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April 5 2014

April 7, 2014



Pentagon to adapt drones for tougher aerial battles

Ray Locker, USA TODAY 11:55 a.m. EDT March 28, 2014


U.S. drones fly with virtual impunity over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, firing deadly missiles at targets with little concern the highly effective aircraft will be shot down.

Pentagon planners expect such freedom will eventually disappear as missions involve the pilotless aircraft flying into more dangerous and contested environments.

That’s behind a push by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop autonomous systems to allow multiple drones to communicate with each other as they fly more dangerous missions.

The program, known as Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE), is drawing contractors to a meeting in early April to discuss possible approaches to enable drones to work together, DARPA records show. Part of the meeting will be classified as officials spell out their needs.

Unmanned aircraft have had 25 years of success, DARPA records show, but “most of the current systems are not well matched to the needs of future conflicts, which DARPA anticipates being much less permissive, very dynamic and characterized by a higher level of threats, contested electromagnetic spectrum and relocatable targets.”

DARPA budget plans released this month show a steady increase in the money the military will spend on drone development. In the 2015 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, DARPA plans to spend $15 million developing CODE, up from $8 million this year.

DARPA has identified four critical technology areas for CODE:

•Autonomy for a single drone, including autonomous management in routine and abnormal conditions.

•The connections between human controllers and the system, which will enable “a single mission commander to maintain situational awareness” and direct multiple platforms at the same time.

•Team-level autonomy, which will “enable the definition of a collaborative action plan that leverages the strength of each team member.”

•Open architecture that will allow various groups to collaborate with each other more easily.

Drones of all variations remain a top military priority. Since October, DARPA and other agencies have stepped up their work on underwater drones, those that can be stored in underwater pods and be remotely activated and cheaper drones that operate independently.


2015 budget proposal shows half of plans

Mar. 29, 2014 – 06:00AM |


By Brian Everstine

Staff writer


The Air Force’s 2015 budget plan represents about half of what the service plans to do in terms of retiring and moving aircraft, with analysis not yet finished on what will come next and how the force structure will ultimately be balanced among active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said.

“Because we’re only halfway through this, we haven’t balanced all the force structure across the active and reserve components,” Welsh said at a March 26 House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing. “The guidance from the beginning has been put as much as we can into the reserve components. If we can become more efficient and remain operationally capable, why would we not do that? So we are pushing everything we can by aircraft types, because that’s the way you have to do the analysis into the reserve component.”

The fiscal 2015 budget proposal calls for the full retirement of the A-10, which includes 107 aircraft flown by the Guard, along with cutting 51 F-15Cs.

The proposal also moves and retires C-130s in the Guard, with the ultimate goal of assigning eight of the cargo aircraft to Guard units.

“That’s the footprint they were looking at,” Welsh said. “And as they balance the fleet, that’s what they did. Some of these airplanes are older, take more to maintain, so they’re trying to centralize the places where they will be most efficient.”

Welsh and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James have both repeatedly said that their goal is to move more aircraft into the Guard to save money.

It’s a goal that follows congressional pressure to protect the Guard and direct more cuts to the active duty, particularly since the fiscal 2013 budget fight that pitted the Guard and its proponents against the active duty.

The result of that budget fight included the creation of the congressionally mandated National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, which in its February report to Congress and President Obama called on the service to find savings by shifting the component mix from 69-31 active to reserve to 58-42.

That shift could produce savings of up to $2 billion per year in manpower costs.

“Recognizing that some missions must be performed by the active component, the Air Force can, and should, entrust as many missions as possible to its reserve component forces,” the commission’s report states.■


Afghan Drone War in Steep Decline

BY DAN LAMOTHE MARCH 28, 2014 – 03:40 PM


A March 6 airstrike in Afghanistan killed at least five Afghan soldiers and wounded eight more – an egregious accident that prompted the U.S.-led military coalition to launch an ongoing investigation into what occurred. Afghan officials allege the attack was carried out by a drone, long the Obama administration’s weapon of choice, while the U.S. says it involved a manned aircraft. Either way, the strike highlights an important — and surprising — shift: Both the amount of time drones spend over Afghanistan and the number of total coalition airstrikes are in steep decline, and that trend is likely to accelerate as the U.S. withdraws most of its remaining troops in the months ahead.

Statistics released to Foreign Policy show that the amount of time spent by U.S. drones over Afghanistan was down 22 percent between 2012 and 2013. The number of drone flight hours over Afghanistan dropped even more drastically over the last six months — 30 percent over the previous half-year. Coalition officials declined to disclose the specific number of hours flown, but said the primary mission for U.S. drones – remotely piloted aircraft in military jargon — remains intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance from the sky. The military also refused to say whether the numbers of drone strikes have been increasing or going down.

Drone usage declining in Afghanistan may catch some by surprise. The military has used them widely in other countries where the United States has a small presence of troops, including Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. It would seem logical, then, that with fewer U.S. troops now in Afghanistan, drones would be called on more. But it turns out the opposite is true: as the coalition military drawdown in Afghanistan continues, the amount of high-tech equipment used there also is declining. That goes not only for drones, but for ground-based surveillance equipment. One example commonly used by U.S. forces is the Ground Based Operational Surveillance System, typically known in military-speak as a “G-BOSS.” It includes an 80-foot tower that has infrared cameras, radar equipment and other sensors on it, and is capable of watching insurgents from long distances.

Officials at the White House, Pentagon and the military coalition with headquarters in Kabul all declined to comment on the change. But retired Adm. James Stavridis, who served as the supreme allied commander of NATO until retiring last year, said that while technology has been helpful to U.S. forces, the gear wouldn’t be as useful to the Afghans after coalition forces leave “because the enemy operates so often in a primitive context.”

The Afghan forces’ “knowledge of culture, language, geography, personality and so on means that they see the world in technicolor, while we are at best looking at a fuzzy black-and-white picture in so many scenarios,” Stavridis said. “For counter-insurgency, the human and physical terrain knowledge is vital, the high-tech capability is helpful. While additive, high-tech is not crucial in my view.”

The use of drones has continued to be controversial in Afghanistan, however, especially when it leads to civilians getting caught in the crossfire. In one recent example, a Sept. 7 airstrike in Kunar province, along Afghanistan’s eastern border, killed 14 civilians, surviving family members later told the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. military coalition contended that 11 were killed, many of them insurgents, but villages later said the dead included women and children.

“There were pieces of my family all over the road,” one 28-year-old farmer, Miya Jan, told the Times. “I picked up those pieces from the road and from the truck and wrapped them in a sheet to bury them.”

The Air Force stopped releasing statistics about the number of drone airstrikes it conducted last year, causing outcry from transparency advocates. U.S. Central Command told Air Force Times last year that the decision was made because doing so placed a disproportionate emphasis on the strikes, rather than other drone missions. The change occurred as both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and some members of Congress increasingly called for scrutiny on them.

The military coalition in Kabul says that drones — remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs, in military jargon — are used judiciously, however.

“Only 3 percent of RPA sorties are involved in airstrikes,” said Lt. Col. Will Griffin, a coalition spokesman in Kabul. “Our efforts to reduce civilian casualties are comprehensive and involve our civilian casualty mitigation board, as we as tightly restricted, meticulously planned, carefully supervised and coordinated use of aerial weapons applied by qualified personnel. This applies to both manned and remotely piloted aircraft.”

The latest numbers released show that the overall air war in Afghanistan continues to decline. The Air Force dropped weapons 400 times between November and February, a 60 percent decrease when compared to the same period a year ago. The heaviest single month of the air war came in October 2010, as the United States flooded thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan and assaulted numerous areas of the country that had little coalition presence. The Air Force dropped 1,043 weapons that month alone – 82 percent more than it did this past October.


DoD Looks Within to Build Cyber Force

Retraining Military Personnel to Become Security Specialists

By Eric Chabrow, March 28, 2014. Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity


Petty Officer First Class Chase Hardison is the future face of the cyberdefenders at the U.S. Cyber Command, the military organization charged with defending Defense Department networks and the nation’s critical infrastructure.

In 2010, Hardison was serving on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, tending to turbines and generators, when the then-machinist’s mate, and his new wife Sara, decided he should change jobs if he wanted to stay in the Navy. He signed up for a cyber course in Pensacola, Fla., and graduated second in his class, missing the No. 1 slot by only four one-hundredths of a point.

Fast-forward four years: Hardison is an interactive operator at Cybercom in Fort Meade, Md. And the military is looking for many more individuals like him to become cyberwarriors.


“To continue recruiting and retaining talent like Petty Officer Hardison, we must build rewarding, long-term cyber career paths,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a speech March 28 during ceremonies honoring Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who’s retiring as Cybercom commander and director of the National Security Agency (see Obama Taps Navy Admiral as NSA Director).


“Our military must enable our people to re-invent themselves for life in and beyond their service,” Hagel said. “That is a proud tradition of our armed forces. It is also how we shape a modern, cutting-edge military that outmatches the most advanced adversaries.”

The 4-year-old Cybercom employs 1,800 professionals, but expects to grow to 6,000 employees by 2016, with many coming from the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and, like, Hardison, the Navy.


Recruiting and Training

Recruiting and training cyberpersonnel is a top priority for Cybercom, says a senior Defense Department official, who – speaking on background – briefed the media on Hagel’s speech. “Without highly skilled, elite cyber-operators, we’re not going to accomplish all the things we want to do, and we spent a lot of time over the past few years figuring out what that model would be.”

The senior official acknowledges that many experts believe DoD must reach outside of government to find qualified cyber-experts. And, he says there are a number of cybersecurity professionals willing to sacrifice 6-figure salaries to work for Cybercom and the National Security Agency because they believe in their missions and service in America.


“But quite honestly, the way we’re going to be most successful is using people from within the force and giving them the training, and reforming and changing the way the force is composed in a very personal way,” he says.

Hardison, as a machinist’s mate, wasn’t among the most highly skilled enlistees in the military workforce. “But he had the aptitude, and more importantly, he had the desire to re-invent himself and he is now one of the most elite cyber-operators within Cybercom,” the DoD official says.

The official says it’s clearly feasible to “train up” military personnel to be cyber-experts.

“We now have processes in place where they will identify people who have the right mix of aptitude, fire in the belly and desire to re-invent themselves and put them through a training pipeline that ends up resulting in for us having highly trained operators. … We’ve already seen hundreds of cases in which there were people who didn’t know anything about cyber at all; we re-invented them [so] they are part of the elite force.”


TSA expands Pre-check to DoD civilians, Coast Guard

Mar. 31, 2014 | Comments

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Getting through the screening lines at the airport will soon be a lot easier for hundreds of thousands of Defense Department civilians and Coast Guard employees, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

The agency is expanding its Pre-Check program — which allows its participants to go through security checkpoints without having to take off shoes, belts or jackets — to include civilian employees at DoD and the Coast Guard beginning April 15.

The program is already open to service members and members of the Customs and Border Protection trusted-traveler program

TSA spokesman Jim McKinney said the expansion is in line with TSA’s partnership with the military and is part of a risk-based approach to airport security. Participants just need to use their DoD identification credentials.

“TSA continuously looks for more opportunities to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way possible,” McKinney said.



Air Force Weighs ISR, Tanker Consortiums

By Kris Osborn Monday, March 31st, 2014 3:16 pm

The Air Force is considering several new consortium arrangements with European partners as a way to pool resources for a collective advantage, lower operating costs and decrease travel time for U.S. platforms, service officials said.

An intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) consortium and a tanker consortium are among the arrangements being considered, said Heidi Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs.

“We’re looking at more consortium operations,” she said.

An ISR or tanker consortium would involve a handful of countries teaming up to collectively use and benefit from strategically positioned tanker or ISR aircraft. These arrangements would allow countries the benefit of tanker and ISR technologies without having the same expense, maintenance or travel burdens were they to position and use the asset themselves.

One example of a consortium is the joint maintenance and operation of three C-17s in Hungary which began in 2009, Grant said. Called a strategic airlift capability, the consortium involves 12 countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the U.S.

Citing this example, Grant said consortiums, foreign military sales and strategic partnerships with allies are likely to figure more prominently in coming years as the Air Force gets smaller and budgets decrease.

“As we become the smallest [U.S.] Air Force in history, we will still be the most capable Air Force in the world. My concern is will we have the capacity to respond to all of these contingency and humanitarian relief operations? If not, who is going to be there do to aerial refueling or ISR?” Grant said.

“When we are seeing challenges they are global security challenges. Global security challenges require global partnerships,” she added.

A European-based ISR consortium would involve making arrangements above and beyond what NATO already stipulates, Grant explained.

At the same time the Air Force continues to emphasize Foreign Military Sales as a way to strengthen partner capacity and, in some cases, support the U.S. industrial base by bringing in production dollars.

For example, 26 countries currently operate F-16s and 70 countries operate C-130s, Grant said. Also, the U.S. is now working on finalizing the sale of 84 F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia – a deal that constitutes the largest single FMS case in the history of the U.S.


33,000 troops to go: 1-star outlines Afghanistan drawdown

Mar. 31, 2014 – 07:11PM |

By Michelle Tan

Staff writer


The U.S. has closed nearly 290 bases across Afghanistan as of March 1 and fewer than 80 bases remain.

