Tag Archives: drones

United Nations Drones and Robots

explosive ordnance disposal robot

The United Nations will move more into the use of high technology including UAVs and EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) robots in peacekeeping operations to confront new challenges and offer the best value for funding in future.  UAVs have been deployed by MONUSCO in the DRC since late last year (2013) to provide added eyes to UN forces there in an ongoing quest to protect civilians.  There are currently over 116 000 UN military, police and civilian personnel from more than 120 countries serving in 16 peacekeeping missions worldwide.

One example of new technology being utilised beneficially came last month (May 2014) during a ferry accident on Lake Kivu. A UN Falco UAV spotted the craft in distress and UN personnel in the DRC were able to immediately despatch speedboats and a helicopter, rescuing 15 people.  “From the second it spotted the sinking ship, the UAV stayed at the scene searching for survivors and providing situational awareness,” said Ameerah Haq, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.  “This illustrates the flexibility and the ability of UAVs to greatly enhance situational awareness and aid life-saving operations by the provision of real-time imagery to support reaction to incidents.”

The UN has also enhanced its use of thermal imaging, closed-circuit television, night vision abilities and GIS (geographic information systems) data to improve situational awareness to provide better for the safety and security for its peacekeepers.  As part of the ongoing effort by the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and of Field Support (DFS) to take advantage of emerging technologies and innovations, a group of five experts is being tasked with advising on how best to use these capabilities.

Excerpts, New challenges spur UN peacekeeping to become a force for the future, DefenceWeb,  June 3, 2014

Explosive Weapons Abuses 2013

ballistic missile

Data released by Action on Armed on Violence  (AOAV) on May 14, 2014 shows that civilian deaths and injuries in 2013 from explosive weapons have increased by 15%, up from 2012.Civilians bore the brunt of bombings worldwide. AOAV recorded 37,809 deaths and injuries in 2013, 82% of whom were civilians. The trend was even worse when these weapons were used in populated areas. There civilians made up a staggering 93% of casualties.  These stark figures mean that civilian casualties from bombings and shelling worldwide have gone up for a second consecutive year.  This data is captured in AOAV’s latest report, Explosive Events, which analyses the global harm from the use of explosive weapons like missiles, artillery and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

KEY FINDINGS
•Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon were the most affected countries in the world. More than a third of the world’s civilian casualties from explosive weapons were recorded in Iraq, where AOAV saw a dramatic escalation in bombings with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
•Seventy-one percent (71%) of civilian casualties from explosive weapons worldwide were caused by IEDs like car bombs and roadside bombs.
•Civilian casualties in Iraq increased by 91% from 2012, with more than 12,000 deaths and injuries recorded in the country in 2013.
•Market places were bombed in 15 countries and territories, causing 3,608 civilian casualties.
•Ballistic missiles, used only in Syria, caused an average of 49 civilian casualties per incident, the highest for any explosive weapon type.

Mobile Networks on Drones

RQ-7 Shadow UAV.

From the DARPA Website

Missions in remote, forward operating locations often suffer from a lack of connectivity to tactical operation centers and access to valuable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data. The assets needed for long-range, high-bandwidth communications capabilities are often unavailable to lower echelons due to theater-wide mission priorities. DARPA’s Mobile Hotspots program aims to help overcome this challenge by developing a reliable, on-demand capability for establishing long-range, high-capacity reachback that is organic to tactical units. The program is building and demonstrating a scalable, mobile millimeter-wave communications backhaul network mounted on small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and providing a 1 Gb/s capacity. DARPA performers recently completed the first of three phases in which they developed and tested key technologies to be integrated into a complete system and flight tested in subsequent phases…

Smaller, steerable millimeter-wave antennas: During field testing, the program successfully demonstrated steerable, compact millimeter-wave antennas that rapidly acquire, track, and establish a communications link between moving platforms. Steerable millimeter-wave antennas will enable the formation of a high-capacity backhaul network between aerial and ground platforms.

Low-noise amplifiers: Performers also demonstrated an advanced low-noise amplifier (LNA), which boosts the desired communications signal while minimizing unwanted noise. The prototype achieved the record for the world’s lowest noise millimeter-wave LNA at about half the noise figure of a typical LNA.

