Posts tagged ‘UAV’
AROUND AFRICA Update 2: Al Shabaab Blitz; Ebola Crisis, Niger Drone Base, Rwanda Verdict, Bastille Day
Somalia Islamists Attacked.
Updates with al Shabaab leader’s death confirmed.
The U.S. military today (Friday, September 5) that the leader of the African Islamist extremist group, al Shabaab, was killed in the drone missile attack in Somalia earlier this week.
Witnesses said drones fired at least four missiles Monday (September 1) in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, destroying two al Shabaab vehicles, according to the Voice of America website. On Tuesday (September 2), the Defense Department disclosed that the head of al Shabaab was the target of the attack.
“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby announced today in a press statement that did not detail how Godane’s identity and death was cestablished. “Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al-Shabaab. The United States works in coordination with its friends, allies and partners to counter the regional and global threats posed by violent extremist organizations,” the published statement continued.
Previously, Kirby said U.S. special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions,” according to a transcript of Tuesday’s Pentagon press briefing.
It was the most aggressive U.S. military operation in nearly a year, coming as the President Barack Obama’s administration grapples with security crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, the Washington Post noted. Al Shabaab, which means “the youth,” in Arabic, is a jihadist movement affiliated with al Qaeda that started in Somalia “a chronically unstable country on the Horn of Africa,” and has grown into a regional terrorist group that has carried out attacks in Uganda and Kenya — including last year’s Nairobi shopping mall attack that left scores of dead and injured. Al Shabaab has also cooperated with another al Qaeda branch in Yemen, the Post added.
Al Jazeera reported that the jihadist group confirmed it had come under attack but would not Godane’s situation. The attack comes just a few days after African Union troops and Somali government forces launched a major offensive aimed at seizing key ports from al Shabaab and cutting off key sources of revenue, said Al Jazeera. The Associated Press reported that the air strikes killed six militants but it was not known at the time if Godane was among the dead.
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Widening Ebola Threat
The head of an international medical aid, group, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors without Borders), says the world is losing the battle to contain the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.
Military teams should be sent to the region immediately if there is to be any hope of controlling the epidemic, MSF’s international president Dr. Joanne Liu told the United Nations Tuesday (September 2), painting a stark picture of health workers dying, patients left without care and infectious bodies lying in the streets, The Guardian website reports.
Although alarm bells have been ringing for six months, the response had been too little, too late and no amount of vaccinations and new drugs would be able to prevent the escalating disaster, Liu told U.N. officials, adding: “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it.”
Ebola has spread to a fifth West African nation. Senegal’s health minister, Awa Marie Coll Seck has confirmed that country’s first Ebola case. On Friday (August 29), she said a young man from Guinea with the deadly disease had crossed into Senegal, where he was promptly put in isolation, according to Al Jazeera. Other countries reporting Ebola cases include: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
The current outbreak, which first appeared in Guinea, has killed more the 1,900 people across the region since March, according to the World Health Organization, the BBC reported. At least 3,000 people have been infected with the virus and the World Health Organization has warned the outbreak could grow and infect more than 20,000 people.
Meanwhile, fear and ignorance is blamed for the violent — and unhelpful reaction is some places in the region. In Liberia, one of the three hardest-hit nations, there have been clashes between soldiers and residents of quarantined slum area in the capital, Monrovia. In Nigeria, residents in some areas are protesting against the idea of building isolation units in their neighborhoods. The Voice of America reported Friday (August 29) that people have taken to the streets in the northern city of Kaduna, protesting plans to convert sections of a local clinic into an Ebola treatment center. In many parts of Nigeria residents say they fear Ebola more than Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group that has killed thousands of people.
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2nd Niger Drone Base UPDATE
After months of negotiations, the government of Niger in West Africa has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials, the Washington Post reports.
The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub — its second in Niger and third in the region — to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent, the military newspaper said.
The United States started drone surveillance flights out of Niamey, Niger’s capital, in early 2013 to support French forces fighting Islamist militants in northern Mali. Washington always intended to move the operation further north and now the details have been worked out to relocate the flights to a base in Agadez, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Niamey, said a U.S. defense official speaking on condition of anonymity, Defense News reported.
The U.S. Air Force also flies unmanned aircraft out of Chad to help locate hundreds of school girls kidnapped by the radical Islamist group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria.
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A South African court has found four of six suspects charged with trying to assassinate a former Rwandan Army general guilty of attempted murder. Two other men accused in the 2010 attack on Faustin Nyamwasa in Johannesburg, South Africa that left him wounded.