When it comes to personnel, there are still about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but there’s also “a steady path to reduce throughout the year,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Daniel O’Donohue, the chief operations officer for the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

O’Donohue provided an overview of U.S. troops still serving downrange during a March 18 phone interview with Army Times.

“We’ve reduced our forces from about 100,000, by about 67 percent,” said he said. “We are truly in a support role.”

The U.S. is entering “a little bit of a pause as we prepare for [the Afghan presidential] elections,” but the goal is to continue closing down bases, he said.

Current forecasts call for 54 more bases to be closed by Aug. 1, and only about 27 bases are expected to remain open by the end of October, O’Donohue said.

The goal is to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan by about 15 percent by Aug. 1 and by another 20 percent by Oct. 31, he said.

“We’re in the process of drawing down and turning over to the Afghans,” he said. “We’re going to shift our composition, and it’s just natural that we shift from regional commands to train and advise. Rather than having a regional command that’s in charge of battlespace, the Afghans are now in front.”

As the drawdown continues, O’Donohue anticipates the U.S. will start moving its advising functions up the chain, moving from the battalion level to the brigade and corps levels.

“We’re very conscious of the 12-year mark of this mission,” he said. “The Afghans have picked up the fight, and we’re right there with them, but definitely in a support role.”



Leader of China Aims at Military With Graft Case



BEIJING — Prosecutors accused a former senior military official on Monday of a litany of crimes, including bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, presenting a first glimpse of what could be the biggest corruption scandal to ever engulf the Chinese armed forces.

The charges against the officer, Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, are the outcome of a far-reaching inquiry under President Xi Jinping that signaled his determination to make high-profile examples out of dishonest military figures. His goal, military analysts said, is to transform a service larded with pet projects and patronage networks into a leaner fighting force more adept at projecting power abroad and buttressing party rule at home, while strengthening his own authority over the army.

The announcement of the case against General Gu, made by Xinhua, the official news agency, came two years after he was quietly dismissed as deputy chief of the General Logistics Department, and provided no details. But an internal inquiry has accused him of presiding over a vast land development racket that hoarded kickbacks, bought promotions, and enabled him and his family to amass dozens of expensive residences, including places where investigators found stockpiles of high-end liquor, gold bullion and cash, according to people briefed on the investigation.

Guesthouses at a military housing compound in Beijing are said to have been built by General Gu to curry favor. Credit Jonathan Ansfield/The New York Times

The investigation into General Gu, who had a commanding authority over how resources in the army were used, has shaken the military because of the scale of his activities — estimates of his assets range from several hundred million to a few billion dollars — and because it threatens some of its most senior figures.


Even as Mr. Xi has pressed a sweeping campaign against graft in the Communist Party, he has seized on the case against General Gu to pursue a parallel drive to clean up the 2.3 million-member armed forces. In doing so, he is challenging military elders who promoted General Gu and have sought to protect him and themselves from the investigation, the people with knowledge of the inquiry said.

In internal speeches, Mr. Xi has railed against a wider “Gu Junshan phenomenon” of military corruption, demanded action to “dredge the soil that produced Gu Junshan,” and threatened to bring down both “large and small Gu Junshans,” said a retired official and associate of Mr. Xi’s, suggesting that unprecedented punishments of other, higher-ranking military figures in the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest, could lie ahead. The campaign presents Mr. Xi with a cudgel to tighten control over an institution that some say has drifted from the party leadership’s orbit even as it remains a bulwark of one-party rule.

General Gu has already provided investigators with enough information to target powerful patrons, principally Xu Caihou, the army’s second-ranking general and a Politburo member before retiring in 2012, people with knowledge of the inquiry said. These people, who include retired military officers, foreign diplomats and children of former senior leaders, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Several said investigators had restricted the movements of General Xu, who has been hospitalized with bladder cancer. If Mr. Xi were to move formally against General Xu, he would enter uncharted territory. No military leader of General Xu’s stature has ever been toppled for corruption.

Mr. Xi, unlike his immediate predecessors, took over the military and the party at the same time — in November 2012 — and brought strong military ties. After university, he served as an aide to a top military official. His father was a revolutionary guerrilla commander. His wife was a star in the P.L.A.’s song-and-dance troupe. Gen. Liu Yuan, the political commissar of the logistics department who is credited with helping to initiate the anticorruption drive, is among his oldest comrades.

While his predecessors struggled to manage the military, Mr. Xi regards it as a bastion of support and has embraced its vision of China as a more robust power, diplomats and analysts said.

In an internal speech soon after taking office, he made a point of placing blame for the collapse of the Soviet Union in part on Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s losing control of the military. “His implication was: ‘I’m going to take charge of the military for real. I’m not going to be like the last two administrations, putting up with you as you bumble around,’ ” said the associate of Mr. Xi.

Early on, he and others said, Mr. Xi established a routine of working at the Central Military Commission headquarters at least half a day each week, significantly more often than previous party chiefs.

He has ordered a stream of antigraft measures, audits and criticism sessions; has enlarged drills to upgrade “battle readiness”; and is pushing forward contentious plans to restructure a military bureaucracy criticized as bloated and outmoded.

“Xi Jinping is highly aware of the deepening complexities in China’s neighborhood, so the P.L.A. has never been more in demand,” said Zhu Feng, an international security expert at Peking University. “The P.L.A. spends a lot of money, but the question is, how are they following up on all the spending?”

Corruption has bedeviled the military since the market overhauls of the 1980s, when it was permitted to venture into industry and earn the funds to modernize its arsenal and sustain its troops. Widespread smuggling, graft and profiteering ensued. It took years of debate for the party in 1998 to order the military to divest from business. But as Beijing increased military spending, officers tapped these resources for profit.


The army retains extensive land holdings, which have ballooned in value in line with property prices across the country, and real estate transactions are considered its biggest source of corruption. One former military officer said generals sometimes evaded regulations limiting the size of their residences by building ceilings twice the standard height. “That way they can add a floor later,” he said.

Bribery for promotions is believed to be more institutionalized than within the party. Insiders say an endorsement for a general’s slot can carry a price of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Procurement is plagued by waste and fraud. One recent order for fighter jet canopies, for example, cost nearly three times more than a state aviation contractor’s bid and resulted in products riddled with flaws, according to an academic with the institution that designed the part.

Such abuses proliferated under Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, who was often seen as ineffectual and disengaged from military affairs. It was during that period that General Gu oversaw a multibillion-dollar construction boom as head of the infrastructure and barracks division. He built several hundred outsize villas for high-ranking officers, profited from scores of land deals and acquired three dozen homes in central Beijing alone, the military insiders said.

Since a military scholar first acknowledged the case against General Gu last August, two Chinese news media outlets, Global People and Caixin, have pierced the secrecy surrounding it with investigative reports.

They portrayed General Gu as a stocky farmer’s son who made up for his lack of qualifications with networking skills. He married a superior’s daughter, plied higher-ups and underlings with perks, and recently commissioned a biography and a grave site that inflated his father’s revolutionary credentials, they reported.

In the family’s hometown in central China, his brother, a former village party chief, won local real estate deals and military supply contracts with his backing, they reported. General Gu’s wife, a city police official, worked to intercept villagers who took their grievances against the land deals to Beijing.

In one deal that drew internal scrutiny, General Gu approved more than double the funds that the song-and-dance troupe requested for renovations, and collected a kickback worth several hundred thousand dollars in cash and gold bullion, two of the sources said.

General Liu first proposed action against General Gu in late 2011, said two elite party members close to General Liu. Mr. Hu, who was nearing the end of his presidency, then asked the military’s disciplinary agency to suspend General Gu twice, they said, but encountered resistance from top military leaders. Only after Mr. Hu ordered the party’s own disciplinary body to investigate was the military forced to take action.


Even then, investigators moved slowly. By fall 2012, the military was preparing an indictment accusing the general of pocketing less than $1 million in bribes and kickbacks, said the retired official.

But Mr. Xi was incensed by the case and, after he took office, widened the scope of the inquiry.

A turning point came in January 2013, when investigators raided a storage chamber General Gu kept in his home village and hauled off four truckloads of items, including 20 crates of liquor and a pure gold statue of Chairman Mao, Caixin reported.

China’s Defense Ministry did not answer a request for comment on the case.

One question under scrutiny is whether General Gu’s rapid rise — five high-level promotions in eight years, over repeated objections from the head of the logistics department — involved payoffs of now-retired military leaders, particularly General Xu. General Xu is considered a protégé of Jiang Zemin, the former president, and once oversaw appointments.

After he retired, investigators found a hoard of expensive gifts, including large pieces of ivory, in a locked storeroom next to his former office, a businesswoman briefed by military officers said.

“Gu Junshan gave him up,” said the businesswoman, after meeting with a member of the military task force investigating the case. “He said that Gu gave up information on just about everyone.”


Australia:- Illegal unmanned aircraft operations pose significant safety challenge

by Press • 1 April 2014

The Australian Certified UAV Operators Association (ACUO) is calling for the current Federal Government Aviation Safety Regulation Review to back a harder line to combat the growing problem of illegal unmanned aircraft operations.

ACUO is today releasing its submission to the review in light of last weeks reported near-miss incident involving a Westpac rescue helicopter and an unknown unmanned aircraft operating at 1000ft.

The submission calls for new resourcing to be provided to CASA to deal specifically with illegal UAS operations. It warns that the outlook facing the Australian unmanned aircraft industry has strong parallels with the rise of commercial aviation in Australia during the 1920s and 1930s, where a high rate of incidents included loss of human life.

“Under resourcing of the regulatory and compliance management capacities of CASA is not an option as the unmanned aircraft industry continues its rapid growth in not just Australia, but internationally” says Joe Urli, ACUO President, who has worked as an air safety inspector for national aviation authorities in two different countries.

“Illegal unmanned aircraft operations are on the rise in Australia and the question of whether they will be a serious safety incident is no longer theoretical given last weeks reported near-miss incident involving a Westpac rescue helicopter flying back to its Newcastle base”.

“ACUO calls on the Aviation Safety Regulation Review to give detailed attention to the challenge posed by illegal UAS operations lest the future contain incidents of untold tragedy which can be avoided by action today. There has been a significant rise of CASA certified UAV operators in Australia over the past two years, however, the rate of illegal operations by uncertified operators is now skyrocketing. CASA itself accepts the reality of this challenge”. (See note 1).

“A brief review of You Tube will swiftly reveal evidence of illegal operations by uncertified operators in Australia. There are videos from camera equipped unmanned aircraft flying above cloud height as well as at low altitudes over people on major city beaches such as Cottesloe in Perth. CASA Part 101 clearly states that operations can only be conducted over non-populous areas.

“Likewise YouTube videos can be readily found where the unmanned aircraft is flying at low altitude over busy city motorways in peak hour, with Perth again providing examples. This type of illegal operation mirrors the Sydney Harbour bridge incident (2nd October 2013) which caused a response by counter terrorism units.”


“CASA is internationally respected for its pioneering work in facilitating the legal operation of commercial unmanned aircraft”, said Mr Urli. “However that effort is now at direct risk of being undermined if more resources are not made available to the regulator to allow for not only the continued development of a well-structured regulatory regime, but also its enforcement”.

“At present there is little consequence in Australia for flying illegally, other than basic fines if the individual is caught. We place direct obstacles before those who seek to obtain motor vehicle licences if they have a past record of illegal driving and we need to look at similar measures for UAV certification. It is not unreasonable to propose that if found guilty of flying illegally, the individual concerned be barred from obtaining a CASA UAV operators certificate for a period of time from the date of the demonstrated offence.”

ACUO’s specific recommendations to the Aviation Safety Regulation Review comprise:


1. CASA needs to rethink and rework its current enforcement procedures applying to the’unmanned’ sector of aviation, so that; acuo-pr-04-2014 Page 2 of 2

· They are entirely workable and cost-effective to administer and deliver across th ‘unmanned’ sector of aviation, as well as the rest of the aviation industry.

· They provide an immediate, positive and strong deterrent value to illegal UAV operations.


2. CASA Enforcement procedures for the ‘unmanned’ sector of aviation should be considered in conjunction with a nation-wide awareness campaign to inform and educate the public and industry about the do’s and don’ts of RPAS operations in Australia, and the safety/regulatory/legal basis for having regulations.

· There needs to be a re-focus of attention by CASA on the illegal UAV operators, not the certified UAV operators as is currently the case.

· There needs to be a strong focus on ‘DETERRENCE’ and getting the message across: “If you breach the aviation regulations, you will pay the penalties”.

· There also needs to be a clear distinction between military and civil RPAS experience when qualifying and operating RPAS. Military experience needs to be assessed for; Category, Technical and Operational competence and relevance. Military RPAS operations do not directly correlate with commercial RPAS operations.


3. That the penalties for illegal UAV operations should include:

· Increased fines representative of the sort of money they are earning from their illegal activities [ie thousands of dollars, not hundreds] and this should increase exponentially with subsequent prosecutions.

· Automatic confiscation of UAV equipment and if necessary, CASA sell or auction the confiscated equipment to offset the costs of enforcement.

· An automatic 12 month ban on applying for a UAV certificate or licence after a successful prosecution for illegal UAV operations.


4. That the revised UAV regulations include a provision that makes it illegal for an uncertified UAV operator to publicly advertise their services

· A similar provision is written into CAR88 regulations [CAR210] making it illegal for anyone to advertise for [conventional] Aerial Work Operations without an AOC

· The same should be true for commercial UAV Operators also.


