Posts tagged ‘Predator B’
AUVSI North America 2011
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International holds its annual conference and product expo in Washington, D.C. next week.
The military and other government agencies will outline their needs and plans for unmanned aircraft, ground vehicles and robotic vehicles that sail under and on the sea. Scores of contractors and manufacturers will also be on hand to discuss their products and reveal new developments.
All of the armed services, as wsell as the CIA, use unmanned systems to gather intelligence from the air, defuse unexploded ordnance and monitor remote borders and perimeters 24/7.
Your 4GWAR editor will be there all next week, August 16-19, filing from the Washington Convention Center, so stay tuned.
Lawmakers Want More UAVs
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may have scrapped its plan for a virtual fence of sensors and cameras to monitor the U.S. border with Mexico, but DHS officials and members of Congress are very still very high on unmanned aircraft as a surveillance tool.
The top Republican and Democrat on the House subcommittee that oversees border security both say they are impressed by the work unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) do patrolling the Southwest border.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a unit of DHS, operates seven unarmed Predator B UAVs. Three are based in Sierra Vista, Arizona, two more are based along the border with Canada and there are two maritime variants based in Texas and Florida.
Michael Kostelnik, head of CBP’s Air & Marine Office, says the Predator Bs are force multipliers allowing U.S. authorities to monitor vast stretches of desert, woodlands and ocean for up to 20 hours.
Kostelnik said the UAVs, if flying over Japan’s earthquake and tsunami-damaged nuclear facilities could supply “unprecedented situational awareness” through their full motion video cameras and high definition radars.
Both the chairwoman of the Homeland Security subcommittee of border and maritime security, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Minnesota) and the senior Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said they were impressed by the CBP UAVs.
“I’m happy to get you more UAVs,” said Cuellar, who described himself as a “big supporter.”
There is no money requested for UAVs in the Fiscal 2012 Homeland Security budget. The aircraft, which go for about $18 million apiece, require a crew of two — a pilot and sensor operator. Kostelnik, a former Air Force major general and NASA official, said CBP and the military services are having trouble training enough pilots fast enough to remotely operate the growing inventory of unmanned aircraft.
He said it takes CBP about $3,500 per flight hour to operate a UAV, compared to $7,000 per hour for its manned aircraft. “The longer you can fly, the more economical it is,” Kostelnik said of the UAVs, which can remain aloft up to 20 hours.
In addition to UAVs, Miller, the chairwoman, said her subcommittee intended to explore the potential of using “robotic land systems” on the southern border.
Budget Battle Begins
The Obama administration is seeking a total of $553 billion to fund the Defense Department in Fiscal Year 2012 – which starts Oct. 1, 2011 – plus $118 billion more to pay for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Congress has yet to fully fund the department for the current fiscal year (which began last October).
And that poses a problem that could turn into “a crisis on our doorstep,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned a Senate committee hearing today (Feb. 17).
In the waning days of the last Congressional session – while lawmakers battled over tax cuts, gays in the military and a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia – they never did pass the Fiscal 2011 defense spending bill. Instead, lawmakers resorted to a tried and true stop-gap measure known as a Continuing Resolution, or CR. In effect, Congress voted to hold spending by federal agencies – including the Defense Department – at current levels. That is to say FY 2010 levels: about $526 billion for the Pentagon. The idea is to keep things running until they get around to passing a bill. The latest CR is scheduled to expire early next month.
Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee – just as he told their colleagues in the House of Representatives the day before – that the CR amounts to a $23 billion budget cut, compared to the $549 billion the department sought for 2011(not counting additional money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
And continuing that reduced spending level much longer will hurt the military’s plans for buying equipment and weapons systems it needs, or developing new technologies for future needs, Gates told a hearing on the Fiscal 2012 request.
Complicating things even more, the new members of Congress, especially in the Republican-controlled House, are looking for more programs and department budgets to cut to reduce the deficit. Some have suggested cuts of $15 billion or more just in FY 2011.
