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US Hopes to 'contain' China with mini-drones
by major major Friday, Jan 6 2012, 7:46am
international / peace/war / other press

After the recent capture of a 'sophisticated' UAV Drone over Iran we can safely assume that China and Russia are now in possession of the latest drone stealth technology. The intended deployment of this type of aircraft over China by Pentagon dunces no longer poses any major threat; in fact it is probably welcomed, as understood stealth technology allows easy targeting of this type of aircraft.

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In today's world it is simply impossible for any one nation to gain global superiority for any extended period -- a lesson the US is very slow to learn but learn it must.

America missed the opportunity to contain Russia and China a decade past -- attempting to do so now by remote control mini-drones is the height of folly, but folly is no stranger to Washington.

Be cognizant of the reality behind the following Japan Times
story:

U.S. turns to drones to counter China
by Michael Richardson

SINGAPORE — A recent offer by the Seychelles to refuel and replenish Chinese naval ships on anti-piracy patrols in the northwest Indian Ocean was seen as the latest sign of China's expanding naval power.

But it obscured an even more significant development: U.S. deployment of a mini-air force of long-range, remotely-piloted aircraft from a network of airfields in the Seychelles, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to track and if necessary attack suspected terrorists on land and pirates at sea.

Victoria, capital of the Seychelle islands, is 1,480 km east of the southern tip of lawless Somalia. There and in Yemen, on the north side of the Gulf of Aden, local al-Qaida affiliates have sprung to prominence, potentially posing a wider terrorist threat.

At the same time, Somali pirates have been disrupting international shipping in the northwest Indian Ocean.

Use of the civilian airport in Victoria by several U.S. Reaper drones underscores a development that is changing the nature of military and intelligence operations in many Asia-Pacific countries as well as the West. Reapers can fly nearly 1,850 km from base, conduct their mission and return home. If armed, they can unleash Hellfire missiles as well as guided 227-kg bombs, although endurance is shortened if the weapons load is heavy.

Increasing reliance on drones indicates that the future of airpower is likely to be largely unmanned, as governments seek to reduce combat casualties and remove as many of their expensive manned warships and aircraft as possible from hostile range.

In the Pacific, China is honing a strategy involving high-speed missiles, stealthy submarines, and anti-satellite and cyber attacks to prevent opposing aircraft carriers and their naval escorts from operating in a crisis anywhere near the Chinese mainland or offshore islands claimed by Beijing.

The U.S. military has become so concerned at China's rapidly growing arsenal of anti-access and area-denial weapons that just over two years ago it authorized the navy and air force to collaborate on ways to off-set the Chinese challenge to America's capacity to project power and sustain its alliances and military partnerships in Asia.

In a 2010 report, Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, wrote that with the spread of advanced technologies and their exploitation by other countries, especially China and to a lesser extent Iran, U.S. ability to "preserve military access to two key areas of vital interest, the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf, is being increasingly challenged."

To move out of harm's way, the United States aims to deploy sea-based drones on its aircraft carriers in the Pacific by 2018. "They will play an integral part in our future operations in this region," according to Vice Admiral Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Pacific and Indian oceans. "Carrier-based unmanned aircraft systems have tremendous potential, especially in increasing the range and persistence of our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, as well as our ability to strike targets quickly."

At present, jet fighters and bombers on U.S. carriers must take off within 800 km of their target, leaving the carriers within range of land-based missiles and combat aircraft. However, the new generation of sea-based drones bring developed by the U.S. could operate as far as 2,500 km from the carrier, putting the ships out of range.

U.S. deployment of land-based drones has expanded rapidly in the past few years. Widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have also been flown extensively over Pakistan in the hunt for militants, despite periodic protests from the government.

In fact the U.S. is now training more pilots to operate drones than to fly conventional fighters and bombers. Most of these pilots will work from bases in the continental U.S., often half a world away from the places where their planes are active.