The full ACUO submission to the review can be downloaded here:

The review is due to report to the Federal Government in May this year.

For further information, please contact:

Joe Urli





Brad Mason





About ACUO:

ACUO was established as a legal entity in March 2010 and currently represents about a third of all entities holding Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority unmanned aircraft operator certificates. It is chartered to promote the growth and the expansion of the commercial unmanned aircraft industry in Australia and to ensure the safe and orderly growth of the sector. ACUO represents Australia globally as part of the International Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Coordination Council, the pre-eminent global policy coordination body for this important sunrise industry.

Note 1:

CASA advised a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs hearing in Canberra, 28 February 2014, that it estimated there were more than six illegal operators for every certified operator now active in Australia. See page ten of the Hansard transcript at the following link:;query=Id%3A%22committees/commrep/e08acf66-0f19-


Ryan plan again seeks higher retirement contributions by federal workers

By Eric Yoder April 1 at 11:49 amMore


The House budget plan released Tuesday repeats a proposal to increase the amount that federal employees must pay toward their retirement benefits, with the government’s share being reduced proportionately.

The plan from Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) does not specify how large the increase would be, but a committee spokesman said the intent, as in past plans from the panel, would be to make the two shares equal. In that case, the employee share in most cases would increase by nearly 6 percent of salary.

“This would achieve significant budgetary savings and also help facilitate a transition to a defined-contribution system for new federal employees that would give them more control over their own retirement security. This option would save an estimated $125 billion over ten years,” the plan says.

Increases have been enacted in the last two years, but they have come in smaller amounts and have affected only those joining the government after a future date. That has created a three-level system of contributions under the Federal Employees Retirement System, with different amounts required of those hired before 2013, those hired during that year, and those hired after. The increases did not affect anyone in the separate Civil Service Retirement System because no new hires are put into that system.

The document also seeks “reform” of a supplemental benefit for FERS employees who retire before age 62 when eligibility for Social Security benefits begins. Past plans have called for abolishing that supplement, which duplicates the value of a Social Security benefit earned while a federal employee.

The plan further assumes “a reduction federal civilian workforce through attrition, whereby the administration would be permitted to hire one employee for every three who leave government service. National-security positions would be subject to exemption.” A committee spokesman said the workforce reduction goal is 10 percent, which would come to about 200,000 jobs. Many agencies already have partial hiring freezes in place due to budgetary limits imposed last year.

“Chairman Ryan’s proposal to squeeze another $125 billion through increased retirement contributions is nothing more than a thinly veiled pay cut and would exacerbate a growing problem,” Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said in a statement. “Furthermore, arbitrary reductions in the size of the federal workforce would diminish the government’s capacity to perform essential functions and would likely fail to save much money, as work would simply be shifted to contractors.”

Also repeated is a proposal from last year’s plan to end the program of student loan reimbursements as a recruitment and retention incentive. About 10,500 federal employees received such payments totaling about $70 million in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available.

The budget does not contain a specific recommendation regarding a January 2015 federal employee pay raise. Last year, by remaining silent on a raise, Congress in effect allowed President Obama’s recommendation for a 1 percent increase for 2014 to take effect by default. The White House’s recently released budget plan recommended a 1 percent raise again for 2015.


Inside the Military’s New Office for Cyborgs

Patrick Tucker 6:54 AM ET

April 1, 2014


The ability to link human brains to machines, create new life forms and build Star Trek-style disease detectors will be the focus of a new Defense Department office soon.

The new office, named the Biological Technology Office, or BTO, will serve as a clearinghouse for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, programs into brain research, synthetic biology and epidemiology. The office will cover everything from brewing up tomorrow’s bioweapon detectors and connecting humans to computers to designing entirely new types of super-strong living materials that could form the basis of future devices. Here are the key areas in more detail.

The human brain is often called the most complex object in the known universe, composed of 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapse connections. As a computer, it performs 10,000 trillion operations per second. That’s about one third as fast as the Chinese Tianhe-2 Super computer, which can perform 33,860 trillion calculations per second. But the human brain does it’s calculating with just 20 watts of power. Tianhe-2 needs 24 million watts.

In the last two decades, our understanding of the human brain has advanced tremendously through functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, magnetoenceplograhy, and high-resolution brain scans. Our ability to use brain signaling to control devices has grown at a similar pace, but getting brain material to mesh with sensors and electronics is no simple matter. A DARPA program, Revolutionizing Prosthetics, to better help veterans with amputated limbs control prosthetic legs and arms with brain signals was announced in 2009 but only very recently began to bear fruit. Last year, researchers from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago demonstrated a cybernetic arm prosthetic that functions like something straight out of RoboCop. The BTO will oversee a variety of programs aimed at understanding both the hardware and the software of the human brain.

“The prosthetics that are wirelessly neurally-controlled are just at the research stage. But some of the ones where the prosthetics are connecting in to the peripheral nervous system or are being controlled by other muscles in the body are currently in an FDA process,” said Arati Prabhakar, DARPA director, in an interview with Defense One. So while we still haven’t been able to connect a prosthetic directly to the brain, researchers have achieved much better integration with prosthetics and nerves.

Prabhakar says that the research has applications well beyond helping veterans to live better lives, including the creation of devices and chips that mimic the brain. “That kind of amazing capability is something that no one thought was possible. What we’re learning about the human brain could give us insight into how we build our artificial processing capabilities.”

The agency’s Cortical Processor program, with a $2.3 million FY 2015 budget request, seeks to recreate in software the brain’s capability to take in lots of incoming stimuli from sensory organs and spit out recognized patterns. “There is a processing structure in nature, the mammalian neocortex, that… routinely solves the most difficult recognition problems in real-time…” according to the agency’s recently submitted budget proposal.

One far off potential application for the agency’s brain research is neural-controlled piloting of drones or better steering for manned aircraft via neurological feedback, which could build off of current research using electroencephalography, or EEG, to pilot robots. EEG is a nonsurgical method for recording the brain’s electromagnetic signals via a cap that’s worn over the skull. Those signals are powerful enough to steer some robots.

In 2010, Northeastern University Electrical engineering professor Deniz Erdogmus and several researchers successfully demonstrated the piloting of a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner using thoughts. In 2012, Chinese researchers at Zhejiang University used EEG to pilot a small consumer UAV. These are the sorts of incremental research breakthroughs that seem to suggest that brain-controlled quad-copters are literally hovering around the corner. But EEG signals are too crude to do brain-based piloting in real time combat operations. Useful gains in this area will require getting not just powerful but more precise signals, and that means getting hot electronics closer to the brain. Unfortunately, soft and delicate brain tissue does not easily mix with circuits. It’s a technical and materials challenge of enormous complexity, but hardly outside of the realm of possibility. A group of researchers from Singapore recently unveiled a neural probe that can be integrated on the brain with little damage to cellular structures.


Prabhakar is cautiously optimistic about the future of human-computer interfacing. She says that current research represents “a door opening” into new applications. “I would say we are now standing on this side of the door looking through and seeing what’s going to come out of it.”

In the near term, a fuller understanding of our three-pound thinking organ would allow for improved situational awareness on the battlefield and better decision-making in life or death environments. “Think about warfighters in these very complex situations where the way that they understand the complexity around them makes all the difference in the world…We’re speculating but it might lead to some great advances.”


Turning the Building Blocks of Life into New Materials

You can define synthetic biology, loosely, as the creation of new, artificial biological structures for new purposes. The field is in its infancy and DARPA’s new office is meant to accelerate current research. One example of that is the 1,000 Molecules program, part of DARPA’s Living Foundries initiative, which is focused on “creating a biologically based manufacturing platform to provide rapid, scalable access to new materials with novel properties.” These new materials would allow for a “new generation of mechanical, electrical, and optical products.”

“What our program is trying to do is create the tools to make [synthetic biology] an engineering discipline. Instead of taking millions of dollars and many years to do even minor projects, we really want to unleash it,” said Prabhakar. “Think about what’s going to be possible for new chemistries beyond petrochemicals. Think about new types of chemicals with all kinds of structural and electronic and optical properties.”

Bioengineered materials derived from living components like lipids and proteins would be several times more diverse and functional than designs based on more traditional approaches to chemistry. Learning to harness the building blocks of life could allow for living materials that are stronger, more flexible, more durable and cheaper than anything available today. Those new materials could make their way into battlefield armor or even electronic components.

Synthetic biology also holds the promise of one day creating entirely new life forms. A group of researchers from the U.S. and U.K. recently announced the creation of the first artificial chromosome, derived from piecing together 273,871 separate DNA nucleotides from yeast, thus achieving a key step in the potential development of designer chromosomes or even new life.


Tricorders, Epidemics and Outrunning Disease

On Star Trek, the USS Enterprise’s doctor, Bones, carries around a handheld device called a “tricorder” that can instantly diagnose any disease. DARPA wants it. Rapidly spreading diseases, whether as a result of biological attack or a naturally-occurring epidemic, present a grave and rising national security threat. As previously discussed, a highly-lethal flu pandemic could result in as many as 150 million deaths.

DARPA is looking to create new diagnostic gadgets and software to give soldiers and decision-makers “a rapid and specific diagnosis of infection so we can actually understand the spread of disease, something we don’t have visibility into right now.” The ability to diagnose infections on site, perhaps with a single, handheld device, and then report the results immediately and globally could allow researchers to quickly identify the unique genetic makeup of emerging illnesses. That could help them to “create vaccines that offer immediate protection rather than vaccines that have a few week waiting period before immunity establishes itself. If we can get those capabilities built we can move faster than the disease is spreading,” said Prabhakar.


The DARPA program is called Autonomous Diagnostics to Enable Prevention and Therapeutics, or ADEPT, and is one example of the effort to conquer biological threats. The agency isn’t alone in moving to build more rapid and deployable diagnostic capabilities. Qualcomm and the X Prize Foundation are sponsoring a $10 million dollar competition to build a handheld diagnostic device. We don’t have to wait for Bones to show before realizing the benefits of the research effort. Today, health workers in Saudi Arabia are already using findings from DARPA’s epidemiology-funded research to stay ahead of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus or MERS-CoV.

Prabhakar said it’s a fine and difficult line to walk, laying the research groundwork for the far future while offering new tools as quickly and as rapidly as possible. “We always are aiming for off-scale impact,” she said. “Meantime, we want to make sure we are delivering concrete capabilities.”


Supreme Court weighs software patents

By Robert Barnes, E-mail the writer

April 1, 2014


The Supreme Court did not seem particularly impressed Monday with the computerized trading “invention” for which Alice Corp. received a patent in the early 1990s.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy guessed that a group of ­computer-savvy folks “sitting around in a coffee shop in Silicon Valley could do this over a weekend.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer thought of an ancient accountant with an abacus telling King Tut when his gold was about to run out or Breyer’s own mother seizing the checkbook when her son was writing checks for more money than he had in his bank account.

In other words, the justices seemed to think the Australia-based company had received a patent simply for invoking old concepts about how to keep a person or entity solvent and then saying that using a computer to keep track of the transactions would help.

But there are broader issues at play in the case that could affect hundreds of thousands of software patents. And the justices were not nearly as clear about what rules should govern those, or whether the court needed to use this case to spell out those rules.

Washington lawyer Carter Phillips, representing Alice Corp., warned of the consequences of choosing wrongly. The court, he said, could “inherently declare, and in one fell swoop, hundreds of thousands of patents invalid, and the consequences of that it seems to me are utterly unknowable.”

The case has drawn the attention of the nation’s biggest technology companies. Some, such as Microsoft and IBM, are concerned about the loss of existing patents. Others, including Google and Facebook, worry that business process patents are too easily awarded, thwart innovation and launch waves of unproductive litigation.

Patents are awarded for inventing any “new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” But over the years, courts have created three exceptions. Those are for “laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.”

Alice and CLS Bank International are in litigation over Alice’s patents for a computer-implemented method of using a third party to ensure that foreign currency transactions proceed smoothly and protect the parties. CLS developed a similar program.

Mark Perry, a Washington lawyer representing CLS, said the court’s recent jurisprudence should settle the matter. In one case, the court said that basic economic principles are abstract ideas and in another it said that simply running such a principle on a computer is not a “patentable application of that principle.”

Phillips struggled to convince the justices that Alice’s patents covered more than that, although he acknowledged that “trying to use language to describe these things is not all that easy.”

He said the company’s patents protect everyone in massive, multiparty transactions in “which you need to deal with difficulties that exist at different time zones simultaneously and to do it with a computer so that you not only take them on chronologically, deal with them sequentially, based on the kind of software analysis that the patent specifically describes by function.”

Breyer seemed to be the justice most interested in trying to find a broader solution. As it is, he said companies are not in “competition on price, service and better production” but on “who has the best patent lawyer.”

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., representing the Obama administration, also asked the court for a broader ruling. He said it could find against Alice just by applying its recent decisions, as Perry indicated.

But he said the court should go beyond that and say that software was eligible for patents only when it provides an “improvement in computing technology or an innovation that uses computing technology to improve other technological functions.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that other interested parties have said the government’s stiff test would “extinguish business method patents and make all software ineligible for patent protection.”

Verrilli said that was an exaggeration. He said it was obvious that lower courts need more specific guidance from the justices. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, for instance, agreed with a district judge that Alice’s patents were invalid, but issued six separate opinions offering different rationales.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., however, noted that the government’s test would require a judge to consider at least six factors.