“Let me be clear:,” Gates told the senators. “Operating under a year-long continuing resolution or substantially reduced funding – with the severe shortfalls that entails – would damage procurement and research programs causing delays, rising costs, no new program starts and serious disruptions in the production of some our most high demand assets, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” (UAVs).”
The Pentagon – and Gates – consider UAVs a top priority for Afghanistan and future conflicts. The FY 2012 budget request seeks $4.8 billion to acquire more unmanned aircraft – big and small.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee that “ISR probably leads the pack” in capabilities needed for counter insurgency now and whatever kind of threats the U.S. Faces in the future. For the Air Force, the Pentagon is seeking $484.6 million for three additional Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks, the high altitude reconaissance aircraft and $1.4 billion for 48 more missile-firing General Atomics MQ-9A Reapers. Another $659 million is being requested to supply the Army with 36 General Atomics MQ-1 Gray Eagles.
Keep it simple and inexpensive and …
The U.S. military foresees new jobs and new challenges for unmanned systems (robotic vehicles that operate on land, air and water – and underwater) in the next 10 to 20 years: from remotely-controlled cargo-carrying helicopters to robots that can evacuate wounded troops from the battle line.
But Pentagon planners told an industry gathering in Washington this week that they also anticipate flat defense budgets – if not funding cuts – in the near term, so those robots can’t be too expensive, too complicated or too specialized.
Representatives from all the armed services told the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which just ended its three-day Program Review, what they need and what programs they’re planning or already working on.
The Army says it is exploring the use of small unmanned aerial systems – hand-launched little aircraft that fit in a backpack – that can give company and even platoon-sized units a constant view of what or who is around them. “A pair of flying binoculars,” is how Lt. Col. James Cutting, director of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for the Army’s G-3, operations office, puts it.
There’s “an insatiable demand for all kinds of airborne ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) today,” Cutting adds.
Pentagon planners are also looking at testing ground troops’ abilities to engage opposing forces that also have UAS capability. In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. drones have owned the airspace but that may not always be the case in future conflicts, they say.
Small unmanned ground vehicles are being studied for their effectiveness in detecting hidden underground tunnels. Amy Clymer, operational manager for Rapid Reaction Tunnel Detection at the Defense Department’s Joint Capabilities Technology Development Program, says robots being tested in Arizona can slip through an 8-inch diameter drill hole, descend on a tether into a tunnel, change shape into a small wheeled or tracked vehicle equipped with lights and a video camera, explore the tunnel and then compress to their original size for extraction through the drill hole.
Clymer says 129 illegal tunnels have been detected under the Mexico-U. S. border since 1990, with 69 discovered in the vicinity of Nogales, Arizona alone – 47 of them found between 2008-2010.
The tunnels are used primarily for moving illegal drugs although there could be other uses such as people smuggling into the U.S. and illegal weapons smuggling out of the U.S. into Mexico.
Tunnel robots have been used to detect contraband smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. They also have the potential to help detect tunnels in countries where secret tunnels have been a problem in the past including Iraq, Bolivia, Afghanistan and under the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, Clymer said.
U.S. and Danish naval vessels will be joining Canadian defense forces in their summer Arctic exercise, Operation Nanook. A ship and dive team from the U.S. Coast Guard will also participate in the exercise which is slated to run from Aug. 6 to Aug. 29. All three branches of the Canadian defense forces, plus the Canadian Rangers — a reserve Arctic patrol unit — will participate in the exercise around Pond Inlet, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord in Nunavut in Canada’s eastern Arctic. There is irony in the foreign participation in Operation Nanook, which is designated as a Canadian sovreignty exercise, especially since Canada still has offshore boundary disputes with both the U.S. and Denmark (which controls Greenland), the National Post and Windsor Star note.
Homeland Security vs Air Safety
Despite the widespread success of unmanned aerial vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been slow in approving the flight of UAVs in or near commercial airspace. The Associated Press reports that Texas congressmen and senators are pressuring the FAA to allow patrols by Predator B UAVs over the El Paso border area and the Teax Gulf Coast.
