War Evolves With Bug-Sized Drones
posted by Keito
2012-08-13 14:51:03'WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Two miles from the cow pasture where the Wright Brothers learned to fly the first airplanes, military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones, the kind that fire missiles into Pakistan and spy on insurgents in Afghanistan, to the size of insects and birds.
The base’s indoor flight lab is called the “microaviary,” and for good reason. The drones in development here are designed to replicate the flight mechanics of moths, hawks and other inhabitants of the natural world. “We’re looking at how you hide in plain sight,” said Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, as he held up a prototype of a mechanical hawk that in the future might carry out espionage or kill.
Half a world away in Afghanistan, Marines marvel at one of the new blimplike spy balloons that float from a tether 15,000 feet above one of the bloodiest outposts of the war, Sangin in Helmand Province. The balloon, called an aerostat, can transmit live video — from as far as 20 miles away — of insurgents planting homemade bombs. “It’s been a game-changer for me,” Capt. Nickoli Johnson said in Sangin this spring. “I want a bunch more put in.”
From blimps to bugs, an explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars. Predator drones, the Cessna-sized workhorses that have dominated unmanned flight since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are by now a brand name, known and feared around the world. But far less known is the sheer size, variety and audaciousness of a rapidly expanding drone universe, along with the dilemmas that come with it.
The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. Within the next decade the Air Force anticipates a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of “multirole” aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined.
“It’s a growth market,” said Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.
The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones next year, and by 2030 envisions ever more stuff of science fiction: “spy flies” equipped with sensors and microcameras to detect enemies, nuclear weapons or victims in rubble. Peter W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Wired for War,” a book about military robotics, calls them “bugs with bugs.”
In recent months drones have been more crucial than ever in fighting wars and terrorism. The Central Intelligence Agency spied on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan by video transmitted from a new bat-winged stealth drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, otherwise known as the “Beast of Kandahar,” named after it was first spotted on a runway in Afghanistan. One of Pakistan’s most wanted militants, Ilyas Kashmiri, was reported dead this month in a C.I.A. drone strike, part of an aggressive drone campaign that administration officials say has helped paralyze Al Qaeda in the region — and has become a possible rationale for an accelerated withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. More than 1,900 insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas have been killed by American drones since 2006, according to the Web site www.longwarjournal.com.
In April the United States began using armed Predator drones against Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya. Last month a C.I.A.-armed Predator aimed a missile at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen. The Predator missed, but American drones continue to patrol Yemen’s skies.
Large or small, drones raise questions about the growing disconnect between the American public and its wars. Military ethicists concede that drones can turn war into a videogame, inflict civilian casualties and, with no Americans directly at risk, more easily draw the United States into conflicts. Drones have also created a crisis of information for analysts on the end of a daily video deluge. Not least, the Federal Aviation Administration has qualms about expanding their test flights at home, as the Pentagon would like. Last summer, fighter jets were almost scrambled after a rogue Fire Scout drone, the size of a small helicopter, wandered into Washington’s restricted airspace.
Within the military, no one disputes that drones save American lives. Many see them as advanced versions of “stand-off weapons systems,” like tanks or bombs dropped from aircraft, that the United States has used for decades. “There’s a kind of nostalgia for the way wars used to be,” said Deane-Peter Baker, an ethics professor at the United States Naval Academy, referring to noble notions of knight-on-knight conflict. Drones are part of a post-heroic age, he said, and in his view it is not a always a problem if they lower the threshold for war. “It is a bad thing if we didn’t have a just cause in the first place,” Mr. Baker said. “But if we did have a just cause, we should celebrate anything that allows us to pursue that just cause.”
To Mr. Singer of Brookings, the debate over drones is like debating the merits of computers in 1979: They are they here to stay, and the boom has barely begun. “We are at the Wright Brothers Flier stage of this,” he said.
-- Mimicking Insect Flight
A tiny helicopter is buzzing menacingly as it prepares to lift off in the Wright-Patterson aviary, a warehouse-like room lined with 60 motion-capture cameras to track the little drone’s every move. The helicopter, a footlong hobbyists’ model, has been programmed by a computer to fly itself. Soon it is up in the air making purposeful figure eights.
“What it’s doing out here is nothing special,” said Dr. Parker, the aerospace engineer. The researchers are using the helicopter to test technology that would make it possible for a computer to fly, say, a drone that looks like a dragonfly. “To have a computer do it 100 per cent of the time, and to do it with winds, and to do it when it doesn’t really know where the vehicle is, those are the kinds of technologies that we’re trying to develop,” Dr. Parker said.