“I’m just doubtful that that’s going to bring about greater clarity and certainty,” Roberts said.

The case is Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International.


Group urges sweeping civil service reforms

Apr. 1, 2014 – 06:15PM | By ANDY MEDICI | Comments


The federal pay system would shrink from 15 to 5 levels, agencies would have greater flexibility in hiring and pay would be based on performance, under a new system laid out by the Partnership For Public Service in a report released April 2.

The report, issued in partnership with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, calls for overhauling the entire civil service system, including pay, performance management, hiring, job classification, accountability and workplace justice and includes changes to the Senior Executive Service.

“Our nation’s civil service system is a relic of a bygone era,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Our nation’s leadership must make it a priority to create a civil service system that our public servants deserve and that will produce the results our country needs.”

Pay would be tied to similar jobs in the labor market and Congress and the administration would have greater flexibility to control compensation spending, according to the report. The new system would include five levels ranging from “entry” to “executive” that would also cover subject matter experts as well as high-level managers.

Salary increases in the pay scale would apply toward specific occupations within the federal government and would do away with across-the-board pay increases.

The report also lays out a system to promote people into management who want to be there, instead of automatically becoming a manager within certain grades and a more rigorous review process for all employees that ties in more directly to performance.

Employees who fail to meet performance standard will not get a raise and automatic tenure-based pay raises would be eliminated, according to the report.

“Good government starts with good people, and our nation is fortunate to count some of the brightest, most dedicated professionals among its ranks. But they too often succeed in spite of the current system, not because of it,” Stier said.

The American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox call the report a “retread” of the Defense Departments efforts to create a National Security Personnel System, which Congress repealed in 2009.

Cox called the plan a “thinly disguised effort” by Booz Allen Hamilton to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in new business as DoD contract spending shrinks.

“It’s the same, tired old refrain: reallocate salary dollars from rank-and-file, frontline employees to managers,” Cox said. “The well-meaning Partnership for Public Service should not be associated with this shameless attempt by a voracious contractor to conjure up more business for itself.”

He said the changes outlined in the report would undercut decades of progress in fighting against workplace discrimination and that instead the Merit Systems Protection Board should be given more resources to hear cases and protect employees.

“We reject outright the premise that the federal government is somehow broken and in need of urgent repair. On the contrary, federal employees continue to perform heroically despite the unprecedented budget cuts levied against them in recent years,” Cox said.


The report also recommends:

■Creating a four-tier senior executive service that would better prepare accomplished career civil servants for high-level agency positions.

■Filling key government management positions with senior career executives instead of political appointees to provide a long-term perspective and leadership continuity.

■Giving agencies greater flexibility in hiring without compromising such core principles as veterans’ preference, merit-based selection, diversity and equal opportunity

■These recommendations would help fix a “splintered” civil service system that contains a patchwork of hiring authorities, special rules and procedures that create “have and have not” agencies by creating a unified and flexible system, according to the report.


Leaders Study Port, Military Template For National Or Large Scale Crisis

By: Homeland Security Today Staff

04/01/2014 ( 2:22pm)


Public, military and private sector leaders recently concluded meetings to discuss how to turn the Port of Long Beach’s (PoLB) surface and subsurface situational awareness network into a template that can be used by other ports to increase America’s resilience during the first 72 hours of a national or large-scale crisis.

Hosted by PoLB, the ReadyCommunities Partnership (RCP) Military Base and Port Community Resiliency symposium brought dozens of stakeholders together to outline their best practices that exploit readily available commercial off-the-shelf technologies to reinforce a situational awareness network that includes suppliers, contractors, vendors, military, law enforcement and first responders.

“The main theme,” RCP said in an announcement, “was an interest to harness private sector resources to augment the local public sector response capacity.

“America’s resiliency depends upon the commitment to forge public/private partnerships at the local level” said PoLB Board of Harbor Commissioners President Doug Drummond. “That commitment is evidenced here today by your working together to help other communities build on what we’ve learned and practice.”

RCP said “The symposium continues a national series organized by RCP that highlights the importance of America’s strategic military base and port communities to national resiliency and how public/partnerships are essential in a climate of increased competition for diminishing resources.”

PoLB’s Assistant Director of Security Capt. Steve Ruggiero (USN Reserve) described plans and progress to further develop its maritime domain awareness picture through collaboration with its partners including the Port of Los Angeles, longshoremen, law enforcement, first responders, and the private sector.

“The uninterrupted operation of America’s 513 ports and 136 military installations is essential to America’s economy and resiliency,” Ruggiero said.

Attendees emphasized the value of leveraging existing private sector capabilities to help the military and public sector augment their preparedness and response capacity.

“We work with multiple agencies, corporations and communities each year with our rapid Sprint Emergency Response Team to help stand-up interoperable, short-term, critical communications abilities in exercise settings or in real world disaster support,” said RCP advisory board member Tanya Lin-Jones.

“Communications is the foundation of response and recovery and it’s all about building a network of local partners to bridge gaps and practice communicating to prepare for crisis.”

Using ESRI’s Virtual Port solution as an example of how technology with open standards and data exchange interfaces can help military base and port communities build a crisis decision-making platform,” said former Wyoming Governor and director of policy and public sector strategies at ESRI. “Multiple jurisdictions must work together, in routine times, so that in a time of crisis they can immediately shift to the 72 hour response and recovery initial efforts. That capability is at the heart of resiliency.”

“The PoLB has a strong security apparatus with great partnerships, capability and capacity – and its partnerships are built on trust-based relationships and continued interaction working towards a common purpose of keeping it safe and secure and commerce flowing,’ said US Coast Guard Los Angeles–Long Beach Sector (LA-LB) Commander, Capt. James D. Jenkins.

To learn more about how LA-LB is using commercial off-the-shelf technology for situational awareness, see the recent Homeland Security Today report, “Visualizing Maritime Domain Awareness,” by Editor-at-Large Timothy W. Coleman.


Can Drones Help Drought Stricken California?

by Patrick Egan • 2 April 2014


Some experts say that California is in the midst of a 500-year drought event. Others are going so far as to call it the worst drought in history. While this news means a bad year for the states 38 million residents, fishermen and others that rely on water for their livelihoods, it could mean disaster for the million plus acres of permanent crops already in the ground.

Permanent crops are those crops like trees (fruit and nut) and wine grapes. Unlike cotton, rice or alfalfa they represent a long, multiyear commitment. Trees can take seven years to start producing fruit and If you are the unfortunate grower that is facing losing your trees it means letting go of the prior years of investment. Worse still, starting over with new trees could mean that you will have to go a decade with no income as well as enduring the loss of the planted investments.

The numbers are sobering… the following numbers serve as an example of what is at stake.

Almonds for 2012 – 790,000 acres bearing and 80,000 non-bearing acres with an estimated worth of $4,347,000,000.00. (USDA/NASS, Pacific Region office April 2013) That does not include the loss of income from all of the fruit and nut jobs California depends on.

The almonds alone have increased demands on the public water supply is purported to be at least equal to the amount of water that the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) provides to all of its 18,000,000 customers (2,200,000 acre feet) or 155 gallons per person daily. For those, not in the fluids transfer business…, An acre-foot is equivalent to an acre of land covered in 12″ of water.

California has become the nations nut basket, and that is not just a figurative title anymore! 😉

So dire is the predicted situation in the Golden state that besides the President making a special Valentines day trip to California, the Federal Government has just announced that they are setting aside $20 million dollars to aid farmers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says, “It’ll be focused on improving irrigation efficiency, providing producers resources to stabilize fallowed ground that can’t be farmed and to assist with watering facilities and grazing.” Another $14 million was just pledged to improve water management and conservation finding solutions for efficient irrigation and other drought mitigating technologies and measures to help with soil stabilization. At last count, the total aid to the beleaguered California ag sector tops $100 million. Those affected are calling that tidy sum a drop in the bucket, and that bucket just may have a hole in it.

There were those that expressed concerns and warned that permanent crops may not be the best fit for a state that has historically had to have to endure extended dry and wet cycles. Raising the question, how would permanent crops fare during an extended, or even severe dry cycle? Well, many don’t believe anyone could have envisioned a 500-year event, but here we are. We are faced with the very real dilemma of having to decide if we want to sit on the sidelines and let the bottom fall out of this multibillion-dollar nut basket or, we can decide that we are willing to dare as the generations of Californians that have come before us. Ingenuity and technology brought to bear to overcome adversity and save our economy.


Well, a technology solution already exist, but we cannot use it… Drones.

Currently, farmers water the trees at regular intervals, needed or not. This routine is not scientific, but based on a general schedule, not unlike you might gauge it time to water your lawn.

However, multispectral images can detect plant/tree stress two weeks before you would be able to discern the condition prior to being able to see it with the eye. What does that all mean? In some instances, it can mean non-essential over watering. Relative humidity, soil density/composition, wind and ambient temperature are a few of the many factors that can affect irrigation cycles. You can guess, or you can use an efficient, low cost aerial platform to help conserve this finite resource. You may think this is wishful conjecture, but no… The studies have been done.

There were 600 flight conducted between 2007 and 2009 proved that the use of thermal multispectral cameras on a controlled deficit irrigation study. While it would not cure the ills of this drought on its own it would give farmers more mileage out of what little water they have now. Also in future years it gives the grower a tool to save what will only become even scarcer commodity in the future.

This event requires something that California is used to engineering, and that is a technology solution. While unmanned aircraft cannot tackle the whole problem by themselves, they do represent a viable tool that without a doubt can help better manage a finite resource in real time. A cost effective solution to help save permanent crops from permanent loss. This technology properly applied has the potential to reduce the impact.

A tough nut to crack indeed!

This is a perfect application in a perfect area. Sparsely populated for both the safety of those on the ground and in the air, and these nuts do not give a hoot and a holler about privacy. Shouldn’t we collectively be saying, stop the whining and send in the drones?

Did I win the Million-dollar prize for the best idea to help use water more efficiency? 😉


Russian Reaper Revealed

April 2, 2014


New photos of the Altius-M UAS which should be a competitor to the American Reaper UAS were revealed last week. It weighs five tons, can reach a range of 10,000 kilometers and stay aloft for 48 hours.

The “Altius-M” UAS is produced by okb-sokol (Kazan) along with Transas, and the chief designer is Mr Alyaksandr Gomzin. The development and initial design began in early October 2011, and won the Russian Defense Ministry contest to develop a UAS with a takeoff weight of up to 5 tons (the other bidder was RAC, the Russian manufacturer of the MiG aircraft). The contract for the research and development of the “Altius -M” is worth 28 million dollars (billion roubles).

According to the report, the experimental model should begin flight tests during 2014-2015. The assembly of the UAS will be conducted by CAPO-composites.

According to website, the UAS weighs about 5,000 kg, has a range of 10,000 km and is capable to stay aloft for 48 hours. It will include electro-optical payloads and a radar system. The aircraft is driven using two RED A03 type diesel. Details about arming of the UAS have not yet been revealed, but it appears that this is a UAS with offensive capabilities.




3-Star: USAF Materiel Command’s Reorganization ‘Makes Sense’

Apr. 1, 2014 – 10:11AM | By AARON MEHTA | Comments


WASHINGTON — In 2012, US Air Force Materiel Command underwent a massive transforma­tion, consolidating 12 centers around the nation into five locations. Helping to guide that reorganization was Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore, the vice commander. Following those changes, Moore was named commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, where he oversees what he calls “a combination of acquisition and life-cycle support” for the service.

Q. What drove the change in the way Materiel Command is organized?

A. We had these 12 centers, and we realized there was tremendous overhead associated with running those 12 business units as independent entities. We realized we could be far more efficient if we aligned not by geography but by mission. We effectively aligned all those organizations across the country that had a life-cycle management responsibility, that is a responsibility to acquire systems and then support these systems once in the field. Life-cycle management is the combination of acquisition and life-cycle support.

There are 77 locations where I have personnel across the US, with nine larger locations and headquartered at Wright-Patterson in Ohio. My challenge on Day 1 was how to lash together these various organizations that had different ways of doing business and different focus areas and build an integrated corporate process for delivering capability.

Q. Has there been resistance?

A. I sometimes joke that this has been change management at the Ph.D. level. Everyone had a different way of doing business and frankly hadn’t worked that closely with some of their counterparts at other locations. There was a culture change that needed to happen. It was tedious and hard work because you needed people to roll up their sleeves and really understand how we were doing business, what were the best practices, how do we incorporate those and make those our own. What’s really exciting is those who resisted on Day 1 are coming around and saying, this really makes sense.

Q. How has the budget situation impacted your work?

A. One challenge we did not, and could not, anticipate was the budget issues we had to face midstream in this major change. That goes back to last year when we had no budget, operating under a continuing resolution and had sequestration imposition midyear that impacted not just our budget but sustainment and maintenance. The neat thing is on the backside of dealing with those budget shocks, we are adapting and we are making process changes to put us in a better position to deal with those types of budget adjustments. We survived it, we did adapt, and we are learning from that and making our organization more flexible and more agile.

