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Drones to help the government kill people?

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CIA flew stealth drones into Pakistan to monitor bin Laden house

By Greg Miller, Published: May 17

The CIA employed sophisticated new stealth drone aircraft to fly dozens of secret missions deep into Pakistani airspace and monitor the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed, current and former U.S. officials said.

Using unmanned planes designed to evade radar detection and operate at high altitudes, the agency conducted clandestine flights over the compound for months before the May 2 assault in an effort to capture high-resolution video that satellites could not provide.

The aircraft allowed the CIA to glide undetected beyond the boundaries that Pakistan has long imposed on other U.S. drones, including the Predators and Reapers that routinely carry out strikes against militants near the border with Afghanistan.

The agency turned to the new stealth aircraft “because they needed to see more about what was going on” than other surveillance platforms allowed, said a former U.S. official familiar with the details of the operation. “It’s not like you can just park a Predator overhead — the Pakistanis would know,” added the former official, who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the program.

The monitoring effort also involved satellites, eavesdropping equipment and CIA operatives based at a safe house in Abbottabad, the city where bin Laden was found. The agency declined to comment for this article.

The CIA’s repeated secret incursions into Pakistan’s airspace underscore the level of distrust between the United States and a country often described as a key counterterrorism ally, and one that has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, last week offered to resign over the government’s failures to detect or prevent a U.S. operation that he described as a “breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” The country’s military and main intelligence service have come under harsh criticism since the revelation that bin Laden had been living in a garrison city — in the midst of the nation’s military elite — possibly for years.

The new drones represent a major advance in the capabilities of remotely piloted planes, which have been the signature American weapon against terrorist groups since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In 2009, the Air Force acknowledged the existence of a stealth drone, a Lockheed Martin model known as the RQ-170 Sentinel, two years after it was spotted at an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The aircraft bears the distinct, bat-winged shape of larger stealth warplanes. The operational use of the drones has never been described by official sources.

The extensive aerial surveillance after the compound was identified in August helps explain why the CIA went to Congress late last year, seeking permission to transfer tens of millions of dollars within agency budgets to fund intelligence-gathering efforts focused on the complex.

The stealth drones were used on the night of the raid, providing imagery that President Obama and members of his national security team appear in photographs to have been watching as U.S. Navy SEALs descended on the compound shortly after 1 a.m. in Pakistan. The drones are also equipped to eavesdrop on electronic transmissions, enabling U.S. officials to monitor the Pakistani response.

CIA flew stealth drones into Pakistan to monitor bin Laden house

View Photo Gallery —  The long-hunted al-Qaeda leader and chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was killed by U.S. forces May 1 in a surgical raid.

The use of one of the aircraft on the night of the raid was reported by the National Journal’s Marc Ambinder, who said in a tweet May 2 that an “RQ-170 drone [was] overhead.”

The CIA never obtained a photograph of bin Laden at the compound or other direct confirmation of his presence before the assault, but the agency concluded after months of watching the complex that the figure frequently seen pacing back and forth was probably the al-Qaeda chief.

The operation in Abbottabad involved another U.S. aircraft with stealth features, a Black Hawk helicopter equipped with special cladding to dampen noise and evade detection during the 90-minute flight from a base in Afghanistan. The helicopter was intentionally destroyed by U.S. forces — leaving only a tail section intact — after a crash landing at the outset of the raid.

‘A difficult challenge’

The assault and the months of surveillance leading up to it involved venturing into some of Pakistan’s most sensitive terrain. Because of the compound’s location — near military and nuclear facilities — it was surrounded by Pakistani radar and other systems that could have detected encroachment by Predators or other non-stealth surveillance planes, according to U.S. officials.

“It’s a difficult challenge trying to secure information about any area or object of interest that is in a location where access is denied,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who served as head of intelligence and surveillance for that service. The challenge is multiplied, he said, when the surveillance needs to be continuous, which “makes non-stealthy slow-speed aircraft easier to detect.”

Satellites can typically provide snapshots of fixed locations every 90 minutes. “Geosynchronous” satellites can keep pace with the Earth’s rotation and train their lenses on a fixed site, but they orbit at 22,500 miles up. By contrast, drones fly at altitudes between 15,000 and 50,000 feet.

In a fact sheet released by the Air Force, the RQ-170 is described as a “low observable unmanned aircraft system,” meaning that it was designed to hide the signatures that make ordinary aircraft detectable by radar and other means. The sheet provides no other technical details.