More efficient and capable power amplifiers: Efficient millimeter-wave amplification is required to achieve the long ranges (> 50 km) desired in the Mobile Hotspots program….

New approaches for robust airborne networking: Mobile ad-hoc networking approaches were developed to maintain the high-capacity backhaul network among mobile air and ground platforms. Phase 1 performers developed unique solutions to overcome connectivity and network topology challenges associated with mobility and signal blockages due to terrain and platform shadowing.

Low-Size, Weight, and Power (SWAP) pod design to carry it all: Performers created engineering designs for small, lightweight pods to be mounted on an RQ-7 Shadow UAV. The pods, with all of the Mobile Hotspots components inside, are designed to meet the challenging program goals of widths no more than 8 inches, weight less than 20 pounds, and power consumption less than 150 watts.

Phase 2 of the program began March 2014. Two performers, L-3 Communications and FIRST RF, were chosen to lead teams comprising several Phase 1 performers…A planned third phase will encompass field testing of the Mobile Hotspot systems on networks of multiple SRQ-7 Shadow UAVs and mobile ground vehicles.

What Conservation Drones Can and Could Do

conservation drones.  Image from conservation drones.org

A South African foundation on Wednesday received a 232.2-million-rand (about 21-million-U.S.- dollar) grant for combatting unchecked rhino poaching in Southern Africa.  The grant was donated to Peace Parks Foundation from the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries. Of the total donation, 217 million rands (about 19 million dollars) came from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, while 15.2 million rands (about 13.7 million dollars) was contributed by the Swedish Postcode Lottery.

“This is the largest single contribution made by the private sector to combat rhino poaching and wildlife crime. We welcome this public-private partnership to help ensure the survival of the species,” South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa said.

The South African government and its public entities—South African National Parks (SANParks) and Ezemvelo KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) Wildlife (Ezemvelo), are working closely with Peace Parks Foundation to develop a multi-pronged approach to combat rhino poaching and wildlife crime, the minister said.

The main focus will be the devaluation of the horns of live rhino, through a combination of methods, including the physical devaluation and contamination of the horn, as well as the use of tracking and monitoring technology…In particular, the emphasis will be on intelligence gathering and on technology applications such as conservation drones and other specialist equipment. It will also include training and capacity building, as well as incentives and rewards for rangers, communities and members of the public who support the conservation of rhino…The Peace Parks Foundation was established in 1997 to assist the region’s governments in their development of transfrontier conservation areas.

South African foundation receives multi-million-dollar grant for fighting rhino poaching, Xinhua, Feb. 8, 2014

Saudi Arabia not Happy Iraq Gets US Drones

image from wikipedia

The report that America’s drone war has assumed frightening proportions under President Barack Obama should surprise no one. It took only three days for the new commander-in-chief to order his first covert drone strike.  On Jan. 23, 2009, a CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan’s tribal region. At least nine civilians died, most of them from one family. The lone survivor, a 14-year-old boy, had shrapnel wounds in his stomach and a fractured skull. He lost one eye. Later that day, the CIA leveled another house killing between five and ten people

A week after Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, a missile slammed into a hamlet in Yemen, hitting one of the poorest tribes in the poorest country in Arabian Peninsula. At least 41 civilians were killed, including 21 children and five pregnant women.  Not only has the number of drone strikes and the resulting civilian casualties increased under Obama’s watch, but he has also widened the scope of the drone war to include new countries like Yemen and Somalia. Missile strikes from unmanned drones killing unmentionable numbers of people are now the crucial component of America’s war on terror. Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack On Jan. 23, 2009 – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, overwhelming majority of them civilians…

A convoy taking a Yemeni bride to her wedding came under attack on Dec. 12, 2013 causing the biggest single loss of civilian life from a US strike for more than a year in that country. President Bush ordered a single drone strike in Yemen, killing six people in 2002. Under Obama, the CIA and the Pentagon have launched at least 58 drone strikes on the country killing more than 281 people, including at least 24 civilians.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on Dec. 18, 2013 calling on states using drone strikes as a counterterrorism measure to comply with their obligations under international law and the UN Charter. Amnesty International released a report on Oct. 22, 2013 raising serious concerns about several recent drone strikes that appear to have killed civilians outside the bounds of the law. Pakistan High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan issued a ruling on May 9, 2013 declaring the ongoing US drone strikes against tribal areas illegal under international law and saying they amount to “war crimes” when they kill innocents.

