000 for Puma. These tiny aircraft have changed how the troops fight and greatly reduced army dependence on the air force for air reconnaissance. The lightweight, hand launched Raven UAV can only stay airborne about an hour per sortie, but troops have found that this is enough time to do all sorts of useful work, even when there’s no fighting going on. This is most of the time. The heavier Puma can stay up for 120 minutes.

March 11, 2013

Democratic supporters still hoping Rand Paul will shut up and go away

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:52

In the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald rounds up the reactions on the left to Rand Paul’s filibuster last week:

Last week’s 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director by GOP Sen. Rand Paul was one of the first — and, from the perspective of media attention, easily among the most effective — Congressional efforts to dramatize and oppose just how radical these Terrorism-justified powers have become. For the first time since the 9/11 attack, even lowly cable news shows were forced — by the Paul filibuster — to extensively discuss the government’s extremist theories of power and to debate the need for checks and limits.

All of this put Democrats — who spent eight years flamboyantly pretending to be champions of due process and opponents of mass secrecy and executive power abuses — in a very uncomfortable position. The politician who took such a unique stand in defense of these principles was not merely a Republican but a leading member of its dreaded Tea Party wing, while the actor most responsible for the extremist theories of power being protested was their own beloved leader and his political party.

[. . .]

Meanwhile, a large bulk of the Democratic and liberal commentariat — led, as usual, by the highly-paid DNC spokesmen called “MSNBC hosts” and echoed, as usual, by various liberal blogs, which still amusingly fancy themselves as edgy and insurgent checks on political power rather than faithful servants to it — degraded all of the weighty issues raised by this episode by processing it through their stunted, trivial prism of partisan loyalty. They thus dutifully devoted themselves to reading from the only script they know: Democrats Good, GOP Bad.

To accomplish that, most avoided full-throated defenses of drones and the power of the president to secretly order US citizens executed without due process or transparency. They prefer to ignore the fact that the politician they most deeply admire is a devoted defender of those policies. After stumbling around for a few days in search of a tactic to convert this episode into an attack on the GOP and distract from Obama’s extremism, they collectively settled on personalizing the conflict by focusing on Rand Paul’s flaws as a person and a politician and, in particular, mocking his concerns as “paranoia” (that attack was echoed, among others, by the war-cheering Washington Post editorial page).

[. . .]

The reality is that Paul was doing nothing more than voicing concerns that have long been voiced by leading civil liberties groups such as the ACLU. Indeed, the ACLU lavishly praised Paul, saying that “as a result of Sen. Paul’s historic filibuster, civil liberties got two wins”. In particular, said the ACLU, “Americans learned about the breathtakingly broad claims of executive authority undergirding the Obama administration’s vast killing program.

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