Silvia Videler

De wapens van de zeer nabije toekomst

mei 20, 2014 By: silviavideler Category: Actueel, Eindtijd ontwikkelingen

The Ultra-Lethal Drones Of The Future

May 20, 2014 | Sharon Weinberger

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In 13 short years, killer drones have gone from being exotic military technology featured primarily in the pages of specialized aviation magazines to a phenomenon of popular culture, splashed across daily newspapers and fictionalized in film and television, including the new season of “24.”

What has not changed all that much — at least superficially — is the basic aircraft that most people associate with drone warfare: the armed Predator.

The Predator, with its distinctive bubble near the nose and sensor ball underneath, is the iconic image of drone warfare, an aircraft that grew out of 1980s work supported by the Pentagon’s future-thinking Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Originally developed to perform surveillance, the CIA added Hellfire missiles and began using the Predator to hunt down members of the Taliban and al Qaeda after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Though the CIA and Air Force now fly an updated version of the Predator — named Reaper — the drone is still relatively easy to detect, and easy to shoot down, at least for a country with a modern military.

In fact, as terrifying as drones sound, they actually aren’t all that sophisticated compared to other weapons in the US arsenal. The original Predator plodded along at a pokey 84 miles an hour.

Its missiles, though lethal, are decades-old technology developed to destroy tanks, not terrorists. And despite concerns about autonomous killing machines, the Predator must be operated by a pilot (albeit remotely). The Predator has proved effective, but it is not exactly the sci-fi miracle that many might imagine.

Under development, however, is a new generation of drones that will be able to penetrate the air defenses of even sophisticated nations, spotting nuclear facilities, and tracking down — and possibly killing — terrorist leaders, silently from high altitudes. These drones will be fast, stealthy and survivable, designed to sneak in and out of a country without ever being spotted.

In fact, the Predator may someday be to drone warfare what the V-2 was to long-range ballistic missiles: a crude, but important, first step in a new era of warfare.

The Past

1980 — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launches “Teal Rain,” a top-secret study on high altitude, long endurance unmanned aircraft.

1984 — DARPA contracts with Abe Karem to design a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) called “Amber.”

1990 — General Atomics buys Abe Karem’s company, Leading Systems. It sells Karem’s UAV, now called “Gnat,” to the CIA. In 1994, General Atomics is given contract to develop the Predator, a successor to the Gnat.

1990s — Pentagon secretly funds development of an unmanned successor to the SR-71 Blackbird (a stealth plane introduced in 1964 and famous in popular culture; it’s even used by the “X-Men”). Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed compete.

Modal Trigger

The Dark Star at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Photo: US Air Force

1998 — Retirement of SR-71 Blackbird. The Pentagon pursues two new spy drones: the Global Hawk, a high-altitude surveillance drone, and the RQ-3 DarkStar, a stealthy spy drone, which crashes and is cancelled.

2001 — October 7: First armed Predator strike in Afghanistan. The CIA attempted to kill Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

2007 — General Atomics delivers the Reaper, an upgraded version of the Predator, to the Air Force. The Reaper can fly higher and faster than the Predator, and carries a variety of weapons.

2009 — A photographer in Kandahar, Afghanistan, captured an image of the stealth RQ-170 drone, which aviation watchers called the “Beast of Kandahar.” Its mission: slip past air defense radar into countries like Pakistan and Iran.

US officials soon leaked that RQ-170 had been used to keep tabs on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad in 2011. One RQ-170’s life was cut short, however, when it was captured by Iran later that year, possibly after Iran intercepted the signal used to control it. Last week, Iran claimed it had cloned the drone. It’s unclear how many RQ-170s exist.

The Future

After the retirement of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the military had an obvious gap in its arsenal.

In 2007, satellite pictures emerged showing new construction at Area 51, the Pentagon’s top-secret testing area in the Nevada desert. Veteran watchers of “black,” or secret, aircraft, immediately suspected that the Pentagon was preparing to test a new secret aircraft, and the most likely candidate was a stealth drone.

Now, two unmanned spy drones are under development. One that appears almost ready for combat is the RQ-180, a stealthy spy drone built by Northrop Grumman. Though the Pentagon refuses to confirm its existence, Aviation Week & Space Technology ran this artist’s concept earlier this year and revealed a little about its rumored design.

The RQ-180 is designed to fly very high, for a very long time (perhaps as long as 24 hours). According to Aviation Week, it has a 130-foot wing span and a “cranked kite” stealthy design that would allow it to slip past enemy radar. Chances are it will only be used for surveillance, not attack, though it could carry out an electronic attack.

Another, recently revealed project is a high-altitude drone being developed by Lockheed Martin that can travel up to six times of the speed of sound. The drone would be both a spy and strike aircraft, according to Lockheed. But the SR-72, as Lockheed is calling the twin-engine aircraft, wouldn’t be ready to fly until 2030.