But rather than addressing such global concerns, the Obama administration is sending drones to Iraq, adding a sinister dimension to the sectarian strife there. The Iraqi government will get 48 drones this month and 10 surveillance drones in upcoming weeks.

Drone deaths on the rise, Saudi Gazette,  Jan 27, 2014

Who is Investing in Drones?

hammerhead image from piaggio aero

A United Arab Emirates (UAE) investment fund (Mubadala)  has beefed up its stake in Italy-based Piaggio Aero, just as the aeronautics firm gets ready for the debut flight of its P.1HH Hammerhead drone… Mubadala, the US $55 billion fund set up by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 2002, increased its stake in Piaggio Aero from 33 to 41 percent on Nov. 12, as part of an equity increase of €190 million (US $255 million).  Also Tata Ltd., a UK offshoot of India’s Tata Group, increase its stake from 33 to 44.5 percent…That means Mubadala and Tata are now the main financial backers of development of the Italian-built Hammerhead, which is an unmanned version of Piaggio Aero’s main seller, the P.180 twin-prop business aircraft….

But the Italian Defense Ministry has not invested in the program, creating an unusual situation in which Indian and Arabian Gulf capital is funding the development of a UAV in which Italy is certifying and showing keen interest….Italy and the UAE have discussed UAV development before. In 2009, the gulf state selected the Italian M-346 jet trainer, but the deal stalled, allegedly over problems related to a side deal on UAVs.  Plans had reportedly been made to co­develop a UAV with specifications that exceeded those set down by the Missile Technology Control Regime, which restricts the sales of missiles and UAVs able to carry a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers. Italy is a signatory of the treaty.

At the Paris Air Show, Debertolis said Italy would consider arming the Hammerhead, noting that the aircraft was large enough to hold weapons in internal bays and that half of what is cabin space in the manned version would remain unused. But he added that the payload would remain within the 500-kilogram maximum set down by the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Excerptys,Tom Kington UAE Ups Its Stake in Drone-maker Piaggio Aero, Defensenews.com, Nov. 15, 2013

State Capitalism in the Drone Industry

nEUROn-Dassault Aviation company 2013

Though they make smaller drones, European suppliers have flown only experimental big machines and haven’t manufactured any large drones to offer for sale. That is because governments have been unwilling to earmark funding for development programs, and even five years ago military-procurement agencies weren’t pushing hard to get homegrown products into the air.  France has decided to quadruple its fleet of four aging surveillance drones—one of which is out of order—with the purchase of 12 brand-new Reapers from General Atomics Inc. of the U.S. The U.K.’s Royal Air Force operates a squadron of five Reapers remotely from a U.S. base in Nevada.

European Union politicians and industrialists are increasingly concerned that in failing to launch an ambitious large-drone program, the bloc is both abandoning sovereignty and missing out on one of the most dynamic segments of the military aerospace market. “We’ve lost at least 10 years in Europe, and the longer it takes, the more the Americans and Israelis will dominate the large UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] market,” EADS Chief Executive Tom Enders told reporters in June (2013).

Annual global spending on all types of drones, including research and development, could double from today’s level to $11.6 billion by 2023 and will be an important engine of growth for the aerospace industry, according to Teal Group, a consultancy based in Reston, Va.  European governments have collaborated on military-aircraft programs such as the A400M transport plane, made by EADS unit Airbus, and the NH90 heavy helicopter, made by the NHIndustries consortium, composed of three European aviation companies: Eurocopter, Finmeccanica SpA’s AgustaWestland and Fokker Aerostructures.

But, like many military procurement projects on both sides of the Atlantic, execution of these contracts was late and over budget. Part of the problem is that governments have differing requirements and won’t settle for a “standard” version.  The NH90, for example, has more variants than the number of governments that ordered it because their militaries insisted on receiving aircraft that met specific requirements, thereby limiting the potential for economies of scale.

In recent years, EADS, BAE Systems PLC of the U.K. and Dassault Aviation SA of France have been chasing seed money from their respective governments to develop separate, large-drone prototypes, without much coordination.

In France, Dassault was tapped in 2003 to lead the “nEUROn” project to experiment with technologies for a stealthy combat drone. Dassault paired up with companies from Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece and Switzerland and tested a prototype in France in December last year (2012).

