Millions Lost as Drones Crash in Afghanistan, California and Pacific: Pentagon Mum
February 3, 2014
RT News & Tim Hornyak / CNET
In the course of a single month, at least three US drones have crashed around the world, costing taxpayers millions. In the US, Customs and Border Protection has grounded an entire fleet of drones after the crash of an unmanned aircraft valued at $12 million. Earlier in January, a drone crashed into a US battleship, causing $30 million in damages. And, in Afghanistan, a video has surfaced of villagers stoning the remains of a downed US drone that apparently crashed inside Afghanistan.
Afghans Stone Crashed US Drone
(January 31, 2014) -- Footage of what appears to be a group of cheering Afghans stoning a wreck of a Predator drone appeared on the Internet. The video was posted on Wednesday on a Facebook news page called 'Afghanistan 24/7'.
It shows a group of several dozen people standing next to what appears a crash site of an MQ-1 Predator drone. Such aircraft are used extensively by the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan for surveillance and to deliver airstrikes against Taliban militants.
The man taking the footage is heard laughing and cheering in delight, as some of the people present throw rocks at the damaged aircraft from a safe distance.
There is little indication of where and when the video was shot, although the desert landscape and the clothes of the people seem to back the description of the video, which claims it happened in Afghanistan.
Drone crashes are normally not reported by the Pentagon and the CIA, which operate them in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Some transparency campaigners say the DoD is stonewalling their Freedom of Information requests for drone crash records.
Yet such incidents happen fairly often, especially with the fleet of unmanned aircraft rapidly expanding. Last year at least two military drones crashed, while this month the US Customs and Border Protection grounded its entire fleet after one of the drones was lost to a malfunction during a routine patrol mission off the California coast.
The latest unconfirmed report from Afghanistan came earlier this month, when Iranian TV channels Press TV said a US drone crashed in Afghan province of Heart near the town of Shindand.
Taliban fighters claimed they shot down the aircraft as it was delivering an airstrike on their stronghold on January 10.
Amazingly only Eddy seems to have a brain. Not only is this a bad copy of a clone but as a crash site it is missing evidence of a crash. Not one stone or bit of sand has been moved around the area. It is as if it was dropped carefully down on the ground. I did not know drones could hover and drop carefully down to the ground without disturbing anything. Missing parts, no parts crumpled, come on. This is no crashed drone - it is a setup for propaganda.
Laughing and cheering? Usually that would come right before the laser-guided munitions that destroy tthe droner before it falls into enemy hands. The Afghans were laughing and cheering about a leaking gasloline tanker truck when a NATO airstrike, called in by German troops 'lit everything up'.
Obviously this one was 'lost'.
Relatedly: At a recent US gun show, a 20 mm 'anti-drone rifle' was a featured star of the show. Don't tell us the Talies have one of those already.
US Customs Grounds Drone Fleet
After $12 Million Unmanned Aircraft
Crashes Off of California
(January 30, 2014) -- The United States Customs and Border Protection has grounded an entire fleet of drones, the agency admitted on Tuesday, after a mechanical function the night before forced a crew to crash an unmanned aircraft valued at $12 million.
A spokesperson for the CBP said in a statement Tuesday that the drone, a maritime variant of the Predator B, was deliberately crashed into the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, California after it encountered problems shortly after 11 p.m. local time late Monday.
"The crew determined that the UAS would be unable to return to where it originated in Sierra Vista, Arizona, and put the aircraft down in the water," the spokesman, Michael Friel, told reporters.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the decision to bring down the aircraft was made by the Predator's remote crew after they discovered that the drone's onboard generator failed during an otherwise routine patrol mission off the California coast, and that the backup battery lacked the sufficient power needed to keep it in the air.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the drone broke apart on impact, and Connie Terrell, petty officer and spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, told reporters that her agency erected a "buffer zone" off of the California coast following the crash so the CBP could recover what remained of the aircraft.
According to Reuters, the crew was still unsure of what exactly caused the mechanical failure as of Tuesday afternoon.
Prior to Monday's incident, the CBP operated a fleet of ten drones that are operated regularly in order to patrol the US border with Mexico. That number diminished by one after this week's crash, the agency has temporarily grounded the rest of their arsenal as a precaution while an investigation is launched to determine what exactly went wrong with the unmanned aircraft.
The CBP has been flying Predator B drones to patrol the region since 2005, and in fiscal year 2012 the fleet logged a total of 5,700 flying hours. Each craft can stay airborne for 20 hours at a time and may reach a height of 50,000 feet.
"The CBP UAS program focuses operations on the CBP priority mission of anti-terrorism by helping to identify and intercept potential terrorists and illegal cross-border activity," the agency says on their website. "The Predator B's capability to provide high-quality streaming video to first responders, and to assess critical infrastructure before and after events, makes it an ideal aircraft to support emergency preparations and recovery operations."
Monday night's crash marked the first time the CBP lost a drone since 2006, when an operating crew error caused a Predator to crash over Arizona only a few months after the program first started. When the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the incident, they determined that "the CBP was providing a minimal amount of operational oversight" ahead of the crash.
The use of unmanned aircraft have exploded across the US in the years since, and last year the Federal Bureau of Investigation admitted for the first time on record of administering a fleet of their own unmanned vehicles. The Federal Aviation Administration expects to have rules in place that will allow for the widespread use of drones in the domestic airspace by the end of 2015, but industry experts and privacy advocates are still struggling to find a way to ensure UAVs can soar freely without interrupting other air traffic or invading the privacy of the American people.