Q. What has industry response to these changes been like?

A. It’s been good. I’ve met with a number of industry teams. Industry typically wants to follow our lead to make sure they are aligned most effectively to engage with us. Early on, there was some level of uncertainty in how best to plug in because they had grown accustomed to the geo-centric way we were operating. If there was a platform they were focused on, their plug-in point may have been at a singular location. Their plug-in is not tied to geography now, it’s tied to that program leadership team. Industry has adapted. One of our key focus areas is building stronger partnerships with industry. As we drive for speed with discipline that we need, [we] must have a cooperative industry partner who sees the same value.

Q. How are you handling the growth in cyber?

A. We don’t just field weapons systems that operate independently today. Every system we field has multiple connections to other systems — system-of-systems capability. That’s our strength, but that is also a vulnerability. So we are attacking vulnerabilities in that complex system of systems to ensure we understand where the potential weakest links are so our systems can always operate for full [effectiveness] in a compromised cyber environment.

We’re all waking up to the criticality of getting cyber resiliency right in our design in our protections for weapons systems. We fielded systems when cyber wasn’t cool, and we’re addressing every one of those thousands of systems to make sure we understand if there are potential vulnerabilities. Program managers need to do that, and it’s something that is now front and center for them.


Some fast food outlets closing on military bases

New federal wage rules may be factor, sources say

Mar. 17, 2014 – 06:00AM | 13Comments

By Karen Jowers

Staff writer


Four restaurants, including three McDonald’s outlets, will close within the next three weeks on Navy installations, according to Navy Exchange Service Command officials.

And two other contractors — a name-brand sandwich eatery and a name-brand pizza parlor — have asked to be released from their Army and Air Force Exchange Service contracts to operate fast food restaurants at two other installations, according to AAFES officials.

A source with knowledge of military on-base resale operations said the issue likely has to do with two new government regulations — one implemented, one pending — that will affect wages for contract workers in such on-base concessions.

These closings “are the tip of the iceberg,” the source said. “I don’t think anybody has realized what the far-reaching effects of this will be.”

McDonald’s restaurants will close at Naval Weapons Station Charleston, S.C., on March 16; at Naval Support Activity, Bethesda, Md., on March 21; and at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, Wash., on March 31, said Kathleen Martin, a NEXCOM spokeswoman.

Another eatery, I Love Country, has notified NEXCOM that it will close its restaurant at Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on April 4, Martin said.

Martin said the McDonald’s outlets “came to the end of their contract term. We were in the process of renegotiating and McDonald’s made the unilateral decision to close those three” outlets. She referred questions about the reasons for the closures to McDonald’s.

Lisa McComb, a company spokeswoman, said McDonald’s, along with the independent owner/operators of the individual restaurants, are closing the three eateries “due to the fact that we have lost our lease.”

McDonald’s independent owners operate about 30 restaurants on military installations. “Whenever we reach the end of a term, whether on a military site or otherwise, we consider many factors in deciding whether to renegotiate a new term,” McComb said.

She said the owners of the three closing outlets are offering affected employees transfers to other nearby McDonald’s restaurants.

Martin said new Labor Department rules issued last fall for fast food workers on federal contracts under the Service Contract Act require an increase in the minimum wage for such employees, varying by region. The rules also require payment of new, additional “health and welfare” fringe benefits at a rate of $3.81 per hour to those employees.

Contractor-operated fast food concessions on military installations fall under those regulations.

The new rules “have to be part of any contract we negotiate,” said Martin, adding that many vendor partners “have verbally indicated hesitation” to accept contract changes reflecting the revised wage rules.

“NEXCOM is working closely with our contracted food service providers to assess the impact of the new wage determinations,” she said. “This is part of the quality-of-life benefit we provide to sailors and their families, and our goal is to continue to do that.”

In addition, President Obama recently signed an executive order that will increase the minimum wage for employees of companies with new federal contracts beginning Jan. 1. At that time, the minimum wage for all federal contract workers — not just those working for fast food concessions — will increase to $10.10 from the current $7.25. It is not yet known how far-reaching the effects will be for contracts on military installations.

The wage hikes are good news for the many military spouses and veterans who work for these contractors — but only if the concessionaires continue to operate.

“At the end of the day, there will be fewer jobs,” said the industry source. “And for [the contractors] who stick it out, there will be higher costs and the customers will pay more.”

The two AAFES contractors asking to be released from their contracts did so after the new Labor Department wage rules were released.

AAFES officials are declining at this time to name the two name-brand restaurants, said spokesman Chris Ward, although he added that there is no set timeframe for that to happen.

“Once the paperwork is completed by both parties, they’ll be out of it at that time,” he said.


Concessions contracts are negotiated on a rolling basis for fast food restaurants on military installations throughout the year, so exchange officials continue to monitor and assess the impact of the new wage rules.

AAFES officials said the Service Contract Act has had a limited impact on their operations because that exchange service directly operates about 75 percent of its fast food outlets.

The new wage rules “were a small concern, but not a major concern,” in the I Love Country Cafe eatery’s decision not to renew the contract at Pearl Harbor, said Richard Chan, a spokesman for the company.

“The Hawaii labor market is tight and we need to pool our resources and move to other areas,” he said, adding that the Navy has posted signs to let the customers know about the impending move.

“We really enjoy serving the service members of our country,” he said. “Some customers are sad, but our other locations are not too far from the bases.”


Indiana-Ohio Officials Continue Work on Drone Test Site

Though the region was overlooked as an official FAA drone test site, area congressmen are working to showcase the its assets for unmanned aerial vehicle research.



WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Despite the Ohio/Indiana region being overlooked as an official FAA drone test site, area congressmen are continuing to build relationships between the states to showcase the region’s assets for unmanned aerial vehicle research.

On Monday, Congressman Mike Turner, R-Dayton, brought U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-Indiana, to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Today, Turner will join Young on a tour of two military installations where some drone systems developed in the Dayton and Springfield region will go for real-world field testing.

Young, serving his second term in Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, will show Turner the National Guard’s Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in his district, as well as the jointly-operated Muscatatuck Urban Training Center. Turner said he’s heard Muscatatuck described as “Calamityville on steroids,” referring to the National Center for Medical Readiness at Calamityville located in Fairborn.

Young said he was impressed with the work being done in southwest Ohio in support of the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex following a tour of the Air Force Research Lab.

“One of the things I came to appreciate today was the virtual technologies that can be integrated into training that have been developed right here at Wright-Patt,” Young said. “Those will serve as force multipliers of sorts for any training that might be occurring at the Atterbury-Muscatatuck Complex. ”

Turner, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, and Young, on Ways and Means Committee, also met with representatives of the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex, including director Dick Honneywell, and David Gallagher, chief of staff. They also received a briefing from Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, and Col. Cassie Barlow, 88th Air Base Wing and Installation commander.

The UAS industry could create as many as 34,000 manufacturing jobs in the next few years, according to a report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Annual spending on UAS systems will reach $11.6 billion in 10 years, according to a Teal Group report.

Gallagher said both congressmen recognize the economic impact UAS systems may have on the region moving forward.

“UAS is going to be here before we know it. The future’s coming and we’re just combining our assets to help facilitate that and the economic development,” Gallagher said.

The two states worked unsuccessfully in an attempt to bring one of the six national UAS test centers awarded by the FAA to the region. Both congressmen said it still makes sense for the two states to continue collaborating.

“What we found from getting our briefing from the FAA that in addition to the opportunities of working with the six test sites, there are also stand-alone opportunities,” Turner said. “Since we are already flying in both Indiana and Ohio in a coordinated fashion and doing research and development, we’re going to remain a very critical player.”

Turner said the two states complement each other’s capabilities.

“Some of the airspace that’s in Indiana has operational capability that we do not have here currently in Ohio,” Turner said. “And Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in its data collection and research and development, is developing real time UAV and UAS operational testing capability. That is being linked with sites in Indiana.”

Gallagher said the benefit of the airspace at the Atterbury site in Indiana provides the ability to fly larger, unmanned military vehicles “when there’s nothing below it.”

The Ohio/Indiana UAS Center is headquartered in Springfield and oversees UAS testing at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, the National Center for Medical Readiness at Calamityville, Wilmington Air Park and the Buckeye/Brushcreek Military Operating Areas here in Ohio as well as the sites including Camp Atterbury and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana.



Defined by critics, big ag restarts conversation

Associated Press

By MARY CLARE JALONICK December 29, 2013 6:30 PM–finance.html


OKAWVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Add one more item to the list of chores that Larry Hasheider has to do on his 1,700-acre farm: defending his business to the American public.

There’s a lot of conversation about traditional agriculture recently, and much of it is critical. Think genetically modified crops, overuse of hormones and antibiotics, inhumane treatment of animals and over-processed foods.

This explosion of talk about food — some based on fact, some based on fiction — has already transformed the marketplace. Slow to respond and often defensive, farmers and others in agribusiness have for several years let critics define the public debate and influence consumers. Now, the industry is trying to push farmers and businesses to fight back, connecting with those consumers through social media and outreach that many in agriculture have traditionally shunned.

“We as farmers now have another role in addition to being farmers,” Hasheider says as he takes a break from harvesting his corn crop. “It’s something you have to evolve into.”

In addition to corn, Hasheider grows soybeans, wheat and alfalfa on the farm nestled in the heart of Illinois corn country. He cares for 130 dairy cows, 500 beef cattle and 30,000 hogs. And now, he’s giving tours of his farm, something he says he never would have done 20 years ago.

“We didn’t think anyone would be interested in what we were doing,” he says.

Like a lot of other farmers, Hasheider was wrong.

Take the issue of genetically modified foods. There has been little scientific evidence to prove that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but consumer concerns and fears — many perpetuated through social media and the Internet — have forced the issue. A campaign to require labeling of modified ingredients on food packages has steadily gained attention, and some retailers have vowed not to sell them at all.

Makers of the engineered seeds and the farmers and retailers who use them stayed largely silent, even as critics put forth a simple, persuasive argument: Consumers have a right to know if they are eating genetically modified foods.

Modified seeds are now used to grow almost all of the nation’s corn and soybean crops, most of which are turned into animal feed.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a well-known critic of food companies and artificial and unhealthy ingredients in foods, has not opposed genetically modified foods, on the basis that there’s no evidence they are harmful.

Still, director Michael Jacobson says, the issue has taken on a life of its own to the general public.

Companies like Monsanto Corp. “try to argue back with facts, but emotions often trump facts,” Jacobson says. “They are faced with a situation where critics have an emotional argument, a fear of the unknown.”

Perhaps no one understands this dynamic better than Robert Fraley, who was one of the first scientists to genetically modify seeds and now is executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto. He says the company was late to the public relations game as critics worked to vilify it, even holding marches on city streets to protest Monsanto by name.

Fraley says he has spent “more than a few nights” thinking about the company’s image problem. He says Monsanto always thought of itself as the first step in the chain and has traditionally dealt more with farmers than consumers.

About a year ago, in an attempt to dispel some of the criticism, the company started addressing critics directly and answering questions through social media and consumer outreach. The company is also reaching out to nutritionists and doctors, people whom consumers may consult. Fraley is personally tweeting — and, like Hasheider, he says it’s something he never would have thought about doing just a few years ago.

“We were just absent in that dialogue, and therefore a lot of the urban legends just got amplified without any kind of logical balance or rebuttal,” Fraley says of the criticism.

At a recent conference of meat producers, David Wescott, director of digital strategy at APCO Worldwide, told ranchers they needed to do a better job connecting with — and listening to — mothers, who often communicate on social media about food and make many of the household purchasing decisions.

“It’s a heck of a lot more convincing when a mom says something than when a brand does,” says Wescott, who says he has worked with several major farm and agriculture companies to help them reach out to consumers, especially moms.

Other farm groups, like Illinois Farm Families, are inviting moms to tour the fields. Tim Maiers of the Illinois Pork Producers Association says the group has found that consumers generally trust farmers, but they have a lot of questions about farming methods.

One of the moms, Amy Hansmann, says that though she remains concerned about the amount of processed foods and chemicals in the food supply, her experiences touring conventional farms with Illinois Farm Families changed her thinking. She was particularly amazed by the big farmers’ use of technology and attempts to be sustainable.

Hansmann says that before the tour, her perception from the media was that these big farmers were “evil capitalists” who focused only on their businesses and not on the care of the land or animals.

“What I found couldn’t be further from the truth,” she says.

Chris Chinn, a blogger and a fifth generation farmer and mom from Clarence, Mo., is trying to reach out to others like Hansmann, too. Chinn, 38, carves 20 minutes or more out of her schedule every day to get on Twitter, comment on online articles and update her blog. Her internet service can be spotty in rural Clarence, but she sometimes types out entire blog posts on her smartphone and tries to respond to every Tweet that is directed to her — some of them nasty.

“We’ve been late to the game, and we realized that if we don’t start sharing, people are going to start forming opinions about you,” says Chinn, who is working with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, formed by more than 80 farm groups to try to improve agriculture’s message.

Chinn says she started using social media because of animal rights campaigns that have aimed to eliminate gestation crates that she and other hog farmers use for pregnant sows. Hog farmers say the crates are important to keep the pigs and their piglets safe; animal rights groups say they are inhumane and have pushed state legislatures to get rid of them.

Chinn says her smaller farm could go under if she was forced to get rid of the crates, because she and her husband wouldn’t be able to get a loan for new equipment. She believes that if people knew more about these operations, they would understand.

Some critics say that dialogue isn’t going to be enough, arguing that the companies will have to make some real concessions in addition to defending what they do if they are going to win over consumers. They point to Monsanto’s expensive campaigns against mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in California and Washington State. The company won both fights.

