Tag Archives: drones

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.”


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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U.S. Air Force to shoot down its own F-16 (aerial target drones)

As no Phantoms are left to be converted after the last one left the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) based in Tuscon, Arizona to join the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, the role of aerial target (i.e. manned or unmanned aircraft flown as target and decoy within a controlled range for testing against potential adversaries, radars, surface-air missiles etc) is to be undertaken by the QF-16.

Although the F-16 is a famous Lockheed plane, the contract to develop the “Viper Drone” aerial target was awarded to Boeing.

The conversion of F-16 into a QF-16 takes about 6 months; 220 airframes are to undergo this treatment.

The first QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target took off from Boeing facility at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida, and climbed to an altitude of 41,000 feet during its 66-minute first flight that marked its first manned flight.

The first F-16C destined to be shot down is an F-16C, 85-1570, serving in the Air National Guard of the New York state; by the way, the Air National Guard has been the largest “Viper” operator of the world.

Written with David Cenciotti

Image credit: Boeing

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Italian Mafia tested killer drones decades before the U.S. used them in Afghanistan

Cosa Nostra tested remotely controlled aircraft loaded with bombs to attack and kill rivals from the sky in the early 1990s, well before the U.S. Air Force and CIA used them in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq.

This is what former mobster turned into informer Gaspare Spatuzza revealed an Italian court on Jun. 11, 2013.

According to the ex “mafioso”, he was given the task by one of the Graviano brothers, two Palermo bosses in the 1990s, to buy and flight test rc airplanes carrying explosives.

“Graviano told me to buy a remotely controlled plane. He explained that others had already bought them and we had to test the way to turn them into flying bombs by loading them with explosives,” Spatuzza said.

“I bought it, it  cost me more than 1 million [1 million Lira, more or less 500 Euro] and I did some testing. We had to learn how to fly it and then direct them to targets charging them with a small amount of explosives.”

killer drone

Although it’s not clear whether a small remotely piloted plane turned into flying bomb was ever used by Cosa Nostra to murder someone, claims by the turncoat mark one of the first attempts by mafia to design more sophisticated attacks.

Nevertheless, big targets were hit with “traditional” tools: on May 23, 1992, Cosa Nostra killed anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falconi by detonating about half a ton of explosive underneath the motorway between Palermo airport and the city of Palermo.

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