Posts tagged ‘intelligence’
A Good Start
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees private and commercial aircraft operations, has chosen six sites to test the best ways for introducing unmanned aircraft into the crowded National Airspace.
The sites are located in six states: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Virginia and Texas. The entities – three universities, an aiport and two state governments were all picked for their climate, research facilities and air traffic conditions. “In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs,” the FAA said.
Congress has ordered the FAA to develop a program for the safe introduction of commercial unmanned aircraft, usually known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS – although most people call them drones – into the already crowded National Airspace System by 2015.
Currently only government, industrial and academic UAV operators are allowed to fly them in highly restricted air zones — mostly for research — once they have received a certificate of authorization (COA). The COAs limit when and where they can fly their drones. Hobbyists may fly a small UAS no higher than 300 feet above ground and must always maintain visual contact with the drone. No commercial drone activity is allowed at this time although proponents say they would be useful for monitoring traffic during a mass evacuation, crops and livestock, wild animal migration, forest fires, oil and gas pipelines, Arctic sea ice and emergency response operations.
As we noted in November, the FAA has issued its initial plans, or roadmap, for integrating UAS into U.S. skies, but the process is expected to take 15 years.
UAS supporters worry that the outrage raised by U.S. drone strikes against militants and terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere — that have led to civilian casualties — has made the American public leery of drones flying overhead. There is also concern about privacy and other civil rights being violated by a camera-equipped UAS flown by law enforcement or intelligence agencies. That worry is largely driven by last summer’s revelations of covert cell phone and email meta data gathering by the National Security Agency.
So the Aerospace States Association, the American Civil Liberties Association and other groups have developed suggested guidelines for state laws concerning drones that will protect civil liberties without pulling the plug on an industry with the potential to create thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to the national economy.
And the companies that provide services ranging from translators to aircraft for humanitarian aid and relief organizations are exploring how UAS might help them with security and finding refugees or survivors of natural and man-made disasters in undeveloped countries, according to the programs and operations director of the International Stability Operations Association.
As we mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we’re reminded of the continuing tension between gathering all the information needed to protect the United States from another attack and safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of the people being protected.
Two seemingly unrelated events this year — the Boston Marathon bombing and the revelation of far reaching U.S. domestic spying programs – underscore the nagging problems a constitutional democracy faces while trying to protect itself.
The 9/11 Commission Report, issued by a blue ribbon panel following the 2001 attacks, recommended restructuring the U.S. Intelligence Community to eliminate structural barriers to performing joint intelligence work. “The importance of integrated, all-source analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, it is not possible to ‘connect the dots,” the Commission Report stated.
Avoiding Nasty Surprises
The uproar over the National Security Agency’s wide-ranging cell phone and Internet surveillance revived a national debate about the necessity of intelligence gathering and what the federal government does with what it learns.
But the accumulation of “Big Data” – millions and millions of phone calls, text messages and emails — whether by government agencies or private corporations, underscores the urgency of acquiring intelligence that can be acted upon in real time. This is especially true in an era when the United States is confronted by near peer competitors like China and Russia, hostile nation states such as North Korea and Iran and non-state, violent extremist networks like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Actionable intelligence is simply that: information gleaned from a range of sources that enables decision makers – from political leaders to field commanders – to take appropriate and timely action when faced with a security threat like an imminent terrorist attack or the shipment of weapons of mass destruction.
The bottom line: preventing nasty surprises.
More than 2,000 Older Systems to Go
ARLINGTON. Virginia – The U.S. Army has spent $730 million since 2003 on unmanned ground vehicles – mostly small robots on caterpillar tracks – but with the current budget crunch, it doesn’t expect to spend much more in the near future.
“When you see the president’s budget that’s going to be submitted in about a month,” Maj. Gen. Robert Dyess, head of the Army’s Force Development Directorate, told an unmanned systems industry group recently, “you’ll question if the Army is actually committed to unmanned ground systems.”
“Our hands are tied,” Dyess told the attendees at the 2013 review of government robotic programs sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International Systems (AUVSI), a three-day conference that ended last week (Feb. 14).
The problem, he said, is the threat of sequestration – a blunt and last ditch deficit reducing tool that will cut Defense Department spending by nearly $500 billion over the next five years if it goes into effect March 1. On top of that, Congress failed to pass a defense budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2012. Under a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government going, Congress has frozen spending at 2012 levels – meaning no new programs can be started and there is little leeway to move money around within the department from uneeded programs to ones desperatley short of funds.