Fighting the mandatory labels has “made it look like big ag has more to hide,” says Gary Hirshberg, a co-founder of the organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farm. He has worked in the past few years on the labeling campaign. Hirshberg and other critics have argued that Monsanto and retailers should just accept the labels and move on.

Some farmers have decided that responding to consumer preference is the smartest route for their businesses. Nestled in low hills along the Missouri River just west of St. Louis, John Ridder has a 1,500 acre farm and a herd of 200 cattle. His wife, Heidi, recently created a Facebook profile for their cattle ranch, and the two have worked with the Missouri Beef Industry Council to reach out to consumers.

They say they are shocked by some of the misperceptions about agriculture on the Internet, like the assumption that most cattle operations are so-called “factory farms.”

At the same time, they realize they are somewhat powerless in the conversation.


John says he stopped using growth hormones in his cattle because consumers don’t want them. “We don’t do it because we don’t want to have to explain how we do it,” he says.

Many farmers are taking that a step further and taking advantage of the consumer trends — labeling foods as natural or local.

“It’s the first time any of us have seen anything like this,” says Ken Colombini of the National Corn Growers Association. “The more that kind of demand builds, the more we’re going to have to change what we’re doing.”


New Windows 8.1 update reportedly hits final stage

Microsoft pushes the spring update for Windows 8.1 into RTM mode and sends it to PC partners, according to The Verge and Russian leaker Wzor.

by Lance Whitney

March 4, 2014 6:16 AM PST


The “spring” update to Windows 8.1 is purportedly now in the hands of PC and tablet makers.

Microsoft has signed off on the update and moved it into the RTM (release-to-manufacturing) stage, The Verge said on Tuesday, citing “sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans.” A similar tidbit was served by Russian leaker Wzor, who tweeted that the Windows 8.1 spring update was signed off by Microsoft on February 26 and is now final.

The update has begun to reach device makers to test and install on their products, The Verge added. Windows 8.1 users are due to receive the update in early April.

Microsoft finally confirmed the Windows 8.1 update at Mobile World Congress last week. The update has been designed to reduce the reliance on the Start screen and improve certain options for good, old-fashioned PCs.

Users will be able to launch Metro apps from the desktop, more easily minimize or close those apps, and shut down Windows via the mouse’s right-click button.

Based on the initial details, the update sounds like a step in the right direction, at least for PC users not yet sold on Microsoft’s latest OS. But will it be enough to revive sluggish sales of Windows 8.1 devices, or will it be a case of too little, too late?


Windows 8.1 update fixes many common issues

April 2, 2014 9:28 AM PDT


The latest update to Windows 8 will be available on April 8 and brings much-needed tweaks for desktop users, restoring some of the features Windows users have been missing since the Metro interface first launched.

First and foremost, the OS now detects whether you’re using a tablet or desktop and mouse setup, and delivers the best experience for your device. This means that upon launch, if you’re on a desktop computer, the OS will boot straight to the desktop, and on a tablet, you’ll get the touchable tiles of Microsoft’s modern interface. But don’t worry if you prefer the way Windows currently behaves; you still have the option to choose your startup preferences in the settings.

Microsoft also made some changes with full-screen apps making them a lot more intuitive for desktop users and more in line with the history of the Windows OS. Full screen apps now (once again) have a title bar at the top, with the X in the upper right so you can quit out of an app easily with a click of your mouse.

With the modern interface out of the way on your desktop, it makes sense that Microsoft would find a way to make the Windows Store more accessible. Now, with this latest update, the Windows Store is automatically pinned to the taskbar on your desktop.

One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 was the loss of the Start Button as we knew it in previous versions of Windows, and we’re still not going to get a fix in this update, but there’s some good news. As we know, Windows 8.1 brought back the Start Button for some functions, but still didn’t offer many of the most used features in older Windows versions. Microsoft announced that a future update will give us a mash up of both the traditional Start Button view and the live tiles. So, with a click you will be able to get recently opened apps, your documents folder, and other common options found in older versions of the Start Menu, but on the right, you’ll get the live tiles from the modern interface. It seems like a good compromise between the two, and I think it’s the setup most people have been asking for.


Hell freezes over: Microsoft makes Windows free for some devices

‘One of the boldest moves Microsoft has made,’ says analyst of commitment to give away Windows for smartphones and tablets with screens smaller than 9-in.

By Gregg Keizer

April 2, 2014 04:18 PM ET


Computerworld – Microsoft today said that it would give away licenses to Windows Phone and Windows to device makers building smartphones or tablets with screens smaller than 9-in. measured diagonally.

“In my view, this is one of the boldest moves Microsoft has made in recent memory” said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC, in an interview after today’s three-hour keynote at Microsoft’s Build developers conference. “It’s pretty powerful.”

“This is a very big deal,” agreed Carolina Milanesi, strategic insight director of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “It’s a change at how they look at their cash cow, looking at the bigger picture now and what they need to do to win the mobile story, if you like.”

Others echoed the “wow” factor of Microsoft’s unprecedented decision, characterizing it as a major milestone in the company’s 38-year history.

“It’s the day Microsoft finally capitulated to the changing market driven by the disruption led by Apple, Google and the smartphone ecosystem,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email interview.

Terry Myerson, the Microsoft executive who heads the firm’s operating systems engineering group, made the surprise announcement at Build, which opened Wednesday and runs through Friday in San Francisco.

“We want to get this platform out there,” Myerson told the audience, composed primarily of developers. “We want to remove all friction. To drive adoption of your applications, on phones and tablets less than 9-in., we are making Windows available for zero dollars.”

The freeing of Windows on smaller devices — although small is relative, since many smartphones boast screens of around 5-in. — was in line with earlier moves, including the lowering of system requirements to fit on less-expensive hardware with minimal amounts of system memory and storage space, as well as reports last month that the company was slashing licensing prices for some devices by 70%.

Even so, it marks a sea change.

“While I don’t see this as a last-ditch effort to get traction with Windows in the mobile market, it’s getting closer,” Moorhead contended. “Microsoft has very low mindshare in phones and tablets and no mindshare in wearables, so the free operating system, simply put, was a requirement.”

“This helps level the playing field,” said Gillen, referring to Windows and Google’s Android.


Microsoft has adopted a strategy strikingly similar to that of its arch rival, which essentially gives away its Android mobile operating system, a key reason why Android now powers the majority of new devices shipped each month.

“This was absolutely key if they wanted to make any difference in mobile,” said Milanesi. “It’s what they needed to do in a market where they are competing with Android.”

t also marked Microsoft’s flat-out admission that it could not make money in using its decades-old business model of selling licenses to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and ODMs (original device manufacturers), but had to hunt for a new revenue generator, which it has described as “devices and services.”

However, there’s little immediate financial risk, said Milanesi, who noted that Microsoft was actually putting small amounts on the bottom line from Windows licensing to smartphone and tablet ODMs and OEMs.

“On the phone side, Microsoft wasn’t really [generating] revenue,” Milanesi said. “The money was very minimal, and most of that was coming from Nokia. With Nokia becoming part of the [Microsoft] business, that was going to go away. And on the tablet side, with how they were incentivizing, there wasn’t much money there either.”

Revenue has also been puny because Windows has struggled to climb out of the single-digit shipment share cellar. In the December quarter, researcher IDC pegged Windows’ share of smartphone shipments at just 3%.

Rather than rely on licensing revenue, Microsoft will need to leverage customers by showing them ads or selling them services, with Office its single best shot there for the moment.

“In the context of Microsoft’s ‘devices and services’ strategy, free operating systems facilitate increased sales of services and hardware,” noted Moorhead. “With increased hardware volume comes a larger market which attracts developers to the Windows platform.”

Milanesi described Microsoft’s revenue strategy differently. “It lets them get users, especially emerging market users, on a Windows phone,” she said. “It may get those users away from the other ecosystems, it may not lose them to start with.”

And as it entices more people into the Windows ecosystem, Microsoft will have a better shot at keeping them, hoping to make money off those customers in the future through sales of PCs — which, though in decline, aren’t going to vanish, Milanesi argued — as well as current and future services.

“They’re going after a Google model,” said Milanesi. “They’re saying, ‘We just want to be in people’s hands.'”


Unmanned Predator lost power, crashed into Mediterranean

Apr. 2, 2014 – 07:36PM |

By Brian Everstine

Staff writer


An MQ-1B Predator flying a 20-hour mission in Africa crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on Sept. 17, the Air Force announced today.


A failed power converter led to the crash, which destroyed the unarmed drone and its communication pod valued at $5.3 million, according to an Air Combat Command abbreviated accident investigation board report released Wednesday.

The aircraft was deployed from the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev.

The Air Force did not release the base from which the drone was flying. The Air Force has flown unmanned reconnaissance missions from countries such as Niger, Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Seychelles. The service also did not specify where in the Mediterranean the mishap occurred.

According to the report, the Predator’s crew members noticed a loss in communication with the aircraft just before they handed control over to the Launch and Recovery Element, which is tasked with landing the aircraft. The crew went through their checklists and told the ground control station that they could not establish contact with the aircraft, according to an Air Combat Command release.

The ground control station logged electrical, flight control and engine warning indications, which the investigation board president found were a direct result of a power converter malfunction in the aircraft’s control module.

The loss of control caused the aircraft to spiral and crash into the sea, the report states.


DHS Quietly Delivers Hacker Footprints To Industry

By Aliya Sternstein


A little-known website sitting behind a firewall has been exchanging sensitive hack intelligence between companies and agencies at a rate of one new threat hallmark per hour, a top Homeland Security Department official said.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Collaboration Program, launched in 2011, virtually convenes about 70 critical industry and analytics organizations – think energy companies — as well as federal departments. The result is bulletins provided in formats that computers can “read” so they can apply the appropriate protections. And containment recommendations are pumped out in plain text that people can read.

“It enables us to identify those threats or organizations” that are a danger, said Roberta Stempfley, DHS acting assistant secretary of cybersecurity and communications. “We have shared through this program more than 26 unique indicators a day. You wouldn’t think that that sounds like a large number. But it’s unique indicators in a day. That’s more than one an hour.”

She was speaking at a Washington, DC cybersecurity event hosted by FedScoop.

“Those are things that aren’t typically widely publicized activities,” Stempfley said. “They are generally unclassified indicators.”

Even as data breaches become more extensive, industries, such as major retailers, struggle to talk about the threats they are seeing. The reasons for the silence include fears about liability, government snooping and injured reputations.

On Wednesday, Stempfley acknowledged this tension among potential victims is a problem.


“The biggest challenge to collaboration today is to handle it honestly — we each come to the conversation with your issues and you hold it close, she said “And collaboration becomes a negotiation. It’s difficult to collaborate when you are negotiating.”


How a Chinese Tech Firm Became the NSA’s Surveillance Nightmare

BY KIM ZETTER 03.27.14 | 6:30 AM | PERMALINK


The NSA’s global spy operation may seem unstoppable, but there’s at least one target that has proven to be a formidable obstacle: the Chinese communications technology firm Huawei, whose growth could threaten the agency’s much-publicized digital spying powers.

An unfamiliar name to American consumers, Huawei produces products that are swiftly being installed in the internet backbone in many regions of the world, displacing some of the western-built equipment that the NSA knows — and presumably knows how to exploit — so well.

That obstacle is growing bigger each year as routers and other networking equipment made by Huawei Technologies and its offshoot, Huawei Marine Networks, become more ubiquitous. The NSA and other U.S. agencies have long been concerned that the Chinese government or military — Huawei’s founder is a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army — may have installed backdoors in Huawei equipment, enabling it for surveillance. But an even bigger concern is that with the growing ubiquity of Huawei products, the NSA’s own surveillance network could grow dark in areas where the equipment is used.

For that reason, as the latest Snowden revelations showed last week, the spy agency reportedly hacked Huawei as part of an operation launched in 2007. The plan involved stealing source code for some of Huawei’s products in the hope of finding vulnerabilities. Such security holes could allow the NSA to exploit the products and spy on traffic in countries where Huawei equipment is used — such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, and Cuba.

“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” an internal NSA document obtained by Snowden noted in 2010, according to the New York Times. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products … to gain access to networks of interest” around the world.

The spies might also have been seeking access to Huawei routers through management consoles operated by Huawei support staff, giving them privileged access to customer systems.

Just how widely used are Huawei products?

The concerns about Chinese government influence over Huawei have kept the company’s products out of the North American market for the most part, as well as some other western markets. But because of price-cutting, Huawei has become popular in parts of Latin America and the Middle East and is currently the leader in the world’s $13-billion-a-year market for fiber optical networking equipment, having surpassed Alcatel-Lucent and other companies.

The optical market includes all networking equipment, minus the cables, used for communicating over land-based optic and ethernet networks — this includes switches, repeaters that amplify the signal strength on long-haul transmissions, and landing-station equipment installed where undersea cables come ashore.


The company pulled in about $3 billion last year in that market, primarily in Asia-Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, according to technology research firm IDC.

Even more important, Huawei is also the fourth-largest provider of backbone routers, according to IDC, after Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, and Juniper Networks.