What about a replacement for a Predator? The original Predator was essentially a surveillance aircraft that was turned into an armed drone, so any future replacement aircraft would likely look very different. The Pentagon has openly funded work on unmanned combat aircraft, including Northrop Grumman’s X-47, a diamond-shaped drone that can take off and land from aircraft carriers. But aerospace watchers have long presumed that these programs are hiding even more secretive work.

Part of the difficulty of deciphering the world of drones is that the Pentagon for over three decades has run a series of overlapping projects, often using unclassified programs as “covers” for more secret unmanned aircraft work.

Aviation Week, for example, says the RQ-180 was part of a secret, three-way contest that involved competing drones from Lockheed and Boeing. What happened to those other unmanned aircraft is unclear. Figuring out which are “real” drone project meant for deployment, and which are covers for secret drones, is a shell game.

Small & ubiquitous

Even the stealthy killer drones known or suspected to be under development fall short of some of the unmanned aircraft depicted in science fiction or thriller novels, which often feature swarms of autonomous killing machines. It is true that the Pentagon has been funding work to make drones operate with greater autonomy — for example, one of DARPA’s latest proposals calls on researchers to design ways to have drones collaborate with each other, such as having drones share information about a target.

But drones that can operate completely without the need for a pilot sitting in an air-conditioned trailer on a base in Nevada are still several years away, at least, and the Pentagon has long insisted that drones won’t be allowed to use weapons without a “man in the loop.”

Yet another longtime goal of military work is to create tiny drones, possibly disguised as birds or even insects (the CIA did develop a robotic dragonfly, though it never proved useful).

In terror expert Richard Clarke’s new novel, “Sting of the Drone,” the CIA operates stealthy mini-drones that are capable of assassinating someone inside a bar, and there is certainly evidence such drones are of interest. A four-minute animated video created by the Air Force Research Laboratory showed up on the Web in 2009, illustrating the lab’s work on micro aerial vehicles. The video featured a kamikaze insect-sized drone loaded with high explosives.

But drones of that level of sophistication — able to perch on telephone wires or hunt down terrorists inside a building — still belong to the future.

The real drone revolution may come not through sophistication of drones, but the proliferation of drones. So far, unmanned aircraft have largely been the weapons of technologically advanced nations, but that is changing as drone technology becomes cheaper and more accessible.

Indeed, Hezbollah has already bragged of sending spy drones into Israeli territory, and Israeli leaders have warned of the possible drone threat that Hamas could pose from Gaza.

And a recent report by the Rand Corporation warned that, in the future, terrorist groups might be able to buy small, armed drones: “Smaller systems could become the next IEDs: low-cost, low-tech weapons that are only of limited lethality individually but attrite significant numbers of US or allied personnel when used in large numbers over time.”

The US military holds an annual exercise called Black Dart, which looks at ways to counter hostile drones, particularly small drones. Among the possible defenses are lasers to shoot down drones or systems that can jam the radio signals used to control drones. But this sort of counter-drone technology is scarce today.

Elk land heeft binnen 10 jaar ‘drones’

mei 09, 2014 By: silviavideler Category: Actueel, Eindtijd ontwikkelingen

Every Country Will Have Armed Drones Within Ten Years

May 09, 2014 | Patrick Tucker

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Virtually every country on Earth will be able to build or acquire drones capable of firing missiles within the next ten years. Armed aerial drones will be used for targeted killings, terrorism and the government suppression of civil unrest. What’s worse, say experts, it’s too late for the United States to do anything about it.

After the past decade’s explosive growth, it may seem that the U.S. is the only country with missile-carrying drones. In fact, the U.S. is losing interest in further developing armed drone technology. The military plans to spend $2.4 billion on unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, in 2015. That’s down considerably from the $5.7 billion that the military requested in the 2013 budget.

Other countries, conversely, have shown growing interest in making unmanned robot technology as deadly as possible. Only a handful of countries have armed flying drones today, including the U.S., United Kingdom, Israel, China and (possibly) Iran, Pakistan and Russia.

Other countries want them, including South Africa and India. So far, 23 countries have developed or are developing armed drones, according to a recent report from the RAND organization. It’s only a matter of time before the lethal technology spreads, several experts say.

“Once countries like China start exporting these, they’re going to be everywhere really quickly. Within the next 10 years, every country will have these,” Noel Sharkey, a robotics and artificial intelligence professor from the University of Sheffield, told Defense One. “There’s nothing illegal about these unless you use them to attack other countries. Anything you can [legally] do with a fighter jet, you can do with a drone.”

Sam Brannen, who analyzes drones as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program, agreed with the timeline with some caveats. Within five years, he said, every country could have access to the equivalent of an armed UAV, like General Atomics’ Predator, which fires Hellfire missiles.