More Bad News
The United Nations says it is moving some of its personnel out of Afghanistan because of the recent surge in violence, according to an Associated Press report. Meanwhile, a top British envoy assigned to Afghanistan has stepped down. The Guardian reports that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles clashed with NATO and U.S. military officials about the direction the Afghan war was taking. The diplomat also favored negotiating with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, nine coalition troops — including three Australians and an American killed in a helicopter crash — died Monday (June 21) in Afghanistan, according to news reports. The casualties also included a British Royal Marine commando who died from wounds suffered June 12 and a Canadian combat engineer killed by a roadside bomb.
The British soldier killed was the United Kingdom’s 300th casualty in Afghanistan. The Canadian was the 148th killed since Canadian troops deployed in Afghanistan with NATO in 2002. Canada is slated to withdraw its troops next year.
More Soft Power
On Feb. 12 4GWAR told you about a successful U.S.-Filipino counter insurgency program in the Philippines. Now the Defense Department has a special feature on its Web site about Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. You can draw your own conclusions — after taking a look — about the project’s counter insurgency usefulness in providing medical assistance for poor villagers in insurgent areas and training Philippine police officers in bomb disarmament.
JSOTF-P is a good example of what has become known in military and diplomatic circles as “soft power.” The term, coined by Harvard’s Joseph Nye in a 1990 book, describes the concept of achieving goals by attraction rather than force – a variation on the adage about “catching more flies with honey.”
Put another way, counter insurgency efforts will probably attract more support from the indigenous population by feeding, housing and educating them, than by shooting them or blowing them up. That idea is fueling the ongoing debate over the use of drone-fired missiles against Taliban and al Qaeda militants. The Hellfire missiles fired from unmanned Predators and Reapers take out enemy leaders without putting U.S. troops in harm’s way, say supporters of the strategy – which has increased since the Obama administration took over the Afghan conflict. But opponents say stand-off missile attacks do more harm than good when they create unintended consequences such as civilian deaths – also known as collateral damage.
Soft power is a key element in fighting asymmetric or Fourth Generation (4G) Wars. Defense Secretary Roberts Gates has bemoaned how U.S. soft power entities like the U.S. Agency for International Development were allowed to wither at the end of the Cold War. Since 9/11, the lesson learned in “Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere has been the decisive role[that] reconstruction, development, and governance plays in any meaningful, long-term success,” Gates said in a speech way back in 2007.
We first heard about soft power a few years ago at an event sponsored the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CSIS says U.S. leaders need to find a way to integrate soft power (persuasion) with hard power (force). The end result, according to the Washington think tank, is “smart power.”
Coast Guard Makes Plans for Unmanned Aircraft
The U.S. Coast Guard isn’t quite ready to start spending money again on unmanned aircraft.
Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant, says his people are working on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – a sister Homeland Security Department agency – as well as the U.S. Navy.
The Coast Guard and CBP formed a Joint Program Office in 2008 to explore common requirements for a land-based maritime patrol UAS.
In December, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) unveiled a Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle – called the Guardian – equipped with a Raytheon maritime radar system that can monitor surface ships from miles away. The radar is being tested this Spring. “We need to kind of see how that operates before we make a decision on how far to go in getting into a program of record and a production line with CBP.”
He also said the Coast Guard was “drafting behind the Navy” in its development of Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout unmanned helicopter as a shipborne vertical take off and landing UAV.
The Coast Guard hads planned to use the Textron Eagle Eye VUAV to extend the maritime patrolling reach of its new National Security Cutters, but “we thought there was a lot of technical risks associated” with that tilt rotor VUAV and the project was canceled, Allen says.
Instead, the Coast Guard, which the Obama administration is downsizing slightly in its 2011 budget request, is happy to let the Navy take the lead in testing Fire Scout’s radar and ship interfacing. “We’re looking, at some point in the future, at the possibility of taking Fire Scout and doing interface testing with the National Security Cutter,” Allen says.