Stealth aircraft typically use a range of radar-defeating technologies. Their undersides are covered with materials designed to absorb sound waves rather than bouncing them back at sensors on the ground. Their engines are shielded and their exhaust diverted upward to avoid heat trails visible to infrared sensors.

Unlike the Predator — a cigar-shaped aircraft with distinct wings and a tail — the RQ-170 looks like more like a boomerang, with few sharp angles or protruding pieces to spot.

The Air Force has not explained why the RQ-170 was deployed to Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are battling insurgents with no air defenses. Air Force officials declined to comment for this story.

Strikes along the border

Over the past two years, the U.S. military has provided many of its Afghanistan-based Predators and Reapers to the CIA for operations in Pakistan’s tribal region, where insurgent groups are based. The stealth drones followed a similar path across the Pakistan border, officials said, but then diverged and continued toward the compound in Abbottabad.

U.S. officials said the drones wouldn’t have needed to be directly over the target to capture high-resolution video, because they are equipped with cameras that can gaze at steep angles in all directions. “It’s all geometry and slant ranges,” said a former senior defense intelligence official.

Still, the missions were regarded as particularly risky because, if detected, they might have called Pakistani attention to U.S. interest in the bin Laden compound.

“Bin Laden was in the heart of Pakistan and very near several of the nuclear weapons production sites,” including two prominent complexes southeast of Islamabad, said David Albright, a nuclear weapons proliferation expert at the Institute for Science and International Security.

To protect such sites, Pakistan’s military has invested heavily in sophisticated radar and other aircraft-detection systems. “They have traditionally worried most about penetration from India, but also the United States,” Albright said.

Largely because of those concerns, Pakistan has placed strict limits on the number and range of CIA-operated Predators patrolling the country’s tribal areas. U.S. officials refer to the restricted zones as “flight boxes” that encompass North and South Waziristan.

Staff writers Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Drones - Cool high tech stuff to kill people with

Drones - Cool high tech stuff!

But does American really need to be at war with everybody else in the world and spend gazillions of taxpayer dollars on these high tech war toys we use to kill brown skinned people through out the world?

I don't think so!

"More than 1,900 insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas have been killed by American drones since 2006" - I suspect a large number of these people murdered by the American government were innocent civilians. In Vietnam the government considered anybody with brown skin that was killed to be a member of the Viet Cong. I suspect in Iraq and Afghanistan the term insurgent is used to apply to any brown skin folks killed by the American Empire.

War Evolves With Drones


War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs


Published: June 19, 2011

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Two miles from the cow pasture where the Wright Brothers learned to fly the first airplanes, military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones, the kind that fire missiles into Pakistan and spy on insurgents in Afghanistan, to the size of insects and birds.

The base’s indoor flight lab is called the “microaviary,” and for good reason. The drones in development here are designed to replicate the flight mechanics of moths, hawks and other inhabitants of the natural world. “We’re looking at how you hide in plain sight,” said Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, as he held up a prototype of a mechanical hawk that in the future might carry out espionage or kill.

Half a world away in Afghanistan, Marines marvel at one of the new blimplike spy balloons that float from a tether 15,000 feet above one of the bloodiest outposts of the war, Sangin in Helmand Province. The balloon, called an aerostat, can transmit live video — from as far as 20 miles away — of insurgents planting homemade bombs. “It’s been a game-changer for me,” Capt. Nickoli Johnson said in Sangin this spring. “I want a bunch more put in.”

From blimps to bugs, an explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars. Predator drones, the Cessna-sized workhorses that have dominated unmanned flight since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are by now a brand name, known and feared around the world. But far less widely known are the sheer size, variety and audaciousness of a rapidly expanding drone universe, along with the dilemmas that come with it.

The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. Within the next decade the Air Force anticipates a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of “multirole” aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined.

“It’s a growth market,” said Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.

The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones next year, and by 2030 envisions ever more stuff of science fiction: “spy flies” equipped with sensors and microcameras to detect enemies, nuclear weapons or victims in rubble. Peter W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Wired for War,” a book about military robotics, calls them “bugs with bugs.”

In recent months drones have been more crucial than ever in fighting wars and terrorism. The Central Intelligence Agency spied on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan by video transmitted from a new bat-winged stealth drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, otherwise known as the “Beast of Kandahar,” named after it was first spotted on a runway in Afghanistan. One of Pakistan’s most wanted militants, Ilyas Kashmiri, was reported dead this month in a C.I.A. drone strike, part of an aggressive drone campaign that administration officials say has helped paralyze Al Qaeda in the region — and has become a possible rationale for an accelerated withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. More than 1,900 insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas have been killed by American drones since 2006, according to the Web site www.longwarjournal.com.