Last week Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told a congressional hearing the cuts imposed by the CR and the sequestion – if they go forward – would amount to about $12 billion – mostly to operation and maintenance activities. That would be on top of the estimated $160 billion in cuts to the Army budget over the next nine years under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which trims almost $500 billion from the total defense budget over the next decade.
“If you’re expecting really positive from me today, I just cannot give it to you,” said Dyess, the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, which focused on ground vehicles. He added that the Army and other armed services will attempt to save money by divesting themselves of some robots and repairing the rest of their inventory in-house.
The plan calls for resetting existing unmanned ground systems (UGS) like Talon and Packbot by bringing them home from Afghanistan and elsewhere to be repaired and upgraded at Army facilities rather than by defense contractors. The Army plans to divest itself of 2,469 older UGSs – sending them to other departments and agencies. While the final recipients haven’t been determined yet, Dyess expected some of the ‘bots might go to allied militaries and local U.S. law enforcement.
That will leave about 2,700 UGSs in service. Rather than buy many more up-to-date robots, the Army and other armed services will seek to upgrade the robots they already have with so-called applique kits that add capabilities or improve existing ones.
Dyess noted that the Army has spent $730 million on unmanned ground systems since 2003. “That has saved countless lives, limbs and [the] eyesight of our soldiers,” he said, adding: “a very, very, very good investment.”
In the future, Dyess said, Army leadership will be looking for modularity of robot features like reconnaissance or bomb disposal equipment to encourage interoperability within units and other services. The Army is turning its focus to smaller unmanned systems that can be operated at the squad level, connected to a network and work with other assets like aviation. Autonomous operation of robots without constant of radio or telemetry control by humans is also a goal for operations, such as convoys.
“The Army is not going to buy a large ground robot, but we are very interested in turning any vehicle we have into a large ground robot” to meet the requirements of individual commanders, Dyess said.
Counter Terrorism Effort Funded
The U.S. Army and Marine Corps will shrink as will the number of Air Force fighter squadrons and Navy cruisers under the Obama administration’s 2013 budget request, but Special Operations Forces and other irregular warfare programs will continue to see steady funding.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff outlined their plans for cutting personnel, programs and units to meet congressionally-mandated spending cuts during a Pentagon briefing session Thursday (Jan. 26).
The Defense Department will ask Congress for $525 billion in funding for Fiscal Year 2013 which runs from Oct. 1 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013. That’s about $33 billion less than Congress approved for the Pentagon in 2012 9$531 billion). Panetta and military leaders are also seeking an additional $88.4 billion to fund the war in Afghanistan and other overseas contingency operations around the world like this week’s hostage rescue mission in Somalia. That figure, too, is lower than the $115 billion approved by Congress last year.
Earlier this month, Panetta and Dempsey unveiled the Pentagon’s strategic guidance which called for a shift in priorities after a decade of war in iraq and Afghanistan. It calls for focusing more on the Asia-Pacific area while keeping an eye on the Middle East – especially in the area of the Persian Gulf.
But the 2013 budget request is also being driven by pressure from Congress to cut the enormous U.S. Budget deficit. The 2011 Budget Control Act requires the Defense Department to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years.
“We have to retain the kind of leverage the lessons of recent conflicts have given us,” Panetta told the press briefing. “And we need to stay ahead of the most lethal and distruptive threats that we’re going to face in the future,” he added.
That means protecting – or increasing – investments in things like cyber cabailities, projecting power in denied areas and Special Operations Forces “the kind that we saw that conducted the bin Laden raid and the hostage rescue operation.” Panetta said. Other investments to be protected include homeland missile defense and countering weapons of mass destruction.
Dempsey and other Pentagon officials noted that while the amount of money was directed by Congress, the decisions on where to make the cuts were driven by the strategic guidance and the concdept of matching the size and needs of the military to the missions of the future. “This budget is the first step,” Dempsey said, adding: “It’s a downpayment as we transition from an emphasis on today’s wars to preparing for tomorrow’s.”
Details of the Pentagon’s 2013 budget request will be released after President Obama issues the full budget on Feb. 13. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials outlined some of the proposed cuts and changes:
The Army will be reduced in size from a high of 570,000 in the years after 9/11 to 490,000 by 2017. The Marine Corps will shrink during the same period from a peak of 202,000 to 182,000 personnel.
