Posts tagged ‘UAV’
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.
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.
Redefining “Secure Border”
More than a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks showed that America needed to do a better job securing its borders, a debate continues over the best ways to manage who gets in and out of the country.
The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has mushroomed to more than 20,000 since 2001. There have been numerous border enforcement programs like teaming Border Patrol agents with National Guard troops, flooding areas reporting high levels of illegal border entries with large numbers of Border Patrol personnel and equipment. There was even a failed program to build a physical and virtual fence along the border with Mexico — to the tune of $3.5 billion.
Now law enforcement officials are worried abou radicalized U.S.-citizens-turned jihadis coming back from fighting in the Middle East — with skills that could be used for terrorism. And Congress and the White House are embroiled in a political battle over millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States, a battle that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol leaders say it is time to rethink what we mean when we talk about securing the border. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher told a Washington think tank gathering last month that a secure border — where no one can cross illegally at any time — is virtually impossible, without doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and boosting the agency’s budget by $97 billion.
Since late 2013, the agency had moved away from determining its effectiveness by counting every person it apprehends trying to cross the border illegally. Instead it has re-evaluated “what it means to secure the border,” Fisher told a border security discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Rather, the Border Patrol characterizes a secure border as one of low risk – where there is a high probability of detection coupled with a high probability of interdiction.
“Border security is not an end state to be achieved and revisited every five years,” Assistant Chief Michael Schroeder told the audience. “It’s a continuous struggle,” he added. Schroeder is the author of an explanatory paper, published by the Border Patrol, detailing how and why it developed the low-risk idea in its 2012-2016 U.S. Border Patrol Strategic Plan. Instead of arrest statistics or measuring resources like number of agents or the size of the agency’s budget, the Border Patrol had to develop “a preliminary set of risk indicators” to analyze risk along U.S. borders.
Fisher is slated to be one of the government and industry speakers this week at a Border Management Summit in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday (February 24-25). You can learn more at the website of the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, the conference sponsor.
The Border Patrol is using technologies like moveable ground radar, biometric identification obtained from first-time illegal border crossers and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to acquire more data on border activity and shifts from past patterns. The situational awareness provided by UAS “is something we’ve never had before. It’s led us to the metrics we have today,” according to Schroeder.
Apprehensions of people trying to cross into the United States illegally are down to 1970 levels. So the Border Patrol is using intelligence and analysis to predict where the high risk areas are — and when and where to move law enforcement resources when drug, gun and people smugglers change tactics.
But a recent report by the DHS inspector general’s office (OIG) casts doubt on the value of border surveillance by unmanned aircraft — and the information they gather.
For starters, the report contends CBP has yet to prove the value of its UAS program while drastically understating the costs. The OIG’s second audit of the program since 2012, found the effort by CBP’s Air and Marine Office “still has no reliable method of measuring its performance” and that its impact on stemming illegal immigration has been minimal.
“We see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border , and there is no reason to invest additional taxpayer funds at this time,” said DHS Inspector General John Roth.
Better Late Than Never.
Seven weeks past a congressional deadline, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued proposed rules for the use of unmanned aircraft in commercial operations such as monitoring crops, inspecting infrastructure like bridges and smokestacks and filming television programs and movies.
The FAA announcement Sunday (February 15) doesn’t mean small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will delivering pizza or books to your home anytime soon. “What we are releasing today is a proposed rule,” cautioned FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. In a conference call with reporters Huerta added: “Today’s action does not authorize wide spread commercial use of unmanned aircraft. That can only happen when the rule is final.” In the meantime, he noted, commercial operators must still go through the current process for a waiver or exemption to fly.
And that process, which can take many months to complete, has limited the number of business and institutions — including police and other emergency responders — that can fly UAS.
