Knight Ridder/Tribune & USA Today & Associated Press & USA Today – 2011-01-17 23:47:05
Air Force to Use Drones Over Adirondacks
RAY BROOK (January 14, 2011) — The Air Force Air National Guard will fly remotely piloted aircraft over the Adirondacks starting next June. Crews at ground control stations fly the unmanned aircraft, the MQ-9 Reaper, from both line-of-sight locations and by satellite.
Col. Charles “Spider” Dorsey, vice commander of the 174th Fighter Wing based at Fort Drum, NY, presented details of the new military training program to Adirondack Park Agency commissioners Thursday.
The new aircraft replace F-16 sorties by the Air National Guard, which will make training missions much quieter.
“We train [with the MQ-9] to be acoustically undetectable,” Dorsey said. “We plan to use the Adirondack airspace as it was used for F-16s. But it’s a whole different ball game on noise.”
The aircraft has a 66-foot wingspan and weighs 10,500 pounds. It is used for intelligence-gathering details, Dorsey explained, and also for combat search and rescue or simulated attacks.
No Citizen Spying
“The Department of Defense prohibits target surveillance of US citizens by intelligence systems,” the colonel said, to deflect concern about any intrusion from the sorties.
But pilots on the ground do find random objects, sometimes moving cars or a particular building, to look at or track in training.
The aircraft can also be deployed during any natural disaster or in an emergency response to any threat to national security.
“We can feed video to civil authorities,” Dorsey said.
Smaller versions of the planes, sometimes called combat drones, are deployed in war zones.
The MQ-9 is used by the Army, Navy and US Border Patrol, primarily along the southern border, Dorsey said.
The commander told APA commissioners that pilots on the ground sometimes lose satellite link with remotely piloted aircraft for a few minutes or even longer.
The lost link is “not an extremely rare occurrence, either,” Dorsey said.
But, he said, the pilots have established predictable, safe-hold patterns in the event of lost satellite connections that command the plane to turn around and go back to Fort Drum, where they are guided for landing by line-of-sight pilots at the command center.
Lost links are reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The safety of the MQ-9 is comparable to the F-16, Dorsey said, reporting 10 “mishaps” with the aircraft as of February last year.
Of those 10, seven accidents were due to human factors.
“Most of those were on the runway,” Dorsey said. “It’s not the easiest aircraft to land.”
One was due to system failure, and two occurred when an aircraft engine quit.
The planes fly at a range between 13,000 and 18,000 feet and, so far, the Air National Guard has no plan to train pilots to fly lower in its Adirondack Military Airspace, a carefully cordoned-off area that carves a double-loop configuration from Fort Drum to the Air Force Base in Burlington.
APA commissioners were also briefed on use of the training airspace above the Adirondack Park, which was created and is monitored with guidance from local government, APA state lands staff, the Department of Environmental Conservation and county planners.
Police Turn to Drones for Domestic Surveillance
Larry Copeland / USA Today
(January 15, 2011) — Police agencies around the USA soon could have a new tool in their crime-fighting arsenal: unmanned aircraft inspired by the success of such drones on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Local governments have been pressing the Federal Aviation Administration for wider use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs — a demand driven largely by returning veterans who observed the crafts’ effectiveness in war, according to experts at New Mexico State University and Auburn University.
Police could use the smaller planes to find lost children, hunt illegal marijuana crops and ease traffic jams in evacuations of cities before hurricanes or other natural disasters.
The FAA is expected this year to propose new rules for smaller unmanned aircraft, a process that will include input from the public, says FAA spokesman Les Dorr. The agency also is talking with the Justice Department and national law enforcement groups “about possibly trying to streamline the process of applying for certificates of authorization” to operate such planes, he says.
Drones have flown in the USA for several years but have been limited to restricted airspace and to portions of the borders with Canada and Mexico.
The FAA authorized the Physical Science Laboratory at New Mexico State University to research the issues involved. “We’re extremely interested in being able to pave the way to integrate unmanned aircraft into the civil airspace,” says Doug Davis, deputy director of the Technical Analysis and Applications Center at NMSU.
Davis says UAVs range in size from 15 ounces to 34,000 pounds and a wing span bigger than a Boeing 737.
One of the chief obstacles to widespread use of UAVs is their inability to “see and avoid” other aircraft as required by federal regulations, a key to flight safety. Davis says he believes operators on the ground can comply with federal rules if they can see the aircraft and the surrounding environment.
Wesley Randall, principal investigator on an FAA grant awarded last year to researchers at Auburn University to study the risks associated with unmanned aircraft, predicts drones will be used by police departments in five to 10 years. Randall predicts that much larger unmanned aircraft will be used to transport cargo within 15-20 years.
No local police departments have been authorized to use unmanned aircraft, although police departments in Houston and Miami have conducted field tests of such planes, Dorr says.
