Proliferation and protests

Apologies for the recent silence but I was, as they say, unavoidably detained.

Proliferation of drones continues apace with Israel’s recent delivery 12 drones to Russia in a $400m deal and Brazil ordering further Hermes 450 drones.   Meanwhile the USAF continues to increase its UAV capability by ordering a further 24 Reaper drones from General Atomics as Israel and India have inaugurated new drone squadrons.

On the technological development side, Gorgon Stare, the new drone surveillance capability, has been dammed in an internal draft USAF report as “not operationally effective” and “not operationally suitable.”  Danger Room however reports an ‘updated’ report suggesting that ‘fixes are in place”.  

The new X-47B US Navy stealth bomber drone had its first flight this week.  The X-47B is one of the new autonomous drones that is not remotely piloted, but rather follows a pre-programmed mission.

There have been large protests against US drone strikes in Pakistan with some reports of thousands attending protest marches.   In the US, 14 protestors who trespassed at Creech AFB to protest drone strikes were found guilty and sentenced to time served.  John Dear, one of the 14, reports here on testimony from the court.

Finally should mention Drone Wars UK  letter published in Guardian on call for inquiry into use of British drones.

Death TV: Overwhelmed and bored analysts recommending drone strikes

The Washington Post reported this week that vast amount of video footage from drones are overwhelming analysts

According to Marine Corps General James Cartwright, Vice Chair of the Military Joint Chiefs of Staff, the video is “boring intelligence analysts to tears.”

Forced to watch what Gen. Cartwright called “Death TV,” bleary-eyed analysts at ground stations and other outposts spend hours wading through useless data until they spot signs of a target and recommend that the drone fire its missile.

Cartwright wants (yes, you’ve guessed it) more autonomy and technology to solve the problem and companies are lining up to provide the technology to process the video feed.  “Within three years, it will be technically feasible to run these sophisticated algorithms and extract relevant essence data from the content” according to John Delay of Harris Corp which has, according to the article, several defense contracts, but also has also made transmitters for broadcast television since 1969. (Death TV indeed!)

Unfortunately for the analysts, and without doubt Afghans too, Aviation Week says that Gorgon Stare will enter service aboard US Reaper drones in Afghanistan  next month   Gorgon Stare is a new surveillance capability that allows a wide area of ground to be videoed  while also enabling individuals to be tracked within that wide area. As Aviation Week explains:

‘The five EO cameras each shoot two 16-megapixel frames/sec., which are stitched together by the computer to create an 80-megapixel image…. The result is a system that offers a “many orders of magnitude” leap beyond the “soda straw” view provided by the single EO/IR camera carried by an MQ-1 Predator or a conventional Reaper UAV…. The video taken by Gorgon Stare’s cameras can be “chipped out” into 10 individual views and streamed to that many recipients or more… At the same time, Gorgon Stare will process the images from all its cameras in flight, quilting them into a mosaic for a single wide-area view.’

Four sets of Gorgons will enter service next month as part of the initial deployment.  A further developed version, involving BAE Systems’ ARGUS system [see ‘our Outstaring the Gorgon: BAE, Drones and ARGUS] is already being developed and tested.

Meanwhile the US Army has announced plans to conduct the largest ever demonstration of interoperability between manned and unmanned systems next year with the aim of proving that MUSIC (Manned Unmanned Systems Integration Concept) can work. As previously mentioned there is enormous pressure on political and civil authorities to allow unmanned aerial vehicles to operate within civil airspace and MUSIC is another step in that direction.   However Drone Wars UK can’t help but point out, as yet another drone crashes, that unmanned systems continue to regularly fall out of the sky.