Monday's crash comes two months after the US Navy lost a drone off the coast of San Diego. A Navy drone also crashed during a training mission in Maryland one year earlier.
Drone Crashes into Battleship, Causes $30 Million in Damages
(January 7, 2014) -- A US Navy battleship suffered $30 million in damages after a drone accidentally crashed into it during a military exercise and injured two sailors.
The incident occurred last November near Point Mugu, California, but the website USNI just recently reported the Navy will need about six months to fully repair the USS Chancellorsville.
According to the original Navy Times report on the accident, a malfunctioning Northrop Grumman BQM-74 crashed into the port side of the Chancellorsville during a training exercise that involved a routine radar test. The ship "was heavily damaged by the impact of a test target," while the 13-foot drone itself "crippled a key computer center integral to the ship's cutting-edge combat systems."
The Chancellorsville had about 300 crewmen onboard at the time of the collision. Two were treated for minor burns, though the Navy did not say how the individuals were injured. Sailors had only a four-second warning once drone operators realized they lost control over the BQM-74.
"There was just a breakdown in communications … and the ship had no time to react," an unnamed crewman told the Navy Times.
As USNI reported, BQM-74 drones are usually outfitted with a feature that would keep the machine from colliding into a naval vessel when control is lost, but it's unclear whether or not this kind of capability was activated. The Navy added that the cause of the crash is still under investigation.
While the United States has deployed drones around the world, the unmanned vehicles have proven to be very susceptible to crashes. According to an NBC News report from last March, "drones are 30 to 300 percent more likely to crash than small civil aircrafts." A 2012 survey from Bloomberg also found that for every 100,000 hours of drone flights, there are 9.31 accidents.
Despite these concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration recently announced the six states that will develop drone-testing sites as the agency paves the way for the vehicles to occupy US airspace, with some sites specifically focusing on developing "failure modes" for instances when a drone malfunctions. In 2012, Congress eased licensing restrictions related to domestic drone use, while the FAA expects roughly 7,500 drones to be roaming US skies within five years.
Some studies have estimated that a domestic drone industry could create between 70,000 – 100,000 jobs and generate $80 billion in economic activity. Privacy advocates, however, aren't as keen on the prospect of drones hovering over American soil; the American Civil liberties Union has previously criticized the prospect, saying it would move the country towards "a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities."
Pentagon Unable to Provide Records on Drone Crashes
(January 7, 2014) -- Reporters seeking information on US drone safety and crash data were told by Defense Department officials that multiple searches have turned up nothing, indicating the Pentagon is either refusing to turn over records or it has failed to collect them.
The Defense Department (DoD) provided a report to Congress in January that promised to address the challenges faced by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The department not only oversees the military drones that buzz over the tribal regions of Pakistan and Yemen, but also test by the National Guard and other agencies that fly over the continental US.
The DoD's Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics told lawmakers it had "provided the [Federal Aviation Administration] with 6 years of UAS mishap data" in order to give federal airspace regulators "a better understanding of UAS safety considerations."
But when researchers at MuckRock, a transparency organization that files Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on behalf of the journalists, activists, and historians, sought that "mishap data" they were rebuffed. Shawn Musgrave of Vice Motherboard reported that the office of the defense secretary suggested that MuckRock's FOIA request was "misdirected."
Officials only agreed to conduct a search when they were shown the exact page and paragraph of the January 2013 report to Congress that mentioned the DoD shared the relevant information with the FAA.
Yet that search turned out to be a wild goose chase as well, with the Pentagon advising Musgrave to try contacting another government agency.
"A search was conducted within the Officers of the Under Secretary of Defense for acquisition, Technology, and Logistics who could locate no records responsive to your request," the response noted. "It was suggested that you submit your request to the Army Combat readiness & Safety Center; the Naval Safety Center, and the Air Force Safety center, who may have your records responsive to you request, if they exist."
The government's subversion of the FOIA process is especially frustrating not only the momentum behind drone use is growing quickly, but also because they are vulnerable to hardware problems and other issues that other aircraft suffer. Drone frames can easily be damaged, which may impact a vehicle's aerodynamics, and their power can short-out in the midst of a flight.
The past year alone has seen two drone crashes that each cost the military millions of dollars. An unmanned test vehicle flown by the Air National Guard crashed into Lake Ontario in November and, just days later, two sailors were injured when a drone malfunctioned and crashed into a naval ship off the coast of California.
There are other concerns, as well. UAS vehicles are also susceptible to technology breakdowns that can ruin a flight path or contribute to a "lost link," the term employed when a drone loses contact with its human operator. Security experts have warned that as technology advances, hackers may be able to override military security and take control of a drone.
Part of the Defense Department's reluctance to provide the documents to press (or its inability to do so) could also be blamed on the slow transfer of responsibility. The Central Intelligence Agency has spent years organizing and carrying out drone attacks in the Middle East, although an April 2013 document revealed that the UAS program would be shifted to the Pentagon by the end of 2013.
By late November 2013, though, there was little public evidence that such a change was underway. That month, drones fired missiles at suspected enemy combatants in both Pakistan and Yemen, an example the Washington Post cited as evidence that the CIA was not quite ready to relinquish its power.
Obama administration officials told the Post that the president has sought to put drones under the command of the elite US Joint Special Operations
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