America currently has a big lead in the number and sophistication of drones, and the sensors and weapons they carry. An estimated 7,000 drones are in service. Most are unarmed.

Although the biggest, such as Global Hawk, can easily fly across the Pacific and remain aloft for days, many are small and can be hand-launched to provide troops with instant video imagery of the battlefield, day or night. The U.S. Army is already buying 1,300 radio-controlled Raven planes each year. They are the size of a large model aircraft.

The California company that makes them has also started mass production of a new tube-launched, man-portable drone for the U.S. Army. In addition to surveillance, it will also work as an explosive-packed kamikaze missile that can be armed and locked on target by the controller to attack dug-in or fortified infantry positions, enemy missile teams and mortar emplacements.

As electronic systems for small drones are miniaturized and improved, production costs are falling and capabilities increasing. Ravens currently cost around $56,000 each. By contrast, the U.S. Predator drone, widely used for surveillance and attack in Afghanistan and Pakistan, costs at least $5 million, and another $5,000 an hour to fly. The Predator is about the size of a piloted light aircraft.

So far, as many as 50 countries have bought or built drones, mainly for surveillance. The Australian government plans to buy up to seven high-altitude, long-endurance Global Hawks from the U.S. at an estimated cost of up to AU$2 billion. The opposition wants to increase the number to 15. Japan and South Korea are also talking to the Pentagon about possible bulk buys of Global Hawks.

Israel and China are actively developing and marketing drones, while Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan have similar plans.

Critics contend that drone proliferation may lead to unauthorized operation in foreign airspace, mounting civilian casualties and collateral damage, strained inter-state relations, and eventually result in the technology falling into the hands of terrorists. But despite possible risks, drones seem set to play an expanding military and intelligence role.

One firm that tracks defense and aerospace markets says global spending on research and procurement of drones over the next decade is expected to amount of more than $94 billion, including $9 billion on remotely piloted combat planes.

© 2012 The Japan Times Ltd

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Spying Drones
by Jennifer Lynch via gan - Electronic Frontier Foundation Wednesday, Jan 11 2012, 8:56pm

Today, EFF filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration seeking information on drone flights in the United States. The FAA is the sole entity within the federal government capable of authorizing domestic drone flights, and for too long now, it has failed to release specific and detailed information on who is authorized to fly drones within US borders.

Up until a few years ago, most Americans didn’t know much about drones or unmanned aircraft. However, the U.S. military has been using drones in its various wars and conflicts around the world for more than 15 years, using the Predator drone for the first time in Bosnia in 1995, and the Global Hawk drone in Afghanistan in 2001. In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US military has used several different types of drones to conduct surveillance for every major mission in the war. In Libya, President Obama authorized the use of armed Predator drones, even though we were not technically at war with the country. And most recently in Yemen, the CIA used drones carrying Hellfire missiles to kill an American citizen, the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. In all, almost one in every three U.S. warplanes is a drone, according to the Congressional Research Service. In 2005, the number was only 5%.

Now drones are also being used domestically for non-military purposes, raising significant privacy concerns. For example, this past December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) purchased its ninth drone. It uses these drones inside the United States to patrol the U.S. borders—which most would argue is within its agency mandate—but it also uses them to aid state and local police for routine law enforcement purposes. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported in December that CBP used one of its Predators to roust out cattle rustlers in North Dakota. The Times quoted local police as saying they “have used two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base to fly at least two dozen surveillance flights since June.” State and local police are also using their own drones for routine law enforcement activities from catching drug dealers to finding missing persons. Some within law enforcement have even proposed using drones to record traffic violations.

