One of our favorite subjects to discuss here at TSW is the military’s use, and sometimes over use, of drones. Most recently, Ryan provided an analysis of the RQ-180. The RQ-180 is a military drone that is capable of staying aloft for 24 hours straight. Prior to that, I outlined the capabilities of the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The most impressive capability of this particular drone is that it can fly as high as 60,000 feet for nearly 28 hours allowing it to cover roughly 40,000 square miles. However, all of these drones were specifically designed for the military. To date, any news involving drones revolved around these military applications, but this could change in the ear future. It seems that the FAA has given the green light for the commercial testing of drones.
Browsing surveillance drones
This month, Aviation Week and Space Technology first revealed the public disclosure of the new top secret spy drone known as the RQ-180. The key advantage of the drone is its ability to fly as high as 11 miles above the surface of the Earth, and stay aloft up there for up to 24 hours. The obvious advantage of a craft that can hover over any part of the Earth for such a long period of time at such a high altitude is that it can easily penetrate enemy borders without being targeted by strong air defense systems. On top of the extreme altitude, the craft also utilizes classified military stealth technology – it’s a program that the Air Force will still not confirm, even though a number of military sources have started discussing the craft with the media. U.S. Officials told CNN that the new generation stealth craft became a major priority after another stealth drone (the RQ-170 Sentinel) went down in Iran in 2012, potentially due to a hacking attack that took over wireless command of the craft. It is a safe assumption that the new drone utilizes much more advanced and secure communications for command and control. However, the most impressive part of the project is the potential payload. Experts say that the drone could potentially carry sensors that conduct high-detailed photo surveillance, infrared photography, and of course signals intelligence gathering like cell phone calls, radio communications, radar activity and more.
After years of ramping up covert drone strikes overseas, this May President Obama announced that he would be cutting back on the use of unmanned drones in the fight against terror. The announcement this spring heralds an entirely new direction for an administration that has been viewed by most countries in the Middle East as heavy handed in its approach with using drones to assassinate suspected terrorists. An interesting aspect of the shift is that control over the drones and target selection would not be managed by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), but instead the DOD (Department of Defense). The most surprising admission from the Obama administration was that four Americans have been killed in drone attacks outside the regular battlefield areas of Afghanistan and Iraq. (1) Ironically, as the Administration promises to ease off on drone attacks overseas, the use of drones for surveillance against U.S. civilians is dramatically on the rise inside of the United States.
Following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US bugging and spying on European embassies and harvesting foreign e-mails, relations between Europe and the US are fragile, to say the least. However, as much as Europe has a renewed sense of paranoia that their online activities and phone calls are being monitored by their transatlantic neighbors, apparently it’s not surveillance and data protection that Europeans are primarily worried about. According to a new report, it’s America’s use of armed drones that is causing the most concern to Europeans and heightening transatlantic tension. Anthony Dworkin, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote about Europe’s stance on US drones in a CNN blog. According to Dworkin, it is America’s use of armed drones to kill terrorist suspects away from the battlefield that is producing the most complications for relations between Europe and the US. (1) Dworkin talks of how European governments have shown a “curiously passive approach to America’s drone strikes”. The report goes on to state that many Europeans view that such strikes are unlawful but their governments have maintained an “uneasy silence on the issue”.
The saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” is applicable to the budget cuts the navy and other military branches now face. In a creative move, the navy is testing out drones and even blimps as possible solutions to those budget cuts that will drastically impact their war on drugs. It’s waterproofed and it’s unmanned. The drone weighs less than 15 pounds and flies on battery power unlike the gas operated, seven-crew manned P-3 Orion. The idea of using a drone to conduct this type of work could be a hand-hitting-forehead-slap why didn’t we think of this before moment. The drone offers a modern alternative for surveillance by utilizing the latest technology. The craft can provide real-time video of its target – drug smugglers sailing toward Florida. Pre-budget cut days, the Navy used two frigates to patrol the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific to prevent drugs and ammo from entering the US as well as illegal aliens. (1)
With “Big Brother” watching our every move, it is hardly surprising that a counter-surveillance culture is emerging, designed to thwart the prying eye of the state by making surveillance much more difficult. The counter-surveillance era that aims to combat the increasingly widespread government use of unmanned surveillance drones is being led by a wave of technology designed at keeping a users’ identity concealed. The latest counteractive surveillance gadget to be prototyped is causing quite a stir, and, it has to be said, is sadly reflective of what the world has come down to. The anti-drone hoodie is a silver hooded top that comes down to the chest. It has wide shoulders and a zip that covers up right to the nose and effectively makes its wearer invisible due to the thermal imaging that is utilized by surveillance drones. Designer Adam Harvey has developed the anti-drone hoodie and insists that his new product is principally a piece of fashion and art. “These are primarily fashion and art items,” Harvey tells the Guardian. “I’m not trying to make products for survivalists. I would like to introduce this idea to people: that surveillance is not bulletproof. That there are ways to interact with it and there are ways to aestheticize it.” (1)
Life is imitating art with the advent of drones. Until recently, drones were only seen as science fiction depicted in the popular syfy show SG-1, where drones are used by advanced alien cultures, the evil Goa’ulds. The general public first learned about drones when the computer operated unmanned planes were used as spy weapons and later to target terrorists in Afghanistan in missile strikes. Drone strikes are now a common occurrence that many people accept as the cost of war. It’s not unusual that military weapons and techniques trickle down to the public and it was only a matter of time before the lure of drones snagged police forces. Financially strapped law enforcement leaders are always looking for more effective ways to fight crime. The drone may be a solution for many police and sheriff departments as the economy continues to tank, budgets are cut deeper and the threat of crime continues to rise.
The Mexican drug cartels have become infamous around the world. The Mexican drug war in several large Mexican cities and along the US border has claimed more lives than any other drug war, and has cost billions of dollars to combat. Many say it’s a loosing battle and the authorities would be better off legalizing substances to cut the floor from under the cartels. The Mexican and US officials take a different stance, and since the drug war was stepped up by the Mexican military and police in 2006, there has been increased cooperation with the main market for the drugs; the United States.