The proposed rules apply only to unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds (25 kilograms). If approved, they would limit commercial UAS flights to daylight hours on days with a visibility of three miles from where the operator is. Other limitations: a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour (87 knots) and a maximum altitude of 500 fee above the ground. The idea is to keep small drones, which aren’t required to have sense and avoid technology like that on manned aircraft, out of the way of commercial planes which usually fly at higher altitudes. The rules also would require the operator to maintain line of sight control of the aircraft. In other words, no autonomous flight out of the operator’s sight (whether it be over the horizon or just behind a hill or building). Operators would not have to obtain a pilot’s license, but would be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center and then pass a recurring aero knowledge test every 24 months. Operators must be a minimum of 17-years-old and would also have to be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (a unit of the Homeland Security Department).
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is to be published in the Federal Register and can be found here. Additional information is on the FAA website. In addition to the 60-day period where the public can comment on the proposed rules, the agency said it would hold public meetings at the six FAA-approved UAS test sites around the country.
Special Ops in the Arctic.
WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.
Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they [special operations forces (SOF)] can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).
To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF regional commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.
Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals.
In 2007, a Russian mini sub deposited a metal Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole. Russia’s new military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in December, calls for a more aggressive stance toward NATO and boosting its military presence in the Arctic. Those plans include setting up an Arctic Strategic Command and opening 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015.
Sweden has tracked unidentified undersea vehicles – believed to be Russian submarines — violating their territory. In December, a Russian military aircraft flying with radar-evading stealth technology nearly crashed into a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen, Denmark. In April, Russian fighter jets carried out a simulated bombing raid on Stockholm, Sweden’s capital.
Add to these incidents Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and ongoing fighting between Ukraine’s military and Russian-supported separatists and U.S. military leaders and their NATO allies have reasons to be concerned.
“I consider this a current and future challenge for us,” Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander, told the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium & Exhibition. He conceded that the harsh Arctic environment poses a different challenge after more than a dozen years fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is something we can deal with. While we have engaged in the Middle East, we have not forgotten about the other areas,” Votel said, adding that with industry’s help “I feel confident we would be able to address that relatively quickly.”
On other issues, Votel said the flow of foreign fighters joining the violent extremist organization styling itself an Islamic State “is staggering.” IS (also called ISIS and ISIL) has attracted more than 19,000 foreigners from 90 different countries to fight with them in Syria and Iraq, he noted. Counter terrorism experts at the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security worry about the threat these fighters pose when they return home to countries in the West.
Votel said SOCOM and law enforcement were also seeing “a growing nexus” between terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations because the crime groups’ ability to move money, people and weapons across borders is very attractive to terrorists. While officials don’t fully understand how these networks interact yet, what is known is “the more they cooperate, the greater the threat,” Votel said.
The SOCOM commander and Army Ranger added that airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance-gathering “remains one of our chief concerns.”
SOCOM is “a global synchronizer of SOF forces, focusing on activities ranging from counter terrorism to foreign internal defense and from unconventional warfare to combatting weapons of mass destruction,” Votel added
Coordinating U.S. Arctic Efforts.
President Barack Obama has signed an executive order establishing a new panel that will advise the U.S. government on preserving the Alaskan Arctic.
Obama said he was establishing the Arctic Executive Steering Committee to help juggle more than 20 tribal, scientific, corporate, and federal interests at play in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen at twice the rate as the rest of the United States, The Hill reported.
“As the United States assumes the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, it is more important than ever that we have a coordinated national effort that takes advantage of our combined expertise and efforts in the Arctic region to promote our shared values and priorities,” the executive order, signed Wednesday (January 21), noted.
In April, the United States will take over from Canada the chairmanship of the eight-member Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The council, created in 1996, is a high level intergovernmental forum seeking to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States — with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities — on issues like environmental protection, oil and gas development, shipping and climate change.
Obama did not mention the Arctic specifically in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday (Jan. 20) but he said climate change posed the greatest threat to future generations, USA Today reported. And while he didn’t announce any new climate initiatives in his speech, he did say he was “determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.”
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Russian Arctic Buildup
Russia’s continuing activities in Eastern Ukraine are drawing criticism from NATO and other western nations. But in the Arctic, which is expected to grow more accessible as melting sea ice opens up shipping lanes, Moscow’s military buildup is also being noticed with some concern.