The Miami-Dade Police Department has tested two 18-pound UAVs equipped with a camera for about 18 months, Sgt. Andrew Cohen says. The department has been licensed to operate the craft up to 200 feet in the air, but the drone must remain within 1,000 feet of the operator.
Cohen says the department wants to use the craft to reduce risks to manned aircraft or personnel in circumstances involving a hostage situation or a barricaded suspect. “It’s an opportunity to increase safety for the officers,” Cohen says.
House Approves More Agents, Drones on Mexican Border
WASHINGTON (August 10, 2010) — In a rare moment of bipartisanship Tuesday, the House approved $600 million to pay for more unmanned surveillance drones and about 1,500 more agents along the troubled Mexican border.
Getting tougher on border security is one of the few issues that both parties agree on in this highly charged election season. But lawmakers remain deeply divided over a more comprehensive approach to the illegal immigration problem, and it’s unclear if Congress will go beyond border-tightening efforts.
The House passed the bill by an unrecorded voice vote after brief debate. The Senate passed an identical bill last week by unanimous consent. But senators must act again, for technical reasons, before sending the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Some House members urged the Senate to act quickly, without waiting for Congress’s summer recess to end in mid-September. It was unclear Tuesday whether that would happen.
The bill would offset its costs by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use US visa programs to bring skilled workers to the United States. These include the popular H-1B visa program. India says higher fees would discriminate against its companies and workers.
The bill includes $176 million for 1,000 new border patrol agents to form a strike force to be deployed at critical areas, $89 million for another 500 customs and immigration personnel, and $32 million to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
It also provides $196 million for the Justice Department to bolster its forces of US marshals, and FBI, DEA and ATF agents along the border.
Congress and the White House felt a greater urgency to act on border security after Arizona passed a law directing its law enforcement officers to be more aggressive in seeking out illegal immigrants. A federal judge struck down the law’s main provisions, but many voters throughout the country favor crackdowns on illegal immigration.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., asked the Senate to move quickly. She said it’s time for the federal government “to stop letting us down and start getting the job done” on tighter border security.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Naval Laser Test Blasts Drones from the Sky
Dan Vergano / USA Today
(July 18, 2010) — Just like Dr. Evil of Austin Powers fame, most of us surely wish to see ” sharks with frickin’ laserbeams attached to their heads.”
Well, we’re not quite there yet, but death rays are making some interesting strides. In a series of tests in the last week of May, for example, lasers took on unmanned aircraft in a test off San Nicolas Island, the naval weapons proving ground off the coast of California.
“The targets came in over the ocean, and it was a good day for lasers, bad day for drones,” says Mike Booen of Raytheon in Tucson. Lasers: 4, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s): 0, was the score, and in pretty dramatic fashion too, if you see the video provided by the defense giant.
In a few seconds, six fiber-optic lasers with a combined 32 kilowatts of power fried up the drones in the tests. (A coffee-maker is about a one kilowatt appliance for comparison purposes, according to the Energy Department.) The range distance of the tests lasers is a Navy secret, but Defense Industry Daily in 2007 reported their reach would be three times farther than the 20-millimeter “Gatling” guns now mounted on Navy ships to defend against airborne threats.
“One of the Navy’s problems is that the bad guys have UAV’s now, they can give away ship’s positions,” Booen says. “So we wanted to do a more real-world test of the laser over water.”
Theodore Maiman made the first working laser 50 years ago at the Hughes Research Laboratory, which Raytheon later purchased. Even before his invention, laser weapons were a staple of the comics pages since Flash Gordon first fired his ray gun in the 1930’s.
Lasers guide bombs and air targeting already, but any number of laser weapons have been in development in the last few decades. Most famously they’re used in missile defense, but increasingly, and with more success, in small-scale operations, such as knocking down incoming mortars, a use for solid-state lasers tested in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The drone-shooting laser is a hybrid of the ship-defense “Phalanx” guns guidance system and lasers, Booen says. Rather than developing a new targeting system, they just adapted the laser to the system.
The solid-state lasers championed by Navy researchers (Raytheon developed the test laser with Navy scientists at the service’s Dahlgren Laboratory and elsewhere) appear the more useful ones over chemical lasers used in some missile-defense tests, says former Air Force chief scientist Mark Lewis, now at the University of Maryland.
The Defense Department’s funding of two competing laser technologies was an interesting example of technology policymaking, letting two innovations duke it out over the last two decades, rather than picking one and hoping for the best.
Lasers offer a few advantages over bullets: They travel faster, “about Mach 1 million,” Booen jokes, and for an electronic solid-state laser, you never run out of ammunition as long as you have power. But Lewis and others have cautioned that they have disadvantages, such as costs exceeding rifles and bullets, and even face legal restrictions under treaties.
“A lot of people are talking about lasers now. It’s a sexy technology,” Booen says. “I think if we focus on real-world problems, we will prove what lasers can do.”
So, Austin Powers can breathe easy on the laser-equipped sharks for now, but a staple of science fiction may be on its way.
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