Drones are capable of highly advanced and almost constant surveillance, and they can amass large amounts of data. They carry various types of equipment including live-feed video cameras, infrared cameras, heat sensors, and radar. Some newer drones carry super high resolution “gigapixel” cameras that can “track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet[,] . . . [can] monitor up to 65 enemies of the State simultaneously[, and] . . . can see targets from almost 25 miles down range.” Predator drones can eavesdrop on electronic transmissions, and one drone unveiled at DEFCON last year can crack Wi-Fi networks and intercept text messages and cell phone conversations—without the knowledge or help of either the communications provider or the customer. Drones are also designed to carry weapons, and some have suggested that drones carrying weapons such as tasers and bean bag guns could be used domestically.

Many drones, by virtue of their design, their size, and how high they can fly, can operate undetected in urban and rural environments, allowing the government to spy on Americans without their knowledge. And even if Americans knew they were being spied on, it’s unclear what laws would protect against this. As Ryan Calo, the ACLU (pdf) and many others have noted, Supreme Court case law has not been friendly to privacy in the public sphere, or even to privacy in areas like your backyard or corporate facilities that are off-limits to the public but can be viewed from above. The Supreme Court has also held that the Fourth Amendment’s protections from unreasonable searches and seizures may not apply when it’s not a human that is doing the searching. None of these cases bodes well for any future review of the privacy implications of drone surveillance.

However, there are some reasons to hope that the courts will find the ability of drones to monitor our activities constantly, both in public and—through the use of heat sensors or other technology—inside our homes, goes too far. For example, in a 2001 case called Kyllo v. United States, the Supreme Court held the warrantless search of a home conducted from outside the home using thermal imaging violated the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that, “in the sanctity of the home, all details are intimate details”—it didn’t matter that the officers did not need to “enter” the home to “see” them. United States v. Jones, argued before the Supreme Court this term, could also have ramifications for drones. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal’s opinion in this case held that warrantless GPS-enabled 24/7 surveillance of a car violated the Fourth Amendment, noting, “When it comes to privacy . . . the whole may be more revealing than the parts.” Though the outcome of the case at the Supreme Court is far from clear, the Court did seem surprised during oral argument that, under the government’s theory of the case, the justices themselves could be tracked without a warrant and without probable cause. Drones that use heat sensors to “see” into the home and that can track one or many people around the clock wherever they go are not much different from the technologies at issue in Kyllo and Jones.

It is likely a court will be forced to address this issue in the not-to-distant future. The market for unmanned aircraft in the United States is expanding rapidly, and companies, public entities, and research institutions are developing newer, faster, stealthier, and more sophisticated drones every year. According to a July 15, 2010 FAA Fact Sheet (pdf), “[i]n the United States alone, approximately 50 companies, universities, and government organizations are developing and producing some 155 unmanned aircraft designs.” According to one market research firm, approximately 70% of global growth and market share of unmanned aircraft systems is in the United States (pdf). In 2010 alone, expenditures on unmanned aircraft “reached more than US $3 billion (pdf) and constituted a growth of more than 12%.” The market for these systems is only expected to increase: over the next 10 years the total expenditure for unmanned aircraft “is expected to surpass US $7 billion.” And some have forecast that by the year 2018 there will be “more than 15,000 [unmanned aircraft systems] in service in the U.S., with a total of almost 30,000 deployed worldwide.”

In 2011, Congress, the Defense Department, state and local governments, industry and researchers all placed significant pressure on the FAA to review and expand its current “Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA)” program.  The FAA is also reviewing its own rules for small unmanned aircraft systems. The agency is expected to announce an expansion of the COA program this month. If it does, we may see (or be seen by) many more drones in the very near future.

EFF will keep monitoring this issue. We hope to learn from our lawsuit against the FAA which entities in the United States—whether they are government agencies, state or local law enforcement, research institutions or private companies—are currently authorized to fly drones and which entities are seeking or have been denied authorization. Once we have that information we will be better able to define the scope of the problem and can further assess and address the privacy issues at stake.

Creative Commons applies.

[Some Drone FACTS should never be forgotten -- the more digital features or capabilities a drone has the more vulnerable it becomes to external digital intervention or a 'hack attack.']


 
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