Eventually, he adds, the Coast Guard would like to get into high altitude, wide area surveillance with a UAS like Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk. But Allen, whose four-year term as commandant ends in May, says the Coast Guard isn’t ready to own one because “of the lack of critical mass we have to support those kinds of systems.”
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.
The Guardian, a General Atomics Predator B laden with maritime sensor equipment — including Raytheon’s SeaVue Marine Search radar — makes its public debut at the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Gray Butte facility in Palmdale, Calif.
Once operational testing and evaluation is completed, the latest Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) will be based at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a unit of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.
Seated on the dais at the Dec. 7 ceremony (from left to right) GA-ASI President Thomas Cassidy, CBP Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik, the head of CBP’s Air and Marine Office; and Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant. CBP and the Coast Guard, both Homeland Security Department agencies, have been working together for more than a year on developing a land-based UAS for maritime air patrols.
In an interview with 4GWAR before leaving for California, Kostelnik said the first Guardian will patrol for drug smugglers in the airspace over south Florida and the Caribbean. Another Guardian is scheduled for delivery in early 2010, bringing CBP’s UAS fleet to seven aircraft. The second Guardian’s maritime radar will not be ready for several months, however, so it won’t start operations until summer 2010, Kostelnik says. Three land-based Predators already at Libby Army Airfield in Sierra Vista, Ariz. will continue to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Two other land-based Predators are located at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota to patrol the border with Canada.
The second maritime variant will eventually be based in Corpus Christi, Texas and patrol the Gulf of Mexico and later as far south as the waters off Central America. Kostelnik says there are no immediate plans to base a Predator in California to patrol the Pacific coast.
The maritime sensor package includes an electro-optical/infrared sensor to optimize maritime operations. The standard Predator B, with structural, avionics and communications enhancements, can fly at speeds up to 250 knots at an altitude of 19,000 feet. Both Kostelnik and Allen call it a “force multiplier.”
–John M. Doyle (http://4gwar.wordpress.com)
Drone over troubled waters
After more than a year of study, testing and consultation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is finally getting an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can conduct long endurance patrols over water.
Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine office, an arm of Homeland Security, plans to unveil next month the first of its Predator B unmanned aircraft to be equipped with a maritime radar system allowing it to monitor small surface vessels – the kind that drug cartels and people smugglers use.
The roll out is currently slated for Dec. 7 in Palmdale, California at the Gray Butte Flight Operations Center of Predator manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Plans are still fluid, however, and the rollout might shift to General Atomics’ Poway, Calif. facility.
The maritime mission Predator will be equipped with Raytheon’s SeaVue Maritime and Overland Surveillance Radar, as well as a Raytheon Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS-B) with electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) tracking capability. The Predator will also have an Automated Identification System (AIS) device allowing the unmanned aircraft’s operators, who will be using a specially-built maritime ground control system, to identify larger vessels equipped with government-required AIS transponders.
Last year CBP Air and Marine – in cooperation with the Air Force and Coast Guard – tested a marinized Predator, flying it from Tyndall Air Force Base down the Gulf Coast to the Florida Keys and back. In that test, CBP and the Coast Guard used a borrowed Air Force Predator equipped with a maritime search radar package from Israeli manufacturer, Elta.
But CBP officials say the flight from Tyndall is too long a commute to effectively patrol Gulf and Caribbean waters for drug and people smugglers – as well as possible terrorist infiltrators. Instead, CBP plans to base the maritime variant at Patrick Air Force Base near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
CBP Air and Marine bills itself as the world’s largest law enforcement air force with 290 aircraft, both fixed wing and rotorcraft — as well as 225 maritime vessels.
CBP Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik, who heads the Air and Marine office, has been pushing for the maritime capability to extend the reach of his fleet of six Predators. Most are based at Sierra Vista, Arizona close to the border with Mexico. But one UAS is located at Grand Forks, North Dakota, near the U.S.-Canadian border.
–John M. Doyle (4gwar.wordpress.com)