Tag Archives: Unmanned Aerial Systems

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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U.S. drones and spyplanes involved in information gathering missions over Syria. As in Libya one year ago. More or less…

More or less one year ago, we were observing an increasing activity of U.S., British, French and Italian military spy planes perfoming information gathering missions along the northern border of the Tripoli FIR (Flight Information Region).

Quite silently, those SIGINT (SIGnal INTelligence) platforms flew in the Maltese airspace to eavesdrop into Libyan communications and signals and to collect the information needed to build up the so-called EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the Libyan forces, that would be used to have a better understanding of the situation in Libya, to know where forces were located and to build up a priority target list for the subsequent air campaign.

Presumed to remain (almost) secret, those flights were actually “advertised” by LiveATC.net, whose Maltese feeder  (shut down during the war) made the radio communications between Malta Area Control Center and the various EP-3s, RC-135 Rivet Joint, C-160G, British Nimrods R1s etc. transiting the local airspace before operating in “due regard”, public.

Although nowadays we can’t listen to the radio comms of the military traffic in that area as we did in February 2011 and we don’t have the same “evidences” we had one year ago, we can be quite confident that similar activities are being conducted in or around Syria from bases in Italy, Turkey or Cyprus (RAF Akrotiri airbase).

Along with the satellite image released by the US Embassy in Damascus some American defense officials told the NBC that “A good number of American drones are operating in the skies of Syria, monitoring the Syrian military’s attacks against opposition forces and innocent civilians alike”.

The Pentagon was quick to point out that these drones were providing surveillance not for a future military intervention but to gain evidence from both a visual and communications perspective to “make a case for a widespread international response”.

However, the confirmation that U.S. robots are flying inside the Syrian territory does pose the question: what type of drone are being used?

Most media outlets are using stock images of Predator or Reaper drones, but those unstealthy ‘bots would be vulnerable to the Syria SAM (Surface to Air Missile) network, believed to be among Middle East’s most robust ones. Both MQ-1 and 9 are Medium Altitude drones that could be operating in Syria only if flying outside the range of active SAM rings.

Hence, its conceivable that most ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions in the area are being flown by High Altitude platforms, as Air Force’s Global Hawks or U-2s (or even stealthy RQ-170s, as the one captured in Iran).

Even if Sigonella in Sicily, hosts the U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th, Incirlik in southern Turkey, being next to the border, seems to be more suitable for spy missions in Syria. Missions that these days could be aimed at assessing the type of activities conducted by the destroyer Shahid Qandi and the supply vessel Kharg, the two Iranian warships that have docked at the Syrian port of Tartus after passing through the Suez canal.

In fact Egyptian sources as well as members of the Syrian opposition claimed that the two vessels have been jamming satellite telephone communications of the Syrian opposition forces.

According to the same Egyptian sources, Assad’s forces have been finding it more difficult to monitor the oppositors’ communication due to their encrypted nature and someone believes that the Iranian Navy is helping him disrupting these encrypted communications.

A bit far fetched, considered that a land based systems would be less visible than two closely watched warships, but not completely impossible.

Worth a mention: an Israeli drone was spotted overflying clashes in Homs.

Anyway, the scenario is similar to the Libya of the end of February 2011. With the only difference that one year ago, the spyplanes did not fly into the “enemy” airspace.

Richard Clements has contributed to this article.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

"Say cheese" and you are dead: the Israeli Tamuz missile disclosed

The following screenshot is taken from a video released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and shows a man (belonging to a rocket launching group) about to be shot in his face by a “Tamuz”, a previously classified missile used in the Second Lebanon War and during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

The Tamuz missile has a range of up to 25 kilometers, can penetrate armored vehicles and is equipped with an electro-optic sensor that allows its ground operators to change its course by watching the target through the missile’s camera.

This kind of weapon was developed as an anti-tank missile then, when the kind of threat faced by the IDF changed in nature, it was made more suitable for strikes againsts smaller targets. It was fitted with a new warhead with reduced explosive material and used against Hezbollah in sothern Lebanon and against Qassam squads in the Gaza Strip.

Tamuz missiles can be directed using information provided by a wide array of “sensors”, including helicopters, planes and UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems), like the Elbit Hermes 450 and Skyraider (a mini-UAV), used by the artilley corps.

The following video gives an idea of how the Tamuz missile seems to operate when it is fired towards a target: it initially climbs to an altitude that give its camera a good point of view of the presumed target area; then it moves (slowly) towards the target area (it seems to hover) and, as soon as a positive identification is obtained, it is guided to hit the target (in this case a building from where a rocket was launched).

Image definition is high and speed slow enough that, as the above video and screenshot show, the Tamuz operator can decide to aim at a single man and literally “look the enemy in the eye”….