According to the Ottawa (Canada) Citizen, Russia is to looking to have 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015 as it pushes ahead with its plan to boost its military presence in its Northern region. Four airfields are already operational. Ten more will be built in the coming year, Russia’s deputy defence minister Dmitry Bulgakov told the country’s Sputnik news agency, the Canadian newspaper noted.
Newsweek notes that … A detachment of about 800 servicemen from Russia’s Northern Fleet has been stationed in the Russian town of Alakurtti, Murmansk region, just 50 kilometers from the Finnish border. It’s part of a large-scale expansion of Russian military facilities in the country’s northwest according to a press statement (here’s a link to the statement, in Russian) by the unit’s commanding admiral Vladimir Korolev.
The rest of the fleet are expected to be stationed there “soon” according to Korolev. The base will be one of the key strongholds in Russia’s northernmost territories, designed to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities from the west, and improve their territorial claims over areas in the Arctic, said Newsweek.
At full force, Russia’s Northern Fleet consists of about 3,000 ground troops trained for combat in Arctic conditions, along with 39 ships and 45 submarines. Its arrival in Murmansk follows Russia’s decision last year to create a united command for all of its units designated with protecting Russia’s interests in the country’s northern regions, the news website noted.
And UPI notes (via Military.Com ) that Russia’s military press service has confirmed the country will be sending drones to the Arctic in early 2015.
“Before the end of the current year specialists with several Orlan-10 sets will arrive at the permanent service base,” the press service told Russian news agency Tass. Test flight will begin in the next few months. The drones are allegedly meant to do surveillance over coastal areas and to help sea vessels navigate, according to UPI.
The Orlan-10 is a Russian drone with a front propeller, resembling a traditional manned aircraft. The aircraft was first discovered to be in use in early 2014, when one was shot down in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, The Moscow Times wonders if the worldwide drop in the price of oil, the driving force in Russia’s economy, could slow Russia’s activities – military and commercial – in its Arctic region.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
China is sending a 700-man infantry battalion to South Sudan, its first combat-trained unit to serve in a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Previous Chinese peacekeepers were mainly engineer, transportation, medical service and security units, according to Xinhua news service.
The unit includes 121 offices and 579 soldiers – 43 members of the battalion have participated in peacekeeping missions before, according to Xinhua. The first 180 soldiers will fly to South Sudan in January. The rest of the unit will travel by air and sea in March.
The battalion will be equipped with drones, armored infantry carriers, anti-tank missiles, mortars, light weapons and other equipment “completely for self-defense purposes,” Commander Wang Zhen said.
China currently has more than 2,000 peacekeepers serving in conflict zones around the world. The U.N. has more than 11,000 peacekeepers in oil-rich South Sudan, which won its independence from Sudan in 2011. Fighting broke out a year ago when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup.
Fighting in the capital, Juba – one of the fastest growing cities in the world – set off a series of retaliatory massacres that have claimed thousands of lives and driven the country to the brink of famine, according to The Guardian news site.
A 2011 report by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Saferworld, found that, despite stated neutrality, China is gradually using diplomatic means to push for the resolution of certain conflicts, according to The Guardian. The report also said China is becoming both a major supplier of conventional arms in Africa and has increased its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions since 2000 – most of them based in Africa.
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Bus Stop, Market Bombings.
At least 26 people have been killed in bombings in two major cities in northern Nigeria, the BBC reported. Twenty were killed at a bus stop in Gombe, while six more died in an explosion at a market in Bauchi.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the militant Islamist group Boko Haram is waging an insurgency in the area, the BBC noted.
Meanwhile, a video purportedly released by Boko Haram shows dozens of people being executed at a school dormitory. There is no independent confirmation that Boko Haram produced the video. It is unclear where or when it was shot.
But the video bears Boko Haram’s insignia and shows gun-wielding men chanting “Allah is great” and speaking in the Kanuri language associated with the group’s fighters, says BBC Nigeria analyst Jimeh Saleh.
Meanwhile, Cameroon’s military said it had dismantled a training camp run by Boko Haram near its border with north-eastern Nigeria. Soldiers captured 45 trainers and 84 children between the ages of seven and 15 who were undergoing training, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant Colonel Didier Badjecks, told the Reuters news agency.