Nyamwasa fled Rwanda in 2010 after a dispute President Paul Kagame, al Jazeera reported. According to the an Al Jazeera reporter, Nyamwasa does not blame the four who were convicted, saying they were “used” by the Rwandan government. According to Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, the trial judge was convinced the murder attempt was politically motivated by people in Rwanda. Kagame denies involvement in the attack.
Police broke up another murder plot against the general in 2011 and early this year armed men attacked his Johannesburg house in a separate incident.
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Africa at Bastille Day UPDATE
Troops from several African nations that served as peacekeepers during the French intervention in Mali were among the contingents July 14 during the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris. Among the troops in this photo, all wearing the blue United Nations beret are soldiers from Chad, Niger, Senegal and Nigeria.
(Click on the photo to enlarge. To see more photos of the 2014 Bastille Day military parade in Paris, click here.
HOT SPOTS: Nigeria.
Another bombing and more deaths in Nigeria where the government is battling radical Islamist militants. This time, the blast was at a market in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, the anti-Western extremisty group blamed for dozens of bombings, killings and kidnappings across Nigeria in recent weeks.
At least 56 people were killed by the car bombing, according to the Associated Press, which noted that Maiduguri, [see map] a city of more than 1 million people, has suffered several attacks. In March, twin car bombs killed more than 50 people at a late-night market where many were watching a football match on a big television screen.
But the violence has been widespread. On Sunday, suspected extremists sprayed gunfire on worshippers at four churches in a northeastern village and torched the buildings, killing at least 30 people, according to the AP. Last week, at least 42 people were killed in three blasts around the country, including 24 slain at the biggest shopping mall in Nigeria’s central capital Abuja.
President Goodluck Jonathan will be visiting Washington this summer to attend the United States-African Leaders Summit (August 5-6). On July 31 he will be speaking about his country’s turmoil at the National Press Club in Washington. Jonathan’s government has taken sharp criticism at home and abroad for its inability to stop the bombing attacks or rescue more than 200 high school girls kidnapped from a school in northeast Nigeria in April.
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A different kind of “summit” meeting is being held in Accra, Ghana where health ministers from 11 African countries are trying to “get a grip” on the worsening Ebola outbreak, the BBC reports.
So far, 763 people have been infected with the virus – and 468 of these have died. Most of the cases have been in Guinea where the outbreak started. But it has since spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The outbreak is the worst since the disease was identified in the 1970s, Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Voice of America. Ebola causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea. It is spread through contact with the blood or other fluids of infected people.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says anyone caught hiding suspected Ebola patients from authorities will be prosecuted. Sirleaf issued the warning on state radio Monday (July 1), expressing concern that some patients had been kept in homes and churches instead of receiving medical attention, al Jazeera America reported.
Sierra Leone issued a similar warning last week, saying some patients had discharged themselves from the hospital and gone into hiding. Health workers elsewhere in the region have encountered hostility and some have even been attacked.
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Drones Over the Congo
United Nations peacekeepers have begun flying unarmed, unmanned surveillance aircraft over the war-wracked eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Italian-made unmanned aircraft are the first acquired by the U.N. for peacekeeping missions but their presence is already posing questions about how the intelligence they collect will be used and who will get to see it, according to the New York Times. Another question is just how useful they will be in a country of distances far great than their 125 mile/200 kilometer flying range from their base in Goma [see map].
More and more, drones are flying over some of the toughest peacekeeping missions in the world, improving the United Nations’ intelligence-gathering capability, but also raising new issues about what to do with so much important data, the Times reported.
Not Quite Ploughshares.
“And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” – Book of Isaiah, Chapter 2, Verses 3-4.
The U.S. defense industry isn’t quite making ploughshares yet, but as U.S. defense spending has declined, the unmanned systems sector has been talking up the capabilities of its robots, ‘droids and drones to help find lost hikers, track fleeing crime suspects and assist firefighters in remote wilderness areas.
Long time unmanned aircraft makers like AeroVironment and Insitu held briefings at last month’s big robotics industry conference in Orlando, Florida, about how their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could assist police looking for evidence or firefighters battling wildfires. The shift to the commercial market was the talk of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) gathering in Orlando.
Wall Street and industry analysts say the U.S. defense market is flat and while manufacturers may be looking hopefully to the commercial market, business will be slow until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally decides how to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Air Space.
All this and more is covered in an Aviation Week article your 4GWAR editor co-authored with Mike Fabey in Washington and Christina Mackenzie in Paris. The story Saving Grace: Robotic systems target civil market as defense lags, is the June 16 Defense Technology Edition of Aviation Week.