Huawei produces a variety of routers for home and small businesses and for connecting cell phone sites on mobile networks. The overall router market in 2013 was about $14 billion. Cisco grabbed about 60 percent of that market share, while Huawei had $1.3 billion last year. That’s just 10 percent of the total market, but the company’s growth in this area has been steady. In 2011, the company sold about 35,000 routers worldwide. That increased to 49,000 in 2012 and 54,000 last year.

The biggest growth in router revenue, however, has come primarily from its sale of 400G routers used for the internet backbone.

“They’re making inroads into what Cisco and Juniper had, [which was] 97 percent of that market up until three years ago,” says Nav Chander, research manager for telecom business services and associated carrier network infrastructure for IDC’s Worldwide Telecom Division. “Huawei is displacing Cisco and Juniper in other regions outside of the U.S.”

Customers that signed router contracts with Huawei last year for packages that contained 400G routers include top telecoms in a number of countries, including Swisscom in Switzerland and DNA in Finland, Saudi Telecom Company and MTN Group’s operations in Africa and the Middle East, Telkom in South Africa, America Movil in Ecuador and Brazil, Telefonica’s operations in Brazil, and Entel in Chile.

Huawei entered the core backbone router market only about six years ago with its 100G routers, but has aggressively undercut competitors’ prices to gain a swift foothold. Backbone routers can run anywhere between $50,000 to several million dollars for core units, Chander says.

“Some of the big routers, when you add all the pieces, these are very powerful routers handling tens of millions of phone calls and billions of transactions. They’re probably 1,000 or more times the capacity than even existed five years ago,” he says.

But Huawei cut its prices by 25 to 50 percent in some cases, working its way into the market by appealing to service providers who are struggling financially to compete. Advanced 400G routers have only been available from Huawei and other companies for a couple of years, but IDC estimates that Huawei has sold over $500 million worth of 400G and previous-generation 100G backbone routers in the past three years. The company announced 53 contracts in the last half of 2013 for its 400G routers, including one in Spain.

“I think the pricing helped Huawei get in the door in many of these markets like Latin America, where Huawei was nowhere seven or eight years ago,” Chander says. “[Service providers] said, ‘We have no choice, it’s so cheap, we can’t afford not to look at it.’ They’ve created beachheads in many of these markets.”

One of the company’s biggest coups in the west occurred in 2005 when British Telecom signed a £10 billion multi-year deal with Huawei for optical equipment and routers, a purchase that shocked parliamentarians when they learned about the done-deal.

Chander says that British Telecom didn’t buy Huawei core backbone routers but did use the Chinese company’s other equipment on the broadband network used by residential and some government customers. But this doesn’t preclude the equipment from also being used on the private networks that corporate clients lease for their traffic.

“You can use the same [equipment] to switch internet and private traffic,” he notes. “Years ago you’d have separate, dedicated hardware and software for the private part. But with cloud services and regulation, and because it’s so expensive to maintain this equipment, [some companies] decide to consolidate these networks.”

It’s unclear how much of an inroad the NSA has made into exploiting Huawei routers and networking equipment, but the agency may have bigger problems in a few years as the market for networking equipment shifts to software-based techniques.

Chander says the NSA contacted him about five months ago to have him brief some of its employees by phone about the move to so-called software-defined networks. The concept was developed at Stanford University and UC Berkeley. At its core is the idea that the systems that decide where traffic should go can be separated from the systems that actually transmit it to its destination, removing some of the functionality from hardware that does the latter job by replacing it with software applications that can communicate across platforms regardless of which company made the hardware.

Software-defined networks will open the development of software networking solutions to hundreds of other companies and independent developers to build applications and services that communicate with hardware made by Cisco, Juniper and other companies, much the way thousands of app developers currently create differing programs to run on Apple devices today.

Chander says this move will be good for innovation but bad for spying because, he says, “the NSA will have less control over it.”

“The traditional way of getting into networks has been somewhat easy, because with Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei, those are defined equipment and tech, and those are only four companies to worry about,” he says. “Now you will have millions of developers over the next few years, as you open up the networking world to [development]. There could be literally thousands of products [the NSA will] have to manage and figure out how to break into.”

Chander was never told who was on the call for his phone briefing with the NSA last year but says “they were very interested in what I saw [happening] in the market. You read between the lines.”


Wanna Build a Rocket? NASA’s About to Give Away a Mountain of Its Code



Forty years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, NASA open sourced the software code that ran the guidance systems on the lunar module.

By that time, the code was little more than a novelty. But in recent years, the space agency has built all sorts of other software that is still on the cutting edge. And as it turns out, like the Apollo 11 code, much of this NASA software is available for public use, meaning anyone can download it and run it and adapt it for free. You can even use it in commercial products.

But don’t take our word for it. Next Thursday, NASA will release a master list of software projects it has cooked up over the years. This is more than just stuff than runs on a personal computer. Think robots and cryogenic systems and climate simulators. There’s even code for running rocket guidance systems.

This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions — and help them dream up new ideas. Some code is only available to certain people — the rocket guidance system, for instance — but if you can get it, you can use it without paying royalties or copyright fees. Within a few weeks of publishing the list, NASA says, it will also offer a searchable database of projects, and then, by next year, it will host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.

It’s all part of a White House-directed push to open up the federal government, which is the country’s largest creator of public domain code, but also a complete laggard when it comes to sharing software. Three years ago, President Obama ordered federal agencies to speed up tech transfer programs like this. And while the feds have been slow, the presidential directive is starting to bear fruit. In February, DARPA published a similar catalog, making it easier for entrepreneurs to get ahold of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s code too.

NASA has run a technology transfer program for over 50 years. It has given us everything from the Dustbuster to Giro bicycle helmets to “space rose,” a unique perfume scent forged in zero-Gs. But it’s high time the agency actively pushed out its software code as well. Increasingly, NASA’s research and development dollars are paying for software, says Daniel Lockney, Technology Transfer Program Executive with NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist. “About a third of everything we invent ends up being software these days,” he says.


From Star Mapper to Bear Tracker

Already, NASA software has been used to do some pretty amazing stuff outside the agency. In 2005, marine biologists adapted the Hubble Space Telescope’s star-mapping algorithm to track and identify endangered whale sharks. That software has now been adapted to track polar bears in the arctic and sunfish in the Galapagos Islands. “Our design software has been used to make everything from guitars to roller coasters to Cadillacs,” Lockney says. “Scheduling software that keeps the Hubble Space Telescope operations straight has been used for scheduling MRIs at busy hospitals and as control algorithms for online dating services.”

All of the software that NASA writes is copyright free, and although the aforementioned rocket guidance system code and other software may be too sensitive to share, many other projects can be shared with anyone — in theory, at least. If the NASA software isn’t open-source, you need to get cleared by the space agency for a release. Sometimes, this is as simple as proving that you’re a U.S. citizen and signing a usage agreement. The problem is that with more than a thousand projects — coded by software developers at 10 different field centers — it has been tricky for outsiders to get an idea of what NASA has. That’s why Lockney and his staff built this master catalog.

It was no easy task. “The agency is so spread out that putting everything together…and making it all match has been one of the biggest challenges,” he says. By Lockney’s count, the agency has about 227 public projects, hosted on sites such as GitHub and Source Forge and even NASA’s own website. It had been sharing a lot more code via word of mouth, but putting the 1,000 projects he found in a single catalog will make it a lot easier to figure out what software NASA has.

Lockney expects the catalog to “grow significantly” after it gets released. “More code will come out of the woodwork. And we’ll process it, categorize it, write up a plain language explanation of what it is, and add it to the catalog.” It’s a daunting task, but there’s no better agency to pull off an open-source moon shot.


The Pentagon’s Mad Science Is Going Open Source

By Klint Finley


National security is often synonymous with secrecy. But when it comes to software development, the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment can be surprisingly open.

This week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — or DARPA, the research arm of the U.S. Defense department — published a list of all the open source computer science projects it has funded, including links to source code and academic papers that detail the code’s underlying concepts.

Anyone is free to not only peruse the source code and add to it, but actually use it to build their own software — and that includes foreign governments. The belief is that because anyone can contribute to these projects, the quality of the code will only improve, making the software more useful to everyone. It’s an approach that has paid off in spades among web companies from Google and Facebook to Twitter and Square, and the government has now realized that it too can benefit from the open source ethos.

The Softer Side of DARPA

DARPA is known for some pretty whacked out projects. Mind controlled exoskeletons. Space colonization. Turning pets into intelligence assets. That sort of thing. But it does have a more sober side. The agency funded the creation of the network that eventually became the internet, for example. And, more recently, it funded work on Mesos, the open source platform used by Twitter to scale applications across thousands of servers. It’s more of the latter that shows up on DARPA’s new site.

The site is focused on computer science research, so projects that fall outside of that discipline — such as the OpenBCI brain scanner and the open source amphibious tank — won’t be found on the list. But there’s still quite a few important projects, including Mesos, the in-memory data processing systemApache Spark, and the Julia programming language for mathematicians and scientists.

Most of these DARPA-backed projects are on GitHub, the popular code hosting and collaboration service that has come to symbolize the type of non-hierarchical collaboration celebrated by open source enthusiasts and tech culture in general. The site makes it easy for anyone to examine source code, suggest changes, and discuss decisions. Mirroring the way it treats software, the company itself operates with no job titles, no middle management, and only a thin layer of top-level management, preferring instead flat or “holacratic” structure.

When the Military Invented Open Source

That sort of non-hierarchical thinking may seem at odds with military culture, but in reality, many of these ideas were pioneered by military researchers. Today, we often trace the origins of open source software to work done by industrial research labs like Bell Labs and Xerox PARC. But in his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner argues that open source’s roots stretch back even further to the World War II era defense research laboratories that created technologies such as radar, the atomic bomb, submarines, aircraft, and, yes, digital computers. “The laboratories within which the research and development took place witnessed a flourishing of nonhierarchical, interdisciplinary collaboration,” Turner writes.

He points to the MIT Radiation Laboratory — which was formed by the National Defense Research Committee, a predecessor of sorts to DARPA — as a model example. “It brought together scientists and mathematicians from MIT and elsewhere, engineers and designers from industry, and many different military and government planners,” Turner says. “Formerly specialized scientists were urged to become generalists in their research, able not only to theorize but also to design and build new technologies.”

Today, we’re more familiar with the NSA’s cloak and dagger approach to research, but the collaborative approach of the WWII era military-industrial-academic complex has never really gone away. The Army recently partnered with Local Motors to crowdsource new military vehicle designs. The CIA created In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm that funds tech startups, including open source big data companies like Cloudant and MongoDB. Even the NSA is part of the action, open sourcing its big data storage system Accumulo.

In other words, the defense industry sees what Facebook and Twitter and so many other web companies see: that innovation often comes from openness.


South Africa – CAA to hit illegal drone flyers with hefty fines

by Gary Mortimer • 3 April 2014


Johannesburg – The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is set to clamp down on the illegal flying of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, in civil airspace.

According to a statement sent out by SACAA, the move was prompted by recent reports of UAS already operating in the South African civil aviation airspace.

UAS are classified as any aircraft that can fly without a pilot on board. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be controlled remotely by an individual on the ground, in another aircraft or through an on board computer system.

Current civil aviation legislation does not provide for certification, registration and/or operation of UAS in the South African civil aviation airspace.

“The fact is that the SACAA has not given any concession or approval to any organisation, individual, institution or government entity to operate UAS within the civil aviation airspace. Those that are flying any type of unmanned aircraft are doing so illegally; and as the regulator we cannot condone any form of blatant disregard of applicable rules,” said Poppy Khoza, Director of Civil Aviation.

While this was hardly problematic before, a surge in demand for the use of drones – especially for commercial purposes – has prompted the SACAA to integrate the use of drones into the South Africa airspace as speedily as possible.

In the mean time, until regulations have been put in place, anyone caught operating a UAS could face fines of up to R50 000, a prison sentence of up to 10 years or both.

The use of GoPro drones have proven to be particularly useful in the creation of video and photographic content for publications. The bird’s eye footage not only provides alternative, fresh views of events and happenings, but also allows media access to crowded or inaccessible areas.

A recent example includes drones being sent up to gain unprecedented footage of the opening of the Oscar Pistorius trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

In June last year police officers apprehended a man who flew a radio-controlled mini helicopterover the Pretoria hospital, where former president Nelson Mandela was being treated.

Less controversially, drones can also be used to capture incredible never-seen-before natural imagery, such as this thousand-strong dolphin pod migration.

As the regulator of civil aviation safety and security, the SACAA has noted the need to put regulations in place to deal specifically with UAVs.

“Unmanned aircraft systems are a relatively new component of the civil aviation framework, one which the SACAA, together with other regulators worldwide and under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), are working to understand, define and ultimately integrate in to the civil aviation sector. As such, the process of developing policies, procedures, regulations and associated standards in order to certify and subsequently authorise operation of UAS is currently in progress,” Khoza explained.


In collaboration with other ICAO member states, South Africa is working towards providing a regulatory framework and guidance material, to underpin routine operation of UAS in a safe, harmonised and seamless manner comparable to that of manned operations.

There are many factors to consider in the process of developing guidelines for authorisation, but the SACAA are targeting the end of the second quarter of this financial year to have some guideline document that could be followed.

