Posts filed under ‘Washington’

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Washington, DC Area Decreed a Drone Free Zone

No Drone Zone.

Logo for FAA's National Capital Area Drone-Free Campaign

Logo for FAA’s National Capital Area Drone-Free Campaign

The Federal Aviation Administration has a message for hobbyists and commercial unmanned aircraft vehicle operators: keep your drones 15 miles away from the Nation’s Capital — or else.

The FAA announced this week (May 13) a public outreach campaign for the region around Washington, D.C. The purpose of the campaign is to reinforce the message that the city itself, and communities within a 15-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, are a “No Drone Zone.”

In short, if you come to Washington as a tourist, photographer or UAV enthusiast, the message is clear: “Leave Your Drone Home.” Don’t even think about taking video or still photos of the White House, Capitol Hill or the Pentagon with your camera attached to a quadcopter or other mini unmanned aircraft.

Rules put in place after the 9/11 attacks establish “national defense airspace” over the D.C. area and limit aircraft operations – including unmanned aircraft – to those with an FAA and Transportation Security Administration authorization. Violators may face stiff fines and criminal penalties.

The effort includes furnishing outreach materials to other federal, state and local partners around the National Capital Region. The agency wants to ensure residents and tourists all understand that flying an unmanned aircraft in this area for any purpose is against the law.

The ban took an urgent turn earlier this year when a government employee, flying a small quadcopter for fun late at night on the Washington Mall, accidentally crashed into a tree on the South lawn of the White House. No one was hurt but the inability of the Secret Service to track such a small intruder raised questions about White House security.

Just a day after the announcement, a 39-year-old California man was arrested and charged with violating the no drones zone. He and his UAV were seized when Secret Service officers saw a man flying a small, remote-controlled aircraft over Lafayette Park north of the White House.

May 15, 2015 at 1:23 am Leave a comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Droids, Drones and ‘bots Show Opens

Goin’ to the Show.

Busy day on the floor as the Exhibit Hall opens Tuesday. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

Busy day on the floor as the Exhibit Hall opens Tuesday.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

Updates with new photo, new information on FAA press conferences  and include link to FAA proposed rules. Click on photo to enlarge.

ATLANTA — It’s early May, which to many people means hockey and NBA playoffs, or spring plants sales. But it also means a gathering of those who love machines that can free humans from having to do jobs that are dirty, dull and dangerous.

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International — the folks who design, build, test, buy, sell and operate robots, drones and androids.

About 8,000 people from 55 countries are expected to attend AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 conference and expo here in Georgia through Thursday (May 7).

There will be indoor demonstrations of small unmanned aircraft and ground vehicles. Devices showing off their capabilities are slated to include Indago, Lockheed Martin’s five-pound multi-use quad copter and Ontario Drive & Gear’s ARGO J5 extreme terrain-capable unmanned ground vehicle.

Panel discussions include topics like what international opportunities are there for  American unmanned aircraft systems and what kinds of payloads the Pentagon is exploring for unmanned aircraft. Another discussion will address the ethical use of drones and still another will explore emerging commercial markets for unmanned aircraft in the oil and gas industry.

But a hot topic likely to run through the whole week is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed rules for small commercial unmanned aircraft (55 pounds and under).

The FAA’s proposed rules would speed up, somewhat, the glacial pace for getting FAA permission to fly unmanned air systems (UAS) for commercial purposes, such as monitoring crops and livestock or filming movies, TV shows and commercials. But the rule still places restraints on operators’ ability to fly their drones beyond their line of sight — or to fly at night. Farm interests in particular, pushed back on this policy, saying the line of sight rule would make it much harder for a lone farmer to check a large spread economically without multiple drones or assistance.

The FAA hasn’t said what it is going to do next, but they are holding a double press briefing on Wednesday (May 6) presided over by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

May 5, 2015 at 12:03 am Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPS/INTELLIGENCE: Michael Vickers Retiring from Pentagon Intel Post

Ex-Green Beret, Ex-CIA, Now Ex-Pentagon Official.