ORLANDO, Florida – The big droids, drones and bots show sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is over after four days in Florida and here’s what your 4GWAR editor learned in the process. (Be sure to click on the photos to see a larger image)
First off, the organization is considering a name change. If we had a dollar for every person we had to explain what AUVSI stood for over the years – we’d be at least a thousandaire. At the opening session of the gathering Monday (May 12) AUVSI Board Chairman John Lademan said the decade-old organization was at least thinking about a name that would better reflect its diversity: manufacturers and operators of robots, unmanned aircraft, remotely operated ground vehicles and automous vehicles that move in and under the waves – not to mention the sensor makers, parts suppliers, maintenance, training and research organizations that are also members.
“We’re looking at rebranding. That’s not something we’re committed to yet, but it’s something we’re exploring,” Landeman said. No word yet on when some ideas might be floated.
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At that same session, the deputy head of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Lieutenant General Kevin Mangum explained why the Army was teaming manned and unmanned systems – especially drones and helicopters – as it deals with reductions in force and funding.
Mangum said Army testing has shown Manned-Unmanned Teaming, known as MUM-T, can increase how long aircraft can conduct reconnaissance and surveillance missions – without putting humans in harms way (standoff capability). MUM-T also increases lethality and survivability he said.
As an example, he told 4GWAR after speaking, the Army is pairing drones like the MQ-1 Gray Eagle with Apache attack helicopters to replace the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter, which is being phased out – largely for financial reasons.
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Lockheed Martin introduced a fire fighting variant of the six-wheeled autonomous ground vehicle it unveiled in 2006 to carry the bullets, batteries and other heavy loads that a squad of soldiers or Marines would otherwise have to hump over rugged country.
That unmanned ground vehicle — officially the Squad Mission Support System but also called Ox — has been tested in the field by the U.S. and British armies and is slated for another capability test in August. It be guided from a distance using satellite communications and then picked up and carried in a sling beneath an unmanned helicopter, Lockheed’s K-MAX.
But a bright red version of the OX, known as the Fire Ox, was on display on the exhibit floor at the Orange County Convention Center. It has a dual use nozzle for spraying water or firefighting foam, as well as a video camera and thermal imaging sensor so it can be sent on ahead of firefighters to assess danger.
Don Nimblett, Lockheed Martin’s unmanned systems business development manager, said the domestic military market is flat right now, adding: “that’s one of the reasons [why] we’re looking into the commercial market.”
Lockheed had plenty of company when it comes to re-purposing systems originally designed for the defense sector. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) maker Insitu talked up the capabilities of its Scan Eagle small UAS in helping emergency managers in Australia get a handle on wildfires. The land and ship-launched Scan Eagle was developed for the Navy and Marine Corps and was widely used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And AeroVironment, another maker of small UAS brought in a North Dakota sherriff’s deputy – who also teaches the state’s school of aeronautics – to talk about how small unmanned fixed wing aircraft and helicopters have been used for police work by the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department.
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Nine small UAS took to the air over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Sunday (May 11) to demonstrate the many uses of smaller remotely controlled and autonomous aircraft.
But the FAA, which oversees air safety, kept a pretty short leash on the event, preventing most visitors from approaching the staging area for aircraft launching. Instead spectators had to watch the proceedings about 100 yards away from the aircraft, monitoring their progress in the sky with several large TV monitors.
That added to an undercurrent of grumbling throughout the conference about what is seen as the FAA’s slow pace in integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace with airliners, private planes and traffic helicopters. (More on this later)
ORLANDO, Florida – The biggest robotics trade show in the United States (maybe in the world) is underway at the massive Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Thousands of attendees from scores of countries are expected at the four-day event sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
But on Sunday (May 11) nine small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) strutted their stuff in a hot, grassy field at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center about an hour’s drive away on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The demonstration of how small drones can operate safely in a confined space was jointly sponsored by AUVSI and Space Florida, the state’s economic development agency for the aerospace industry. Both groups also wanted to show that small unmanned aircraft – which are barred from being flown for commercial operations – can be useful and safe in a number of endeavors.
The demonstration included four research scenarios: crop health monitoring, searching for a lost or injured person, monitoring mock wildfire and disaster scenes. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for air safety and integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace in the near future, kept most spectators far back from the demo area and the tents and trailers housing the small drones. The crowd, which at times numbered in the hundreds, could watch both the unmanned aircraft and video being transmitted from the small aircraft on large TV screens.
The aircraft participating included a six-rotor mini helicopter – also called a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) aircraft (photo at left) operated by Florida-based Elevated Horizons. The company does aerial imaging, data collection and site surveys for a number of businesses – especially agriculture. Company executive Ty Rozier (pictured above) said one of their biggest customers was Dole’s fruit-growing operations in Costa Rica. “There are lots of local farmers who want to use our stuff but unfortunately you can’t do it” because of FAA restrictions.