He suggested five to 10 years as a more appropriate date for the global spread of heavier, longer range “hunter-killer” aircraft, like the MQ-9 Reaper. “It’s fair to say that the U.S. is leading now in the state of the art on the high end [UAVs]” such as the RQ-170.

“Any country that has weaponized any aircraft will be able to weaponize a UAV,” said Mary Cummings, Duke University professor and former Navy fighter pilot, in a note of cautious agreement. “While I agree that within 10 years weaponized drones could be part of the inventory of most countries, I think it is premature to say that they will…. Such endeavors are expensive [and] require larger UAVs with the payload and range capable of carrying the additional weight, which means they require substantial sophistication in terms of the ground control station.”

Not every country needs to develop an armed UAV program to acquire weaponized drones within a decade. China recently announced that it would be exporting to Saudi Arabia its Wing Loong, a Predator knock-off, a development that heralds the further roboticization of conflict in the Middle East, according to Peter Singer, Brookings fellow and author of Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. “You could soon have U.S. and Chinese made drones striking in the same region,” he noted.

Singer cautions that while the U.S. may be trying to wean itself off of armed UAV technology, many more countries are quickly becoming hooked. “What was once viewed as science fiction, and abnormal, is now normal… Nations in NATO that said they would never buy drones, and then said they would never use armed drones, are now saying, ‘Actually, we’re going to buy them.’ We’ve seen the U.K., France, and Italy go down that pathway. The other NATO states are right behind,” Singer told Defense One.

Virtually any country, organization or individual could employ low-tech tactics to “weaponize” drones right now. “Not everything is going to be Predator class,” said Singer. “You’ve got a fuzzy line between cruise missiles and drones moving forward. There will be high-end expensive ones and low-end cheaper ones.”

The recent use of drone surveillance and even the reported deployment of booby-trapped drones by Hezbollah, Singer said, are examples of do-it-yourself killer UAVs that will permeate the skies in the decade ahead – though more likely in the skies local to their host nation and not over American cities. “Not every nation is going to be able to carry out global strikes,” he said.

So, what option does that leave U.S. policy makers wanting to govern the spread of this technology? Virtually none, say experts. “You’re too late,” said Sharkey, matter-of-factly.

Other experts suggest that its time the U.S. embrace the inevitable and put weaponized drone technology into the hands of additional allies. The U.S. has been relatively constrained in its willingness to sell armed drones, exporting weaponized UAV technology only to the United Kingdom, according to a recent white paper, by Brannen for CSIS. In July 2013, Congress approved the sale of up to 16 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to France, but these would be unarmed.

“If France had possessed and used armed UAVs…when it intervened in Mali to fight the jihadist insurgency Ansar Dine – or if the United States had operated them in support or otherwise passed on its capabilities – France would have been helped considerably. Ansar Dine has no air defenses to counter such a UAV threat,” note the authors of the RAND report.

In his paper, Brennan makes the same point more forcefully. “In the midst of this growing global interest, the United States has chosen to indefinitely put on hold sales of its most capable [unmanned aerial system] to many of its allies and partners, which has led these countries to seek other suppliers or to begin efforts to indigenously produce the systems,” he writes. “Continued indecision by the United States regarding export of this technology will not prevent the spread of these systems.”

The Missile Technology Control Regime, or MTCR, is probably the most important piece of international policy that limits the exchange of drones and is a big reason why more countries don’t have weaponized drone technology. But China never signed onto it. The best way to insure that U.S. armed drones and those of our allies can operate together is to reconsider the way MTCR should apply to drones, Brannen writes.

“U.S. export is unlikely to undermine the MTCR, which faces a larger set of challenges in preventing the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as addressing more problematic [unmanned]-cruise missile hybrids such as so-called loitering munitions (e.g., the Israeli-made Harop),” he writes.

Weaponized, Yes. Weaponized And Autonomous? Maybe.

The biggest technology challenge in drone development also promises the biggest reward in terms cost savings and functionally: full autonomy. The military is interested in drones that can do more taking off, landing and shooting on their own. UAVs have limited ability to guide themselves and the development of fully autonomous drones is years away. But some recent breakthroughs are beginning to bear fruit. The experimental X-47B, a sizable drone that can fly off of aircraft carriers, “demonstrated that some discrete tasks that are considered extremely difficult when performed by humans can be mastered by machines with relative ease,” Brannen notes.

Less impressed, Sharkey said the U.S. still has time to rethink its drone future. “Don’t go to the next step. Don’t make them fully autonomous. That will proliferate just as quickly and then you are really going to be sunk.”

Others, including Singer, disagreed. “As you talk about this moving forward, the drones that are sold and used are remotely piloted to be more and more autonomous. As the technology becomes more advanced it becomes easier for people to use. To fly a Predator, you used to need to be a pilot,” he said.

“The field of autonomy is going to continue to advance regardless of what happens in the military side.”