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. Moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) ,John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice  Department.  (Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the 2014 Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado with moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) and John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department.
(Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence for the past four years, announced Thursday (April 30) that he was stepping down.

A former U.S. Army Green Beret, CIA operations officer, and top Pentagon official since 2007, Vickers was the first person to hold the position of assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities from July 23, 2007 to March 17, 2011. President Obama asked Vickers to stay on in that post when his administration took office in 2009.

Vickers is probably best known as the principal strategist for the largest covert action program in the CIA’s history: the paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan — popularly known from a non-fiction book and movie as “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

But success doesn’t come easy or all the time, Vickers told DoD News. He noted the United States and the West were caught by surprise by Russia’s aggressive behavior in Ukraine, slipping in Russian special ops soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians. But Vickers said “the intelligence community quickly adapted to the situation and was able to track things very well since then.”

He noted that the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or simply the Islamic State) and their rapid advance through Iraq were also surprises.

Obama nominated Vickers to be the third Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence  on September 29, 2010, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on March 17, 2011. Vickers served as Acting USDI for about two months in early 20111. As USDI, he played a critical policy and planning role in the operation that hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden.

As the SO/LIC&IC assistant secretary, he was, in effect, the civilian chief of all U.S. Special Operations Forces, and the senior civilian adviser to the Secretary of Defense on counterterrorism, irregular warfare and special activities.  He played a central role in shaping U.S. strategy in the war with al Qaeda and the war in Afghanistan, and led the largest expansion of SOF capabilities and capacity in history.

From 1973 to 1986, Vickers served as an Army Special Forces enlisted man and officer, and CIA Operations Officer. He had operational and combat experience in Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. His operational experience spans covert action and espionage, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and foreign internal defense, according to his Pentagon bio.

April 30, 2015 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: Ex-General Wins Nigerian Presidential Election

NIGERIA: Jonathan Concedes, Buhari Winner.

Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari (Photo by Chatham House via wikipedia)

Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari
(Photo by Chatham House via wikipedia)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan conceded to his opponent Muhammadou Buhari today (Tuesday, March 31) in the closest presidential election since democratic rule was restored to Africa’s most populous nation in 1999.

Although the final tally isn’t known yet, Jonathan — who defeated Buhari in 2011 — called his rival to concede defeat and congratulate the retired major general. It is the first time a sitting president has lost an election in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and leading oil producer, according to the BBC, Reuters, VoA and CNN.

More than 20 million votes were cast in an election marred by insurgent attacks, charges of fraud and technology glitches at polling places. Saturday’s voting had to be extended to a second day, Sunday (March 29), as tens of  millions turned out to vote, either to stay the course with Jonathan or try Buhari’s promise of change — including a more robust campaign against violent Islamist insurgents who have killed thousands.

By late Monday (March 30) the 72-year-old Buhari had a growing lead — 2.5 million votes — over Jonathan, some 23 million votes counted in 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states, according to Reuters. The announcement of further results will resume Tuesday morning, said Nigeria’s Independent National Election Commission (INEC).

Buhari, a Muslim from Nigeria’s north, promised to root out the corruption that has plagued Jonathan’s administration and the ruling People’s Democratic Party. Buhari also vowed to crush the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, whose attacks over the last five years have killed 10,000 people and driven thousands more. Buhari seized power in a military coup and ruled Nigeria for almost two years in the 1980s.


March 31, 2015 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment

DEFENSE: UK Defence Secretary Worried About Rising Instability in Africa, Middle East

Failing States.

UK Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon (Ministry of Defence photo)

UK Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon
(Ministry of Defence photo)

Since he became Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence last July, Michael Fallon has seen Libya dissolve into chaos and threaten southern Europe with waves of refugees and potential terrorist attacks. There’s also been the shootdown of a Malaysian airliner carrying many Europeans over Ukraine … the rising threat of the Islamic State to Syria, Iraq and the West … and continued Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Baltics.