In the U.K., BAE worked on its own plan but has had to cope with an unexpected hurdle. Since British civil-aviation rules forbid flights of drones in civil airspace, BAE couldn’t test its stealthy attack-drone demonstrator, called Taranis, in U.K. airspace. The company instead had to dispatch the aircraft and engineers nearly to the other side of the globe for a test in Australia.

Germany had opted for a middle-ground route: develop a drone on the basis of a U.S. aircraft, the Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman Corp. But the €1 billion ($1.36 billion) project turned into a debacle when the German government realized the plane couldn’t be certified to fly at home or elsewhere in Europe, and later scrapped it.

The French and U.K. governments are discussing ways to synchronize and possibly combine their attack-drone programs, with Dassault and BAE leading the way, but no formal decision has been made…

European governments are still dragging their heels to come up with a strategy for homegrown surveillance drones, while the industry seems much more gung-ho.  Last June, EADS, Dassault and Finmeccanica issued a joint statement urging European governments to launch a surveillance-drone program, saying they are prepared to work together if the governments can agree to begin a program.

In May, the French government said it would spend €670 million to buy the U.S.-made Reapers because European companies had no product available to meet urgent needs, notably in Mali, where the French military is currently reducing its presence after a campaign that started in January against Islamic militants.

The absence of a pan-European, cooperative approach—no single country has a budget to create its own program—raises the risk that emerging competition from countries like China, South Africa and Turkey will move into the empty space, analysts and aerospace executives said.“Clearly, drones are the future for dull or dangerous missions,” said Dan Jangblad, chief strategy officer for Sweden’s aerospace company Saab AB.

By David Pearson,European Defense Firms’ Drone Push Remains Elusive, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8, 2013

Naming the Dead of the CIA Drone War

Naming the Dead is a project run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit research organisation based in London. The project aims to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan.  Over the past nine years, the tribal region of Pakistan’s north west has been hit by hundreds of drone attacks as the CIA has sought to stamp out al Qaeda fighters and the militant groups that have given them shelter.  Missiles launched from these high-tech, unmanned aircraft have hit homes, cars, schools, shops and gatherings. At least 2,500 people have been killed, according to data already collected by the Bureau as part of our wider Covert Drone War research.

Senior US officials have described drones as highly precise weapons that target and kill enemies of the US. John Brennan, who oversaw the development of the drone campaign and is now director of the CIA, has called drone technology an ‘essential tool’ for its ‘surgical precision – the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it.’

Those killed by drones include high-ranking militant leaders – figures such as Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s feared second-in-command, or Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).  But according to credible media reports analysed by the Bureau, the dead also include at least 400 civilians. Some were unlucky enough to be nearby when militants were attacked. Others were killed alongside their husbands or fathers, who were believed to be militants. Still others were mistaken for terrorists by drone operators sitting thousands of miles away.

In most cases, there is little information available about who the drones are really killing. Most of the dead – an estimated four-fifths of those killed – are believed to be militants. But their deaths are typically reported as a number – their names, origins and livelihoods remain a mystery.  For so many people to die in obscurity, unnamed and unacknowledged, is a tragedy. But it is a further tragedy that the public, and even policy makers, are unable to properly test whether drones are ‘highly precise weapons’ when so little is known about who is actually dying.

Through Naming the Dead, the Bureau aims to increase the transparency around this conflict and inform the public debate. Initially this project will record all names published in open-source material – in credible reports by journalists, in legal documents presented in court, in academic studies and in field investigations carried out by human rights groups.  In the future, the Bureau aims to identify more of the dead on a regular basis, and to uncover more details of those who have been killed. Where possible we will provide further identification – where they were killed, and their occupations, full names and ages. In the remote areas of Pakistan where drone strikes take place, official identification is rare. Few people possess identification cards, birth certificates, or even documents recording their relatives’ deaths. But wherever possible this project will provide documentation recording a person’s death.

Photographs of the destruction of a particular site are included in the database. Affidavits, photos, hospital records, student identification and transcripts of interviews with researchers are all provided when available. Over time, the Bureau aims to build on such currently scarce records in an attempt to properly scrutinise the little that is reported, and the claims being made – on all sides.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism