Tag Archives: drones

Up close and personal with NASA’s Global Hawk drones at Edwards Air Force Base

NASA operates the giant Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drone to collect weather data.

On Feb. 5, NASA showed off its newest and smartest unmanned Global Hawk aircraft to reporters at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center located on Edwards AFB, CA.

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman went there to report about the NASA’s Global Hawk fleet.

NASA GH 1

These aircraft have been helping NOAA scientists, researchers and forecasters with gathering weather information from altitudes and conditions not suitable for humans.

NASA GH 2

The missions tasked by these aircraft can last almost 24hours without refueling.

The Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology (SHOUT) project led by the NOAA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Program, will deploy the NASA Global Hawks carrying a suite of meteorological sensors and deploying dropsondes during four research flights in February.

NASA GH 3

According to the NASA website, the agency acquired its three drones from the U.S. Air Force. These are among the very first UAS (unmanned Aerial Systems) built under the original Global Hawk Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator development program sponsored by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

The Global Hawk is a gigantic drone: 44 feet in length it has a wingspan of more than 116 feet, a height of 15 feet, and a gross takeoff weight of 26,750 pounds, including a 1,500-pound payload capability. It is powered by a single Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine and features a distinctive V-tail.

NASA GH 4

The engine cover, aft fuselage and wings are constructed primarily of graphite composite materials; the center fuselage is made of aluminum, whereas various fairings and radomes feature fiberglass composite construction.

NASA’s Global Hawks made the headlines last week, after a hacker under the name of @CthulhuSec and the hacking group AnonSec started posting massive data belonging to NASA on Pastebin: such leaked data included around 150 GB of drone logs as well as 631 aircraft and radar videos along with 2,143 email address of NASA employees.

NASA GH 7

Interestingly, not only did the hacking group exfiltrate data from NASA’s network, but they also claim to have achieved “semi-partial control” of one of the agency’s Global Hawk drones by replacing the original .gpx file (containing the aircraft’s pre-planned route) with one crafted to direct it along a different route; a claim that has been denied by NASA.

NASA GH 8

This is not the first time civil or military drones are hacked.

The Intercept has recently reported that GCHQ and NSA compromised video feeds from Israeli drones from a base in Cyprus.

Previously, Iran claimed to have captured a CIA’s RQ-170 Sentinel drone by hijacking it.

U.S. Air Force Predator drones were reportedly infected by a malware that captured all the operator’s keystrokes in 2011.

NASA GH 10

All images: Matt Hartman

Whilst everyone watched the F-22s arriving in Germany, U.S. Predator drones deployed to Latvia

“This is not a one-time operating zone. We created an airspace arrangement that is enduring, so when we need to go back, it will be available.”

Whilst the majority of aviation enthusiasts and media watched four F-22s deploy to Europe for the first time, another quite interesting and significant deployment took place in a Baltic State.

In fact, according to the U.S. Air Force, two MQ-1 Predator drones and approximately 70 Airmen deployed to Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia beginning on Aug. 24 for a temporary deployment that will continue through mid-September.

The deployment aims to test the ability of 147th Reconnaissance Wing of the Texas Air National Guard based in Ellington Field in Houston, Texas to forward deploy, and to conduct air operations with the RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) “while [as usual] assuring NATO allies of our commitment to regional security and stability.”

As for the F-22s, that deployed in accordance with the Rapid Raptor Package concept, the deployment had to prove the unit’s ability to prepare, deploy, setup shop, fly and exercise all of the agreements, arrangements and relationships required to make this happen: key words are responsive and flexible operations.

“It validates basing and airspace arrangements, operations and host-nation agreements in a very real way,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Recker from the operations directorate at U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Headquarters in a release.

“This will test mobility, maintenance and logisticians arranging airlift,” he said. “Personnel have to make decisions about bandwidth, satellite communication, frequency allocation and frequency clearing.”

Interestingly, “This is not a one-time operating zone. We created an airspace arrangement that is enduring, so when we need to go back, it will be available,” said Recker.

During the deployment, Predators will not be involved in intelligence gathering missions, but will test ability to collect and share intelligence with other NATO allies.

But plans are to do something more, like Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) training: MQ-1 drones will collect intelligence that will be distributed to NATO JTACs so that they will be able to call in airstrikes of A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes.

So, the military build-up in Europe continues with F-22s and MQ-1s performing brief deployments to test and validate their ability to reach the Old Continent in timely fashion, and to lay the foundations of longer presence of stealth jets and drones around eastern European nations threatened by Russia.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Watch a Soviet-era Battlestar Galactica spacecraft-like reconnaissance drone launched by Ukrainian forces

An interesting video shows the Ukrainian forces launching Soviet-era Tu-143 reconnaissance drones.

Some months ago we published some pictures showing an almost intact Tu-143 Reys drone, recovered, almost intact, in a field by the pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

Here is an extremely interesting video showing the Ukrainian military extract the Tu-143 from the launching truck, prepare and finally launch the spacecraft-like drone.

The Tu-143 is quite similar to the Tu-141, even though substantially smaller. It has an operative range of about 60 – 70 kilometers and a low-level flight capability.

It is truck-launched and recovered by means of a recovery-parachute, deployed from a hatch on the upper side of the rocket’s rear fuselage.

Powered by  a TR3-117 turbojet with 5.8 kN (590 kgf, 267 lbf) thrust it can reach an altitude of 5,000 mt (16,400 ft) and a top speed of 950 km/h (580 mph). It can carry both photographic and TV sensors with datalink capability to transmit live data to the ground control station.

H/T Brian Ostrander for sending the link over

 

Pentagon’s vision of future of military drones takes “man” out of “unmanned”

According to the roadmap just published, in the next 25 years Pentagon aims at fielding military unmanned systems that will be autonomous and able to perceive, analyzw, correlate and make decisions or react without human intervention.

An obvious move that, among all the other implications, will also reduce the amount of UAS (unmanned aerial system) mishaps, the majority of those are caused by the human factor.

DoD vision up to 2038 is quite clear: drones are the key for U.S. military. And will be even more in the future, when the U.S. will have to face several problems: Pressure for reductions in federal budgets; U.S. military rebalance; Nuclear Proliferation; Violent extremism at home and across the globe; Threats in the Cyberspace (as in land, sea or air and space); Enemy Unmanned Systems.

Noteworthy, the Pentagon has added a new domain to its battlefield: cyberspace.

Acknowledging the risk of drones being hacked or hijacked, the DoD envisages higher data rate cryptography, and open standards to enhance encryption of data links and protect communicated information.

In the future, drones will be increasingly used to fulfil different tasks, including those currently not assigned to unmanned systems: “Although currently prohibited by policy, future capabilities by unmanned systems could include casualty evacuation and care, human remains evacuation, and urban rescue. The unmanned vehicles are intended to mitigate risk to the maximum extent by reducing the requirement to operate manned vehicles when the weather, terrain, availability, and enemy pose an unsuitable level of risk.”

Roadmap

If the long term vision foresees squadrons of robots conduct different missions in the battlefield, there will be a point in the near future when manned and unmanned systems will have to team up. It’s what the report calls MUM-T [Manned-Unmanned System Teaming].

“A force of the smaller, more agile manned-unmanned systems of the near future will enable DoD to mobilize quickly to deter and defeat aggression by projecting power despite A2/AD challenges. MUM-T will provide the following key capabilities: Defeating explosive ground surface, sub-surface (tunnel), and sea hazards from greater standoff distances; Assuring mobility to support multiple points of entry; Enabling movement and maneuver for projecting offensive operations; Establishing and sustaining the shore lines of communications required to follow forces and logistics; Protecting austere combat outposts; Providing persistent surveillance to detect and neutralize threats and hazards within single- to triple-canopy and urban terrain.”

Here comes Skynet.

Image credit: DoD

 

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Nobody wants to fly drones

The U.S. Air Force faces a personnel crisis when it comes to the drone pilots.