But the thing that has most surprised him so far is “the number of states that look to be on the brink of failing,” he told a Washington think tank audience Wednesday (March 11).

Fallon, a member of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, said he’s worried about “the instability across great swathes of Africa and the Middle East.”

Nearly four years after a NATO air campaign led to the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddaffi, the country has been torn by civil war, become a training ground for insurgents across North Africa and the Levant and also served as a haven for terrorists — including those that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in 2012.

Fallon said Western governments and their partners in the region have got to “redouble efforts to drive some sort of political settlement” among Libya’s warring factions.

On other security issues, Fallon said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward former Soviet Union states that are now NATO members — like all three Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — have left those governments feeling “very exposed.”

Last week (March 6) the Defence Ministry announced it was sending a shipment of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine, including helmets, first aid kits GPS units and helmet-mounted night vision goggles. “NATO needs to make clear to President Putin that we will react … to defend any member of NATO that is attacked,” Fallon said.

On the pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine, Fallon reminded the audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that the former Soviet republic is not a NATO member. There “can’t be a military solution” alone for this crisis, Fallon said. But for a political solution to work “we need reassurances” from Russia and Russian-backed rebels that they will honor the ceasefire terms of the Minsk agreement, Fallon said.

A Russian bomber photographed from a Royal Air Force jet off the coast of Britain in October 2014.  (Sac Robyn Stewart/British Ministry of Defence photo)

A Russian Bear long-range bomber photographed from a Royal Air Force jet off the coast of Britain in October 2014.
(Sac Robyn Stewart/British Ministry of Defence photo)

He was asked about numerous Russian military flights — including the flight of two Russian bombers over the English Channel — that have led the Royal Air Force to scramble jets to escort the Russian planes away from Britain.

While none of those Russian jets have actually entered UK airspace, there has been no response from the Russian pilots, no radio or transponder communication at all. “We see that as Russia’s testing our response,” said Fallon, adding the radio-silent flights are “provocative and frankly, they’re dangerous.”

Fallon and new U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will be meeting for the first time later in the day at the Pentagon.

March 11, 2015 at 12:32 pm Leave a comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: DHS Guardians Will Still Be On Job — Without Pay — If Funding Effort Fails

A Matter of Fairness.

Department of Homeland Security seal

Department of Homeland Security seal

If Congress fails to reach an agreement by midnight tonight (Friday, March 27), funding for the Department of Homeland Security will cease.

Pundits, politicians and analysts are quick to point out that the vast majority of DHS employees have been deemed “essential” to national security so the department will not shut down.

There will still be U.S. Border Patrol agents halting people, drugs and weapons smuggling in the Southwest and elsewhere.

There will still be Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel screening passengers and their baggage at more than 400 U.S. airports.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will continue checking people and cargo coming into the United States on trucks, planes and ships – as well as in cars and on foot at border crossings.

The U.S. Coast Guard will continue its myriad tasks ranging from rescuing people at sea to maintaining security at the nation’s ports and harbors to enforcing maritime safety and environmental laws.

The Secret Service will continuing guarding the president and other top officials.

But the 85 percent of the department’s approximately 240,000 workers who required to report for duty if the funding stops will not be paid until Congress passes a DHS appropriations bill.

“What message does this send … that we don’t think enough of you to pay you?” an alarmed Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire asked in a CNN interview today (February 27) as both the Senate and House of Representatives tried to figure a way out of the political tangle touched off by Republicans’ objection to President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

While some say nothing bad will happen if non-essential DHS workers are furloughed – and others argue something terrible could happen, it is obvious that there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who see political gain in a partial shutdown of DHS: either to make the point that the agency’s budget is bloated or to convince voters the other side don’t care about protecting the nation from terrorism in a time of mounting threats.

Following his presentation at a Border Management industry conference earlier this week, we asked Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher what a partial DHS shutdown would mean for his agency’s mission.