There are also plans to cut six of the Air Force’s 60 tactical air fighter squadrons. “None of that will impact our ability to police the skies,” Panetta said. The budget also calls for retiring 27 aging C-5As – the massive four-engine intercontinental cargo airlifters – and 65 of the oldest C-130s – smaller turbo-prop transport aircraft. That will still leave the Air Force with 52 modernized C-5Ms and 318 C-130s as well as 222 jet-powered C-17 cargo aircraft.
The Navy will retire seven cruisers ahead of schedule but maintain its 11 nuclear-powered, big deck aircraft carriers, which are deemed essential for projecting power in an era when the number of U.S. overseas bases is shrinking. There are also plans to base one of the new Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore and the Marine Corps will have a small but steady presence in Australia.
Pentagon leaders say the U.S. will be engaged in counter terrorism operations around the globe, so in addition to the emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, there will be a focus on Special Operations Forces like Navy Seals, Green Berets and Army Rangers. Unmanned air systems (UAS) are also getting a boost with funds aimed at sustaining the Air Force MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. The Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle is also being funded in the next budget.
One UAS that is being cut is the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 program. Panetta said the high flying unmanned surveillance aircraft had proved to be just too expensive at more than $200 million apiece. Instead the Defense Department is extending the Cold War era U-2 spy plane program. Other versions of the Global Hawk, such as the Block 40 and the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system will continue. Other programs that provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are also being shielded from the budget ax.
Not only is Iran refusing a U.S. request to return a downed unmanned spy plane, the Islamic Republic is demanding an apology from Washington for violating its airspace.
On Monday (Dec. 12) President Obama told reporters the U.S. had asked for the drone to be returned – as if. But it took only a day for officials in Tehran to say “نه” (No.) In fact, Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi was reported by Iranian media as saying the drone will remain in Iran “as part of its assets,” the New York Times reports.
Iran first announced that it had shot down the aircraft on Dec. 4, 140 miles inside its territory and identified it as an R-170 Sentinel, one of the newest and most secretive of U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Tehran later changed its story, saying it had brought the high-flying aircraft – not by missile strike or gunfire – but by hacking into the UAV’s control systems and forcing it to land. Iran broadcast video of what it said was a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
In video and photographs made publuic last week, Tehran showed its captured prize although drapery covered the drone’s landing gear, so it was hard to tell if it was an actual RQ-170 or some sort of mockup created for publicity and propaganda purposes, as some observers claimed.
Meanwhile, Iran, still furious about the drone – said to have been flown out of Afghanistan to spy on Iranian nuclear weapons developments – is demanding an apology from Washington, saying that must happen before Tehran even considers giving the drone back.
Iran is now claiming it is in the final stages of deciphering the drone’s top secret radar-evading technology. According to news reports, Iranian officials say they are nearing completion of reverse engineering the unmanned aircraft to unlock its secret stealth technology. Iranian news organizations say Russian and Chinese officials have asked to inspect it.
However, the folks over at Aviation Week say the information Iran can glean from the downed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is minimal.
In video and photographs made public last week, Tehran showed its captured prize although drapery covered the drone’s landing gear, so it was hard to tell if it was an actual RQ-170 or some sort of mockup created for publicity and propaganda purposes, as some observers claimed.
Meanwhile, Tehran is complaining loudly about the violation of its airspace by a U.S. drone. The Afghan ambassador to Iran was summoned to the foreign ministry to hear complaints about Afghanistan’s part in the incident. The drone is believed to have been operated by the CIA out of an airbase in Afghanistan. Iran also says it is going to the United Nations to complain about the incident.
Reports by the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press indicate the U.S. was considering a covert strike to destroy the drone and its high tech equipment.
Iran in Venezuela
While the U.S. devoted its attention, first to Iraq, and now to Afghanistan, Iran has been making inroads in Latin America Lt. Col. Phillip R. Cuccia says in an op-ed piece carried in this month’s Strategic Studies Institute newsletter.
Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, Iran has opened six new embassies in South America. Cuccia worries that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez “is flirting just a little too much with Iran.” Additionally, he notes, Venezuela is signing oil deals with China, buying arms from Russia and threatening war with Colombia.
UAV Data Firehose
Christopher Drew writes in Monday’s New York Times that U.S. military and intelligence officials are having a hard time keeping up with all the data they’re getting from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “Air Force drones collected nearly three times as much video over Afghanistan and Iraq last year as in 2007,” the piece notes. That’s 24 years’ worth of video if viewed continuously.
Big Brother, Big Bother
George Orwell, your “Minority Report” is ready. Airport security of the not-too-distant future might include technology that can assess what a person is thinking when confronted by images only a would-be terrorist would recognize, according to an Associated Press report published in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.