In April the United States began using armed Predator drones against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya. Last month a C.I.A.-armed Predator aimed a missile at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen. The Predator missed, but American drones continue to patrol Yemen’s skies.

Large or small, drones raise questions about the growing disconnect between the American public and its wars. Military ethicists concede that drones can turn war into a video game, inflict civilian casualties and, with no Americans directly at risk, more easily draw the United States into conflicts. Drones have also created a crisis of information for analysts on the end of a daily video deluge. Not least, the Federal Aviation Administration has qualms about expanding their test flights at home, as the Pentagon would like. Last summer, fighter jets were almost scrambled after a rogue Fire Scout drone, the size of a small helicopter, wandered into Washington’s restricted airspace.

Within the military, no one disputes that drones save American lives. Many see them as advanced versions of “stand-off weapons systems,” like tanks or bombs dropped from aircraft, that the United States has used for decades. “There’s a kind of nostalgia for the way wars used to be,” said Deane-Peter Baker, an ethics professor at the United States Naval Academy, referring to noble notions of knight-on-knight conflict. Drones are part of a post-heroic age, he said, and in his view it is not always a problem if they lower the threshold for war. “It is a bad thing if we didn’t have a just cause in the first place,” Mr. Baker said. “But if we did have a just cause, we should celebrate anything that allows us to pursue that just cause.”

To Mr. Singer of Brookings, the debate over drones is like debating the merits of computers in 1979: They are here to stay, and the boom has barely begun. “We are at the Wright Brothers Flier stage of this,” he said.

A tiny helicopter is buzzing menacingly as it prepares to lift off in the Wright-Patterson aviary, a warehouse-like room lined with 60 motion-capture cameras to track the little drone’s every move. The helicopter, a footlong hobbyists’ model, has been programmed by a computer to fly itself. Soon it is up in the air making purposeful figure eights.

“What it’s doing out here is nothing special,” said Dr. Parker, the aerospace engineer. The researchers are using the helicopter to test technology that would make it possible for a computer to fly, say, a drone that looks like a dragonfly. “To have a computer do it 100 percent of the time, and to do it with winds, and to do it when it doesn’t really know where the vehicle is, those are the kinds of technologies that we’re trying to develop,” Dr. Parker said.

The push right now is developing “flapping wing” technology, or recreating the physics of natural flight, but with a focus on insects rather than birds. Birds have complex muscles that move their wings, making it difficult to copy their aerodynamics. Designing insects is hard, too, but their wing motions are simpler. “It’s a lot easier problem,” Dr. Parker said.

In February, researchers unveiled a hummingbird drone, built by the firm AeroVironment for the secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which can fly at 11 miles per hour and perch on a windowsill. But it is still a prototype. One of the smallest drones in use on the battlefield is the three-foot-long Raven, which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill.

There are some 4,800 Ravens in operation in the Army, although plenty get lost. One American service member in Germany recalled how five soldiers and officers spent six hours tramping through a dark Bavarian forest — and then sent a helicopter — on a fruitless search for a Raven that failed to return home from a training exercise. The next month a Raven went AWOL again, this time because of a programming error that sent it south. “The initial call I got was that the Raven was going to Africa,” said the service member, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss drone glitches.

In the midsize range: The Predator, the larger Reaper and the smaller Shadow, all flown by remote pilots using joysticks and computer screens, many from military bases in the United States. A Navy entry is the X-47B, a prototype designed to take off and land from aircraft carriers automatically and, when commanded, drop bombs. The X-47B had a maiden 29-minute flight over land in February. A larger drone is the Global Hawk, which is used for keeping an eye on North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities. In March, the Pentagon sent a Global Hawk over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan to assess the damage.

A Tsunami of Data

The future world of drones is here inside the Air Force headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., where hundreds of flat-screen TVs hang from industrial metal skeletons in a cavernous room, a scene vaguely reminiscent of a rave club. In fact, this is one of the most sensitive installations for processing, exploiting and disseminating a tsunami of information from a global network of flying sensors.

The numbers are overwhelming: Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the hours the Air Force devotes to flying missions for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have gone up 3,100 percent, most of that from increased operations of drones. Every day, the Air Force must process almost 1,500 hours of full-motion video and another 1,500 still images, much of it from Predators and Reapers on around-the-clock combat air patrols.