Despite a strong military presence, Nigeria’s Boko Haram continues to strike targets in northern Cameroon, according to an Al Jazeera report.
Boko Haram launched an insurgency in Nigeria in 2009, seeking to create an Islamic state in the region.
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The World Health Organization says the Ebola death toll in in West Africa has risen to more than 7,500, the Voice of America reported.
And the number of cases is nearing 20,000 according to the WHO’s latest data posted on Monday.
The new numbers show Liberia and Guinea with a decrease in the rate of Ebola transmissions, while Sierra Leone’s cases continue to rise. Those three West African countries account for almost all the Ebola deaths.
The death toll in other countries remains the same with six deaths in Mali, eight in Nigeria, and one in the United States. Spain and Senegal have had one case each, but no deaths.
Christmas Drone Concern.
Concerned that “tens of thousands” of adults and children may be getting small drones for Christmas, three unmanned aircraft trade groups and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a joint education program today (December 22) to ensure that people unfamiliar with flying rules operate their small planes and helicopters safely.
In a teleconference with reporters announcing the launch of the “Know Before You Fly” program’s website officials said they were concerned that people ignorant of what they are and aren’t allowed to do when flying their new “toys” might cause accidents in the air or on the ground. The program is a joint effort of the world’s largest robotics trade group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), as well as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the Small UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle) Coalition – along with the FAA.
AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano, said small unmanned aircraft were drawing a lot of interest as the “must have holiday gift” and he anticipated “tens of thousands” would be under Christmas trees this season.
“This is an issue of growing concern,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.”The price of unmanned aircraft has come down and this newer and more powerful technology is more affordable to more people, yet many are unfamiliar with the rules of flying,” he said, adding that retailers and manufacturers were offering UAS, often mini helicopters, for prices ranging from $20 to thousands of dollars.
The program seeks to make new UAS owners aware of best practices such as: Don’t fly above 400 feet; Keep your aircraft within sight and don’t fly within five miles of an airport without first notifying FAA air traffic control or the airport operator. “We urge you to join a model airplanet club to learn how to safely operate and enjoy your aircraft,” Huerta said to new drone owners.
While FAA rules bar commercial operations like professional photographers or farmers from flying drones to assist their work, Congress has mandated that model airplane enthusiasts and hobbyists can fly remotely operated aircraft at low altitudes without a permit or license as long as they follow a few simple rules. By contrast, universities, designers, government agencies, including police and fire departments, must submit to a lengthy and slow process of certification by the FAA before they can fly UAS under stringently limited circumstances.
The makers and operators of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are increasingly frustrated at the FAA’s slow pace in determining when commercial interests can fly unmanned vehicles for profit, while any member of the public can fly a UAS without any training or registration. Toscano said he believes most people would follow the rules once they are made aware of them. “As more and more of this technology is introduced, the rules will get more refined,” he said. As for “rogue entities out there,” he added, “if they misuse the technology, then they have to be held accountable and we have laws out there to do that.”
Congress has mandated that the FAA develop rules to integrate drones into the National Airspace System by 2015, but observers believe the agency, which is charged with operating the air traffic control system and maintaining aviation safety, won’t make that fast-approaching deadline. Huerta would not be pinned down on when the FAA would release its proposed rules for small commercial UAS flights. “We’re very focused on getting it out quickly,” he told reporters.
A front page story in the Washington Post today (December 22) reports that FAA officials may be ignoring the concerns of some of their own safety experts in allowing seven film and video-making companies, as well as entities in a few other business sectors, to fly drones commercially under much reduced restrictions. The paper noted that one film company had already lost control of one of its camera drones which flew off and crash-landed harmlessly in rough terrain not far from he movie set. But Huerta dismissed the notion that the FAA has been soft on safety.
“With any new technology, you’re going to have different points of view and different opinions and we welcome that because that’s how we get to ensuring that we can develop the best regulations and the best mitigations are put in place,” said Huerta. “I’m very confident we have a very open process and a thoughtful and transparent process that is focused on how we stage integration into the National Airspace System, but to do it in a safe manner,” he added.