Many unmanned systems makers these days are shifting products originally developed for the military toward the business and first responder markets. “We started in the military and we’ve moved into the commercial, industrial and public safety sector,” said Cameron Waite, North American sales directors for Aeryon Labs. The Canadian company flew its SkyRanger mini helicopter in the demonstration. The SkyRanger is a newer version of the Aeryon’s Scout quadcopter, which was the first UAS to fly from one of the six drone test sites designated by the FAA for developing ways to integrate UAS into the national airspace.
NOTE: Click on the photos to see an enlarged image.
Late last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected organizations in six states to begin testing ways to bring unmanned aircraft – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones – into the nation’s skies for commercial purposes.
Congress has directed the FAA – the government agency charged with keeping U.S. skies safe and orderly – to develop a comprehensive plan for safely integrating civil UAS into the national airspace system. Congress set a deadline of September 2015 for non-government UAS to begin flying in the same space as manned aircraft.
On Monday (May 5) the first UAS in the test program took off in Alaska. The two-and-a-half-pound Aeryon Scout quad copter – a four-rotor robot helicopter – rose to 200 feet, hovered for a few minutes and landed at the Large Animal Research Station of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. This summer researchers plan to use the tiny chopper to survey animals at the research station. The aim is to see how effective drones can be at conducting animal population surveys, according to the Alaska Dispatch news site.
The other UAS testing sites in Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia and New York State are expected to begin test flights this week as well. Industry officials estimate unmanned aircraft could grow into an $85 billion business by 2023.
Currently the FAA strictly limits where non-military unmanned systems can fly. Law enforcement and federal government agencies like NASA are required to obtain FAA approval to fly in very limited areas. No commercial UAS operations are allowed, although the FAA’s authority is being challenged. Private citizens are allowed to fly small UAVs at low altitudes for recreation as long as the drones remain in sight and under the operator’s control.
Businesses ranging from real estate and photography to film-making and farming have all expressed interest in using unmanned aircraft. Law enforcement agencies, scientists and emergency management officials have cited numerous public uses for drones including search and rescue and non-intrusive environmental studies in remote areas.
But pilots and commercial aviation interests are concerned about how drones can maneuver safely in the airspace used by manned aircraft. And civil rights and privacy concerns have been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups about the use of drones by the police and commercial interests for surveillance and tracking.
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Commercial UAS use, as well as safety and civil rights issues will be among the topics discussed next week at a massive trade show and expo by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) – the droids, drones and robots industry.
AUVSI 2014 will showcase hundreds of unmanned systems for use in the air, on the ground and in space as well as on and under the sea. The increasing demand by the military for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance gathering through all manner of unmanned systems, will also be a hot topic.
Your 4GWAR editor will be reporting all next week from the conference, which runs from May 12 to May 15 in Orlando, Florida. Space Florida will also hold a live, outdoor demonstration of air and ground systems and the Kennedy Space Center on the day before the conference opens, Sunday (May 11). We’ll be at that, too.
Last year’s conference, which drew thousands of attendees to the Walter Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, saw the debut of the SOLARA high altitude, solar-powered “atmospheric satellite” by Titan Aerospace — recently acquired by Google. Sample legislation was introduced by the Aerospace States Association for legislatures contemplating laws to ban, encourage or limit the use of unmanned aircraft; and the potential use of small unmanned aircraft by peacekeepers and international relief groups in natural and man-made disasters was discussed.
Last August when we encountered the folks at Titan Aerospace during the big annual droids, drones and robots exposition in Washington, we never dreamed the New Mexico-based start-up would be the subject to a bidding war between Internet giants.
But that’s what happened earlier this week (April 14), when Titan Aerospace announced it had been acquired by Google. There had been media speculation the company was being courted by Facebook. Titan Aerospace says its solar-power unmanned aircraft can fly for years and do the things a rocket-launched satellite can do — for a fraction of the cost. Among those tasks: serving as a high-flying (50,000 feet or more) communications relay and surveillance aircraft.
Your 4GWAR editor interviewed several Titan Aerospace executives and engineers for an Unmanned Systems magazine piece on unmanned craft driven by alternative power systems. Everyone connected with the small company based in the high desert of New Mexico seemed young and energetic — and thoroughly convinced of the merit of the SOLARA, the massive unmanned aircrfat they call an “atmospheric satellite.”
Launched by catapult, the SOLARA is expected to soar for as much as five years without landing — powered by thousands of solar cells embedded in composite material of the aircrfat’s wings and fuselage. Google says it wants to use the SOLARA and other technology to bring the Internet to under-served parts of the world.