The pressures on humans will only increase as the military moves from the limited “soda straw” views of today’s sensors to new “Gorgon Stare” technology that can capture live video of an entire city — but that requires 2,000 analysts to process the data feeds from a single drone, compared with 19 analysts per drone today.

At Wright-Patterson, Maj. Michael L. Anderson, a doctoral student at the base’s advanced navigation technology center, is focused on another part of the future: building wings for a drone that might replicate the flight of the hawk moth, known for its hovering skills. “It’s impressive what they can do,” Major Anderson said, “compared to what our clumsy aircraft can do.”

NATO loses contact with drone chopper


NATO loses contact with drone chopper over Libya

Posted 6/21/2011 12:18 PM ET

By Adam Schreck, Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO said one of its unmanned drones disappeared over Libya on Tuesday, refuting reports that forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi had shot down an alliance attack helicopter.

Libyan state television repeatedly broadcast images of what appeared to be aircraft wreckage, including shots of a red rotor and close-ups of markings in English.

It quoted an unnamed Libyan military official saying a NATO Apache attack helicopter crashed in Zlitan, about 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of the capital Tripoli. The report claimed it was the fifth Apache that had been downed -- a charge NATO denied.

Wing Cmdr. Mike Bracken, an alliance spokesman, said NATO instead lost radar contact with an unmanned helicopter drone Tuesday morning along the coast in central Libya, and is investigating the incident. He said the drone was performing an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission.

"This is the first piece of hardware that I am aware of that has been lost" since NATO's air campaign began, Bracken said. A U.S. F-15E jet crashed near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in March before NATO assumed command of the international intervention in Libya.

A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Gadhafi's forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31. It's joined by a number of Arab allies.

It was not clear whether ground fire or a mechanical failure brought down the drone.

Britain and France began deploying attack helicopters as part of the NATO-led mission earlier this month to boost the alliance's firepower and flexibility against Gadhafi's forces.

NATO had previously relied on jets that generally fly above 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) -- nearly three miles (five kilometers) high. The attack helicopters give the alliance a key advantage in close-up combat, flying at much lower altitudes. Airstrikes by attack jets remain the backbone of NATO's Libya campaign, however.

At least one distant explosion rumbled across Tripoli Tuesday as warplanes roared overhead. It wasn't immediately clear what was hit or whether there were casualties.

What started as a peaceful uprising inside the country against Gadhafi and his more than four-decade rule has devolved into a civil war. Rebels control the eastern third of the country and pockets in the west, and are trying to push their front line forward from their western stronghold of Misrata toward the nearby city of Zlitan.

Gadhafi's forces have countered with barrages of rockets and mortars, and the fighting on the front lines in Dafniya, some 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of Misrata, has been fierce in recent weeks.

Rockets fired by Libyan government troops have been hitting closer to Misrata this week. On Monday, a rocket struck the front yard of a home in the area of Ruweislat in Misrata, killing a 14-year old boy and burning his mother and brother, according to the boy's uncle, Taher Abu Sheiba.

Pieces of the rocket were laid out on the rubble as children from the neighborhood climbed the broken wall around the home. The smell of smoke hung in the air as family members walked through the destroyed kitchen.

Officials at the front-line hospital in Dafniya said six rebels were killed in overnight clashes, and 50 were wounded.

Rebels are also attacking government forces on a southern front in the Nafusa Mountains near the border with Tunisia.

The watchdog group Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that more than 150 anti-personnel land mines allegedly laid by government forces have been discovered and removed north of the mountain town of Zintan. The group said it is the first confirmed use of land mines in the Nafusa area.

Human Rights Watch said Libyan government land mines have now been found in six separate locations in the country. It urged both sides in the civil war to refrain from using the weapons.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron rebuked military officers who have questioned whether the U.K. can continue its key role in NATO's Libya campaign over the long term.

The country's top naval officer last week warned that British forces might not be able to respond quickly to new threats if Libyan operations extend beyond September. On Tuesday, concerns surfaced from Britain's head of air force combat operations, who said the air force was running short on pilots and ground crew staff because so many personnel were either deployed or resting following a period of combat duty.


Associated Press writers Hadeel al-Shalchi in Misrata and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

Here are some other articles about radio controlled model airplanes, unmanned aerial vehicles, U.A.V.s, UAVs, drones, or whatever you want to call them.

Even more articles on radio controled drones.



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