In a report published for the Brookings Institution think tank, Air Force Colonel Bradley Hoagland said UAV recruitment offices does not get a sufficient number of volunteers.

Back in 2008 only 3% of flying crew were related to drones. Last year the number reached 8,5%. Still more are needed because the sorties is on the rise.

The UAV fleet of the USAF constitutes of 152 Predators, 96 Reapers and 23 Global Hawks HALE airframes.

But there is little request for drones assignments and the amount the rate of drone pilots resigning or retiring is 3 times higher than that recorded among pilots flying traditional aircraft.

Speaking of the report it lists out several factors that might have an influence on the problems present in the USAF.

Firstly, it is the resignation rate.

Secondly, the drones are flown more and more intensely, as it is a totally new technology which undergoes intense development.

Thirdly the profession does not offer sufficient career opportunities.

Last but not least a factor is also that drone pilots do not get the historical recognition, as it is the UAV, not its operator in Nevada, that gets the recognition for achieving given success in the battlefield.

Back in the February, Pentagon created a new Distinguished Warfare Medal, specifically for the drone pilots or cyber warfare specialists.

It did not last long. The medal was scrapped after veteran groups protested about its being too high a distinction.

Col. Hoagland also believes that the recruitment process could be made better.  In his interview with NBC news he said:

The thrill of taking off from a runway, flying a mission and then coming back and landing at the end of the mission — that’s very exciting, but I think that’s a different type of person who can do that, than someone who is maybe wired to fly an unmanned system from a console 7,000 miles away. It’s a different psychological makeup requirement to execute the mission.

The USAF psychological researchers still struggle to define what the right stuff  for a drone pilot is. There is a detailed psychological report available, addressing the issue of psychological profile of a drone pilot. It is available here.

The report lists several factors that are characteristic traits for the drone operators.

Firstly, they posses visualy oriented cognitive setup. In other words their visual intelligence, according to the Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences model is developed the most, together with auditory intelligence, as the sound is also a crucial factor when piloting a drone.

The second feature is that they are field independent, therefore they are able to multitask and focus for a long time, processing the data quickly and without any distractions.

In other words, a drone pilot should be team oriented, whereas a typical fighter pilot is rather aggressive and depends on his own decisions.Nevertheless it is most certain that the recruitment process for the drone operators must be reviewed and changed, because despite the differences the USAF psychological screening procedures still remains the same for both kinds of service.

Hoagland came up with some changes that were already suggested to the Pentagon. The USAF procedure of washing out is test called the Pilot Candidate Scoring Method.

What is not said is that not all pilot candidates  are given the exam, due to the fact that The Air Force Academy, for example started administering it, and only on an “experimental” basis, just recently.

Hoagland claims that the standardized test would be a step ahead in selecting candidates for drone pilots, as the scores might be an indicator that would select some candidates for an F-16 and some for a drone. More importantly the psychomotor and psychological profiles of the candidate is not used in a selection problem.

The tests just wash out people who are not capable of being a pilot, and do not have any influence on what kind of aircraft the candidate is going to fly.

Let’s face it – drones are the future of the air warfare. Last September Gen. Mark Welsh said that “In the next 20-30 years these things are going to explode.” reffering to the drone programmes.

The quote was used in the Wired report on the sequestration cuts in the drone program, as it will experience a cut of $866 million in 2014’s total budget of $1.3 billion for drone research.

In the light of the abovementioned issues it is rather a personnel problem than a technology that will limit the drone operations in the USAF. It might be speculated that this will have an immense effect on development of the drones that would fight and take decisions in an  autonomous manner. This might also mean that a single pilot would not be assigned to a single drone, but to a swarm of the aircraft. And this is a completely unknown territory, at least in the pilot psychology dimension.

On the other hand though, none of the reports addresses the moral issues of flying a drone, and dealing with the fact that the killing act is done from a safe, remote location somewhere in Nevada, something that has been discussed since the beginning of the Drone Revolution…

Jacek Siminski for The Aviationist

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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