The push right now is developing “flapping wing” technology, or recreating the physics of natural flight, but with a focus on insects rather than birds. Birds have complex muscles that move their wings, making it difficult to copy their aerodynamics. Designing a an insect is hard, too, but their wing motions are simpler. “It’s a lot easier problem,” Dr. Parker said.”
In February, researchers unveiled a hummingbird drone, built by the firm AeroVironment for the secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which can fly at 11 miles per hour and perch on a windowsill. But it is still a prototype. One of the smallest drones in use on the battlefield is the three-foot-long Raven, which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill.
There are some 4,800 Ravens in operation in the Army, although plenty get lost. One American service member in Germany recalled how five soldiers and officers spent six hours tramping through a dark Bavarian forest — and then sent a helicopter — on a fruitless search for a Raven that failed to return home from a training exercise. The next month a Raven went AWOL again, this time because of a programming error that sent it south. “The initial call I got was that the Raven was going to Africa,” said the service member, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss drone glitches.
In the midsize range: The Predator, the larger Reaper and the smaller Shadow, all flown by remote pilots using joysticks and computer screens, many from military bases in the United States. A Navy entry is the X-47B, a prototype designed to take off and land from aircraft carriers automatically and, when commanded, drop bombs. The X-47B had a maiden 29-minute flight over land in February. A larger drone is the Global Hawk, which is used for keeping an eye on North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities. In March, the Pentagon sent a Global Hawk over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan to assess the damage.
-- A Tsunami of Data
The future world of drones is here inside the Air Force headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., where hundreds of flat-screen TVs hang from industrial metal skeletons in a cavernous room, a scene vaguely reminiscent of a rave club. In fact this is one of the most sensitive installations for processing, exploiting and disseminating a tsunami of information from a global network of flying sensors.
The numbers are overwhelming: Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the hours the Air Force devotes to flying missions for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have gone up 3,100 percent, most of that from increased operations of drones. Every day, the Air Force must process almost 1,500 hours of full-motion video and another 1,500 still images, much of it from Predators and Reapers on around-the-clock combat air patrols.
The pressures on humans will only increase as the military moves from the limited “soda straw” views of today’s sensors to new “Gorgon Stare” technology that can capture live video of an entire city — but requires 2,000 analysts to process the data feeds from a single drone, compared with 19 analysts per drone today.
At Wright-Patterson, Maj. Michael L. Anderson, a doctoral student at the base’s advanced navigation technology center, is focused on another part of the future: building wings for a drone that might replicate the flight of the hawk moth, known for its hovering skills. "It’s impressive what they can do,” Major Anderson said, “compared to what our clumsy aircraft can do.”'
Quadrotors flying in synchronised swarm formation
posted by Keito
US Attorneys Refuse to Assure Judge That They Are Not Already Detaining Citizens Under NDAA
posted by Keito
2012-08-12 11:46:03'The US government seems determined to have the power to do away with due process and Americans’ right to a trial.
I am one of the lead plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit against the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the President the power to hold any US citizen anywhere for as long as he wants, without charge or trial. In May, following a March hearing, Judge Katherine Forrest issued an injunction against it; this week, in a final hearing in New York City, US government lawyers essentially asserted even more extreme powers – the power to entirely disregard the Judge and the law. Indeed, on Monday, August 6, Obama’s lawyers filed an appeal to the injunction – a profoundly important development that as of this writing has been scarcely reported.
In the March hearing, the US lawyers had confirmed that yes, the NDAA does give the President the power to lock up people like journalist Chris Hedges and peaceful activists like myself and other plaintiffs. Government attorneys have stated on record that even war correspondents could be locked up indefinitely under the NDAA. Judge Katherine Forrest had ruled for a temporary injunction against an unconstitutional provision in this law – after government attorneys refused to provide assurances to the court that plaintiffs and others would not be indefinitely detained for engaging in first amendment activities. Twice the government has refused to define what it means to be an “associated force”, and it claimed the right to refrain from offering any clear definition of this term, or clear boundaries of power under this law. This past week’s hearing was even more terrifying: incredibly, in this hearing, Obama’s attorneys refused to assure the court, when questioned, that the NDAA’s provision – one that permits reporters and others who have not committed crimes to be detained without trial -- has not been applied by the US government anywhere in the world -- AFTER Judge Forrest’s injunction. In other words, they were saying to a US judge that they could not or would not state whether Obama’s government had complied with the legal injunction that she had lain down before them.
To this, Judge Forrest responded that if the provision has indeed been applied, the United States government itself will be in contempt of court. Government attorneys also, in this hearing, again presented no evidence to support their position -- and brought forth no witnesses.