“It impacts our operations, no doubt,” he said. But Fisher was confidant his people could still secure the border. “It’s unfortunate if it comes to that, that they will be working without pay, but I will tell you – in terms of their commitment to border security – on that we’ll not falter.”

Transportation Security Officers will be at their posts if Dept. of Homeland Security funding is interrupted. (TSA photo via Wikipedia)

Transportation Security Officers will be at their posts if Dept. of Homeland Security funding is interrupted.
(TSA photo via Wikipedia)

At the same conference (sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement) TSA Chief of Staff Thomas McDaniels Jr. said the approximately 45,000 airport screeners exempt from being furloughed are required to report for work in the event of a funding halt. He noted the average starting salary for Transportation Security Officers, is $25,000 a year. “So we’re asking our frontline homeland security officials who are not making the most money to go without paychecks,” he said. While they are guaranteed retroactive pay once Congress can come to agreement on a funding bill, McDaniels added, “I think that’s a lot to ask of people who may be living paycheck to paycheck.” The last government shutdown to halt TSA paychecks lasted 17 days, he said, but there was no “significant attrition” after things returned to normal.

Wolf Tombe, CBP’s chief technology officer, told conference attendees that the country is confronting new threats from cyber-attacks and lone wolf terrorists, to disease outbreaks like Ebola. “The threat is evolving. We need to evolve with it, to stay ahead of it,” he said, outlining technologies his office is exploring from wearable sensors and cameras to hand launched surveillance drones to thermometers that can take an arriving air passenger’s temperature from a safe distance of 10 feet.

But if Congress fails to reach a compromise on DHS funding “all this gets shut down,” Tombe told 4GWAR “because I’m not considered essential. So my organization gets furloughed.”

February 27, 2015 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Customs and Border Protection Exploring Small Drone Use

Wearable Drones.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is exploring the use of wearable sensors -- including a wrist-mounted drone -- to keep agents safe and efficient. (CBP  photo)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is exploring the use of wearable sensors — including a wrist-mounted drone — to keep agents safe and efficient.
(CBP photo)

WASHINGTON — Wolf Tombe has been the chief technology officer of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since 2003.

He says his mission is to find or develop new gizmos that will enhance the safety of CBP’s 46,657 officers and agents and increase mission effectiveness – all while reducing costs.

“Everything is about ‘How do we train and equip our officers to do their job better?,” he told attendees at a Border Management industry conference this week.

And toward that end, he is looking at wearable technology like heart rate monitors and wearable cameras he told the conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. Among the technologies CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, is considering are small unmanned aircraft, including a drone mounted on the wrist.

Such technology would meet CBP new technology requirements: enhancing officer safety, increasing mission effectiveness — and reducing costs, he said. If it does any or all of those things, “bring it in and we’ll look at it,” he told conference attendees Wednesday (February 25).

Threats to the homeland, whether a disease outbreak like Ebola or lone wolf terrorists, are evolving and “we need to evolve with them, to stay ahead of it,” Tombe said.

CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolf Tombe

CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolf Tombe

In addition to the wrist drone, Tombe said CBP was considering the benefits of small hand-launched drones that Border Patrol agents and other CBP law enforcement officers could carry in their vehicles to get a better situational picture in remote and rugged areas like the deserts of the Southwest or the big woods along the U.S-Canadian border.

“All this technology is consumer grade,” Tombe said, meaning it is generally less expensive than equipment designed for the Defense or Homeland Security departments. He said manufacturers of wearable heart rate monitors and football and batting helmets helmets equipped with impact sensors that can text a high school coach or parent need to consider their law enforcement applications.

While the wrist drone is just in the “late prototype stages” and only stays aloft for 3 to 5 minutes, Tombe said “we’ll bring it in and take a look at it.” Meanwhile, his office plans to test the efficacy of slightly larger handheld drones with DHS operational units as well as local law enforcement departments like the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

February 26, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

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