“The SACAA acknowledges that the current civil aviation legislation does not provide for certification, registration and/or operation of UAS in the South African civil aviation airspace. We are also cognizant of the urgent need and demand for UAS usage for commercial and many other reasons. Hence, the SACAA has allocated the necessary resources to the UAS programme to ensure a speedy integration of drones into the South Africa airspace. However, until then we would like to appeal to those that are disregarding the laws to desist from such actions,” Khoza concluded.


First UK conviction for illegal use of an unmanned aircraft

by Press • 3 April 2014


A man from Cumbria has become the first person in the UK to be successfully prosecuted for the dangerous and illegal flying of an unmanned aircraft. Robert Knowles was found to have flown the device in restricted airspace over a nuclear submarine facility, as well as allowing the device to fly too close to a vehicle bridge. Both offences breached the UK’s Air Navigation Order. Mr Knowles, of Barrow-in-Furness, was found guilty on Tuesday 1 April 2014 and fined £800 at Furness and District Magistrate Court following the prosecution by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who said the case raised important safety issues concerning recreational flying of unmanned aircraft. The CAA was also awarded costs of £3,500.

On 25 August 2013, the Court heard, an unmanned aircraft (UAV) was recovered from water near to a submarine testing facility in Barrow-in-Furness, operated by the defence company, BAE Systems. Analysis by the police of video footage taken from a camera fitted to the device subsequently revealed that during its flight it had skimmed over the busy Jubilee Bridge over Walney Chanel, well within the legally permitted 50 metres separation distance required. The UAV had also flown through restricted airspace around the nuclear submarine facility before it inadvertently landed in the water.

The UAV was traced to Mr Knowles who admitted to building the device himself and operating it on the day in question. He was charged with:

• Flying a small unmanned surveillance aircraft within 50 metres of a structure (Article 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009).

• Flying over a nuclear installation (Regulation 3(2) of the Air Navigation (Restriction of Flying)(Nuclear Installations) Regulations 2007).


The CAA said the conviction sent a message to recreational users of UAVs that the devices are subject to aviation safety rules.


The conviction of Robert Knowles follows the recent case of a photographer from Lancashire accepting a caution for using a UAV for commercial gain without permission. The photographer had sold footage of a school fire taken from his quadcopter to media organisations, even though he did not have authority from the CAA to operate the device commercially. Anyone using unmanned aircraft for ‘aerial work’ requires a ‘permission’ from the CAA to ensure safety standards are being adhered to and the operator is fully covered by indemnity insurance.

Anyone using a UAV recreationally can also seek advice from established model aircraft clubs who will have detailed local knowledge of airspace restrictions. Go to for more information.

More information on the regulation of UAVs, including a list of operators with permission to fly UAVs for commercial use, is available

For further press information, contact the CAA Press Office on: 0207 453 6030 .

Notes to Editors:

Operating rules for UAVs:

• An unmanned aircraft must never be flown beyond the normal unaided ‘line of sight’ of the person operating it. This is generally measured as 500m horizontally or 400ft vertically.

• An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must always be flown at least 50m distance away from a person, vehicle, building or structure.

• An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must not be flown within 150m of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert.


FAA Rules Out Use of Military Airspace for UAV Tests

by Press • 3 April 2014


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) are enforcing limitations on who can use military airspace, a move that will curtail the number of possible places researchers can fly tests with unmanned aircraft.

The move appears to have surprised many in the unmanned community, including test site managers at some of the six organizations selected late last year to assist the FAA in introducing unmanned aerial systems (UASs) into the National Airspace System (NAS). The test sites will work with the agency to develop the rules and procedures for operating UASs.

A number of those organizations proposed using airspace restricted for defense use, although that was not taken into account when they were chosen, said the man in charge of airspace for the Air Force.

“Of the six, I believe four them identified military airspace as part of their proposal; and I think of those four, two or three identified restricted areas,” said Edward Chupein, chief of the Air Force Range and Airspace Division. “What I can tell you is, in the evaluation and selection of the test sites, the identification of Special Use Airspace, military airspace, as part of the project was not included in the decision making.”

“So, it never factored into whether anyone got it or didn’t get it,” Chupein added. “And since then each test site has met with the FAA, and the FAA has told them that that is not available.”

At the heart of the issue is who is actually in charge of the airspace in the United States — and it is the FAA not the Defense Department, even when it comes to the skies over U.S. military facilities.

“It is cut and dried,” said Chupein. “We are working within existing U.S. Code, FAA regulations, and DoD policy and service-level regulations that flow from those FAA regulations.

“The bottom line here is that it’s a question of authority. DoD does not have the authority to offer airspace for anything other than its intended military purpose,” Chupein added. “That authority rests entirely with the FAA. So, that’s been one of the misperceptions — that it is DoD airspace and installation commanders have the authority to offer this.


Rules, Hazards, and Airspace Designations

The issue involves “rulemaking airspace,” which is segregated for hazardous activities such as shooting from the air at targets on the ground. It is called rulemaking because the FAA went through the long federal process for making rules, including public scoping and publishing documents for public review and comment.

“It’s rulemaking like the FDA would do — or the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] or any federal agency when they’re actually making a rule as an executive organization,” said Chupein.

“Nonrulemaking” airspace is also a category, which is open to all visual flight rule traffic (VFR), including unmanned aircraft. This airspace may be used for military activities but only in cases where the military aircraft can avoid other aircraft.

“The way it’s defined by the FAA, it’s unseen hazards to flight. . . . It’s something that can’t see and avoid,” Chupein said. A military pilot, even one engaged in combat training, is still able to clear the way for other traffic and avoid a collision, he explained.

“Once the bomb falls from the airplane or once the laser energy is transmitted to the ground or the gun is fired — the projectiles, the bomb, the laser itself can’t do anything to avoid other traffic that may come through there,” he said. “It’s inherently hazardous.”

On the surface that would seem to suggest that rulemaking airspace is exactly where unmanned aircraft should go — because unammed aerial vehicles (UAVs) cannot themselves “see” other planes and get out of the way. In fact, see-and-avoid technology is one of the things that the FAA is supposed to be working on at its new test sites.

“The restricted areas are designated for hazardous activities, and unmanned aircraft are not hazardous activities,” said Chupein. “But why it’s coveted to be used by these organizations is because, by its very nature, it mitigates see and avoid. See and avoid is the very basis of the national airspace system, it’s your last measure of separation assurance and collision avoidance.”

Even though UAVs do not have see-and-avoid capability yet, the FAA has determined they do not need to be tested in restricted airspace where that shortcoming would not present a problem, said Chupein. “A lot of these civil developers would like to have the ability to segregate their activities, but they are not hazardous and the FAA has determined that it’s not necessary — there are other means to do that. That’s sort of where the conversation started.”

Since the FAA has authority over the airspace, could it change its approach to the limits at military facilities?

“I suppose they could,” said Chupein, “but since it’s rulemaking. that is often a fairly lengthy process that has to go through multiple rounds of public hearings and public comment periods. It would require them to almost create a new type of airspace to do this. And they would need a justification to do it.”

“If the mission of the FAA is the safety of the NAS, this would have to be a safety issue,” Chupein continued. “And it’s been determined that unmanned aircraft are not fundamentally unsafe. So, I don’t want to answer for the FAA, for sure. I’m just trying to let you know that is not as simple a solution as it may sound.”

The FAA did not respond to a request from Inside GNSS to comment on the issue.


Interagency Ambiguities

The confusion over who can make decisions about using the airspace may have come from the fact that the FAA asked the Pentagon to clarify the rules. In a November 26 letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Assistant Secretary of Defense Katrina McFarland noted that she had received the request and said that “in accordance with DoD Directive 5030.19, DoD Responsibilities on Federal Aviation, it is DoD policy to schedule regulatory and non-regulatory SUA [Special Use Airspace] for its intended military purposes.” If the air space is not needed, it is to be released to the FAA.

“Compliance with the directive precludes military organizations from scheduling SUA for the support of non-DoD activities,” McFarland’s letter stated. “Additionally there are no provisions within DoD Directive 5030.19 for local agreements that enable DoD to authorize use of airspace for the purpose of providing access to non-DoD organizations if those activities are not in direct support of a DoD requirement.”

Exceptions to the DoD policy do exist that would enable unmanned aircraft to fly in some military areas. In addition to the nonrulemaking airspace, civilian researchers could fly their AUVs at the Major Range and Test Facility Bases (MRTFBs), which are specifically designed for test and development type work. The MRTFBs can accommodate some civil activities, but civilian researchers would have to take a back seat to any military users.

“It’s fairly low priority, because we have quite a bit of testing going on and we’re near capacity,” said Chupein, “but there are certain circumstances where someone can come and say ‘Hey, we would like to use your facility, your airspace, your range, to do this sort of testing’ — and they’ll provide the engineering, the safety case analysis; even, perhaps some of the capabilities for telemetry, and things like that — on a cost basis, it’s available for direct costs.”

DoD is able to curtail activities for some limited periods, such as during holidays, and “release the airspace to the FAA,” wrote McFarland

Congress, however, is encouraging the FAA and DoD to look at easing limitations.

In the report accompanying the 2014 Defense Authorization Act, Congress directed the two agencies to “jointly develop and implement plans and procedures to review the potential of joint testing and evaluation of unmanned aircraft equipment and systems with other appropriate departments and agencies of the Federal Government that may serve the dual purpose of providing capabilities to the Department of Defense to meet the future requirements of combatant commanders and domestically to strengthen international border security.”

The agencies have until the end of September to report back on the status of the effort.

Ben Gielow, general counsel and senior government relations manager for the

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International suggested a path to supporting more tests in military airspace could be found.

“We’re not raising any alarm bells now and hopefully this issue will get worked out,” Gielow told Inside GNSS. “If it doesn’t for some reason we’ll certainly start lobbying for it, but it’s not an immediate issue.”


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, April 05, 2014

March Madness is upon us.

Much of the country is caught up in the NCAA basketball playoffs that come to a head this weekend, but 48% of Americans think most big-time college athletic programs play dirty when it comes to recruiting.

No wonder then that only 24% believe the NCAA does a good or excellent job policing college athletics.

Tournament followers are predicting the University of Florida Gators will win the national men’s collegiate basketball championship this year, although they’d rather see the University of Wisconsin Badgers win instead.

Final Four action tips off today when Florida faces the University of Connecticut Huskies in North Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium. This will be followed by a matchup between Wisconsin and the University of Kentucky Wildcats. The championship game is set for Monday night.

The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled in favor of allowing football players at Northwestern University to form college sports’ first labor union. Only 25% of Americans think college athletes should be allowed to unionize, but 66% expect sports teams at other colleges and universities to try to form unions.

Going into the NCAA tournament weekend, a new government report said the number of jobs nationwide is now back to the level seen before the economic downturn in early 2008. Of course, millions have joined the workforce since then, and the jobless rate remains at 6.7%.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence jumped four points in March to its highest level in over six years of monthly tracking.

Essentially unchanged from surveys over the past year, however, are the 42% of Employed Adults who think they will be earning more money a year from now and the 26% who are looking for a job outside of their current company.

Nearly half of all Americans think housing prices will still take several more years to recover, and few have high hopes for the stock market in the near future.

At week’s end, the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes which measure confidence among both groups were down several points from the beginning of the year. But that was prior to Friday’s release of the new jobs report.

The president’s monthly job approval rating fell back two points to 47% in March but is still slightly higher than November’s two-year low of 45%. For most of the three years prior to his reelection, the president’s full-month job approval stayed at either 47% or 48%.

Obama’s daily job approval rating remains at levels seen for much of his presidency.

Just 27% of voters think the president is doing a good or excellent job handling the issue of gun control, his worst ratings to date in that policy area. Most voters (53%) now oppose tougher gun control for the first time since the Connecticut elementary school shootings in December 2012.

Forty percent (40%) think the federal government should require every American to buy or obtain health insurance. Forty-six percent (46%) oppose this so-called individual mandate in the new national health care law.

Only 19% of voters think it is a good use of IRS resources for the agency to police public compliance with Obamacare. Sixty-five percent (65%) believe the Internal Revenue Service should remain focused on collecting taxes. After all, only 21% believe the IRS is aggressive enough in pursuing tax cheats.

More voters than ever (62%) believe it is good that the American people are aware of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs, but just 24% think the federal government should grant a full amnesty from prosecution to Edward Snowden, the man who disclosed those programs to the public.

There was bad news this week for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of those who hopes to take Obama’s place in the White House. New Jersey voters now view him more unfavorably than they did when the so-called Bridgegate scandal first broke three months ago, and 47% say they are less likely to vote for him as president in 2016.

Democrats hold a one-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

Both Republican contenders, incumbent Thad Cochran and his Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel, have a solid lead over former Democratic Congressman Travis Childers in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the U.S. Senate race in Mississippi.

In other surveys this week:

— Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

— Sixty percent (60%) of voters agree with a House Republican plan that would offer U.S. citizenship to non-citizens who are willing to serve in the military and do so honorably for at least five years.

— Fifty-one percent (51%) of Americans are concerned about the safety of vaccines for children, including 24% who are Very Concerned.

— Most Americans consider autism a serious problem in the country today, and 18% who say they or someone in their family has been diagnosed as autistic think childhood vaccinations are the primary cause of autism.

— The Obama administration is reportedly proposing to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison if it will help keep U.S.-brokered Middle East peace talks alive, but just 32% like that idea.

— Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans share a favorable opinion of the Boy Scouts of America, but that’s down 14 points from 73% in February 2012.


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