I have mixed feelings about suing my government, and in particular, my president, over the National Defense Authorization Act. I voted for Obama. I even had an Obama dance; and I could not stop crying for joy and pride the night he was elected. I defended him for over two years.
But no longer. The US public often ignores his actual failings, and more importantly, entirely ignores how, when it comes to the “war on terror”, the US government as a whole has been deceitful, reckless, even murderous. We lost nearly 3000 people on 9/11. Then we allowed the Bush administration to lie and force us into war with a country that had nothing to do with that terrible day: we killed between several hundred thousand and one million Iraqi citizens, caused vast harm to our own soldiers and gutted this nation’s treasury for a war that never should have happened. Given these crimes, it is no wonder that Bush, Obama, and the US Congress appear now to be far more interested in enacting misguided, “boogieman in every corner” “war on terror” policies that distract citizens from investigating the truth about what we’ve done, and what we’ve become, since 9/11.
I, like many in this fight, am now afraid of my government. We have good reason to be. Due to the NDAA, Chris Hedges, Kai Wargalla, the other plaintiffs and I are squarely in the crosshairs of a “war on terror” that has been an excuse to undermine liberties, trample the US Constitution, destroy mechanisms of accountability and transparency, and cause irreparable harm to millions. Several of my co-plaintiffs know well the harassment and harm that they incur from having dared openly to defy the US government’s narrative: court testimony included government subpoenas of private bank records of Icelandic Parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, Wargalla’s account of having been listed as a ‘terrorist group”, and Hedges’ concern that he would be included as a “belligerent” in the NDAA’s definition of the term – because he interviews members of outlawed groups as a reporter – a concern that the US attorneys refused on the record to allay. Other advocates have had email accounts consistently hacked, and often find their electronic communications corrupted in transmission – some emails vanish altogether – a now-increasing form of pressure that supporters of state surveillance and intervention in the internet often fail to consider.
I’ve been surprised to find that most people, when I mention that I am suing my president, Leon Panetta, and six members of Congress (four Democrats and four Republicans), thank me – even before I explain what I’m suing them over! And when I do explain the fact that I and my seven co-plaintiffs are suing over a law that suspends due process, threatens first amendment rights and takes away the basic right of every citizen on this planet to not be indefinitely detained without charge or trial, their exuberance shifts, and a deeper gratitude shines through their newly somber demeanors. But this fight has taken a personal toll on many of us, including myself. This winter, as I led the campaign to amend this lawsuit and was working over 80 hours per week to get everything ready, I suddenly ended up in the emergency room, and have subsequently endured six months of a debilitating neurological illness. Thus, I have relied on an international team of volunteers, whose courage and energy has led them successfully to garner support for a lawsuit that is an attempt to restore our most fundamental of liberties.
My government seems to have lost the ability to tell – and, perhaps, even to know -- the truth about the Constitution any more. I and many others have not. We are fighting for due process and for the First Amendment; for a country we still believe in; and for a government that is still legally bound to its Constitution.
If that makes us their “enemies”, then so be it. As long as they cannot call us “belligerents”, lock us up and throw away the key – a power that, incredibly, this past week US government lawyers still asserted is their right to claim . Against such abuses, we will keep fighting.
I am no radical; I am simply a moderate Democrat, suing my out-of-control government. For the sake of people everywhere, I sincerely hope we win.
For more details go to: http://stopNDAA.org'
TextMate 2 goes Open Source!
posted by Keito
2012-08-11 21:49:48This is for the programmers/developers out there. Textmate2 has long been a well respected text editor, unfortunately Mac only... and also closed source.
Now though (open source fans rejoice!), the developer has decided to release the project as open source, licensed under the GPL3!
"I’ve always wanted to allow end-users to tinker with their environment, my ability to do this is what got me excited about programming in the first place, and it is why I created the bundles concept, but there are limits to how much a bundle can do, and with the still growing user base, I think the best move forward is to open source the program.
The choice of license is GPL 3. This is partly to avoid a closed source fork and partly because the hacker in me wants all software to be free (as in speech), so in a time where our platform vendor* is taking steps to limit our freedom, this is my small attempt of countering such trend."
Armed & Bailed: US 'Blackwater' mercs pay crimes with fine
posted by Keito
2012-08-10 11:18:10Looks like Academi (formerly Xe Services LLC, Blackwater USA and Blackwater Worldwide) is in trouble once again. A ruthless mercenary group with the backing and support of the US Government.
"Department of Justice is letting a contractor away with a fine despite it being charged with arms smuggling and other crimes. The group formerly known as Blackwater must now fork out over seven and a half million dollars to avoid criminal prosecution.
Retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer warns it's a dangerous precedent to set."