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June 21 2014

June 23, 2014




Clark County looks to lead UAV industry

Plans for hangar, Clark State courses still on, despite loss of drone test site bid.

Updated: 9:03 a.m. Monday, June 16, 2014 | Posted: 11:00 p.m. Saturday, June 14, 2014

By Matt Sanctis

Staff Writer


Local businesses and institutions will push ahead with their attempts to make Clark County a leader in the emerging commercial drone industry, despite losing out on a bid to be one of six national test sites.

That includes launching the state’s first precision agriculture program at Clark State Community College and building $500,000 hangars at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport to house unmanned aerial vehicles.

Other assets, like the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex on U.S. 40, put Clark County in a good position to attract businesses in manufacturing and research, even without the Federal Aviation Administration test site designation, said Frank Beafore, executive director of SelectTech Geospatial.

The unmanned aircraft industry could generate as much as $339 million for Ohio’s economy — and $13.6 billion nationwide — in the first three years after drones are integrated into U.S. airspace, experts have said, and precision agriculture is expected to play a significant role.

Just last week, the FAA approved the first commercial use of a drone in the U.S. and at the end of last month, the UAS center in Springfield participated in its first series of test flights.

The Miami Valley already has a strong base in industries like manufacturing, aerospace and data analytics, said Horton Hobbs vice president of economic development at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

That makes the commercial drone market a natural fit for the region and could lead to high-paying jobs in other industries like manufacturing and research as well, he said.

“When you grow jobs in that industry area, the ripple it has on the rest of the economic base is important,” Hobbs said.


Test site selection

At the end of last year, the FAA rejected the Springfield-Dayton region’s bid to be one of six national test sites that would be used to develop rules for how unmanned aircraft can be used in the U.S. It instead chose sites in Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, New York and Virginia.

The designation could have provided clout to the region and encouraged high-tech firms to take a closer look at the Miami Valley, local officials have previously said. But months after the decision, it’s not clear what impact the designation has had on the states selected by the FAA, Hobbs said.


“The verdict’s still out there,” he said. “Any time you’re the test site, there’s a lot of scrutiny put on what you do and how you do it. That can sometimes actually stifle your progress.”

In the meantime, he said local officials are working to build contacts within the industry, and continue to develop the region’s UAV infrastructure.

“It’s just like anything else,” Hobbs said. “It takes time to cultivate those contacts. I think it would be fair to say at this point, the community is still in that cultivation stage.”

The UAS Center in Springfield is expected to provide support for universities and government agencies as they conduct research, as well as promote economic development and commercialization of the technology. Last month, the test center worked with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratories to conduct the first test flights over Camp Atterbury in Indiana.

The research lab, test center and NASA will conduct additional testing throughout the summer, and in September the agencies will conduct the UAS Air Operations Challenge. The event will include eight competitors who will demonstrate sense-and-avoid technology, one of the key technologies identified by the FAA as necessary to integrate UAVs into U.S. airspace.

Officials at the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center didn’t return calls seeking additional comment regarding other projects taking place at the center.


Precision agriculture to ‘break open’

One of the projects moving forward locally is Clark State’s plan to offer a two-year degree in precision agriculture. The program recently received approval by the Ohio Board of Regents and is enrolling students now.

Precision agriculture includes flying UAVs over farm fields with sensors to detect disease in crops, evaluate nutrients in the soil and determine if plants are receiving adequate water. Drones could increase farmers’ yields at a lower cost, Beafore said, without the fuel use and expense of a larger plane.

Last week the college purchased a small UAV manufactured at SelectTech. The program, which will begin classes this fall, is the first of its kind in Ohio and one of only about a dozen nationwide.

SelectTech conducts research and builds UAVs for industrial and agricultural clients.

“Precision agriculture is going to break open here pretty quickly,” Beafore said.

Students in the program won’t fly drones, but will learn to analyze real data collected from Ohio farms, said Jane Cape, dean of business and applied technologies at Clark State.

SelectTech and Clark State are also working together to acquire a certificate of authorization, which grants public entities like cities and universities permission to fly unmanned aircraft under specific conditions. Sinclair Community College already has an authorization to fly drones at the Springfield airport.

Many residents mistakenly think of military aircraft when they think of unmanned aerial vehicles, Beafore said. Instead, the drones used in agriculture and many other commercial uses typically are small devices that fly at lower altitudes.

“We’re talking about a model aircraft with a sensor attached,” he said.


Airport a ‘viable opportunity’

The city of Springfield plans to start construction soon on UAV hangars at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. The state allocated $500,000 in the capital budget for the project.

The city initially requested $2.5 million to build a 20,000-square-foot hangar and a handful of box and T-hangars. Now the city will construct only the smaller hangars because it didn’t receive the full amount it sought, said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development.

That project could be completed by the end of this year or early next year, Franzen said.

Springfield also is finalizing a plan to collaborate with the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center on local drone projects.

Aurea Rivera, owner of Imagineering Results Analysis Corp., said she is in preliminary talks with the city to establish a data center at the municipal airport. The center would evaluate information retrieved from UAVs during testing.

Rivera worked with Clark State as a consultant to start the precision agriculture program, although that contract has since ended. The data center would include office space where area businesses could review data collected from UAVs.

“We want to maintain Springfield-Beckley as a viable opportunity for consideration here as we move forward,” Franzen said. “It’s being used in that respect now but we’d like to enhance the amenities that are out there through hangars and other elements to make it easier to use.”


Attracting companies to the region

The UAV industry is anticipated to create about 104,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2025, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. That’s one of the big reasons why local leaders want to lure the industry to Southwest Ohio.

The city of Springfield, along with the Dayton Development Coalition and other area business leaders, also recently participated in the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International conference in Orlando, Fla. The groups were part of an Ohio exhibit to encourage manufacturers and other industry officials to take a closer look at the state for future UAV projects, said Maurice McDonald, executive vice president for aerospace and defense for the Dayton Development Coalition.

“We wanted to showcase the strength of Ohio to hopefully, at some point, attract companies to this region,” McDonald said.

The state will also host an Ohio UAS conference later this year and plans to show off the region’s resources to industry leaders who attend.

Demand nationwide from the business community to test and use drones for commercial purposes is building rapidly. Commercial use of the aircraft is currently prohibited without FAA approval.

But the administration is taking small steps to allow commercial UAV projects in limited, low-risk civilian operations. Earlier this week, the organization granted approval for BP and AeroVironment to use a drone to collect and analyze information from BP’s Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, said Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA.

It was the first approved commercial use of a UAV in the U.S., approved through a waiver. The FAA plans to release rules later this year to permit use of small UAVs to operate commercially, likely smaller than 55 pounds.

Until the rules are finalized, the administration will consider allowing drones on a case-by-case basis in other industries as well, including agriculture, movie making, power-line inspections, and flare stack monitoring in the oil and gas industries. UAVs that can prove they can safely operate in a controlled, low-risk environment can seek authorization, Dorr said.


“We want to get the small UAS proposed rule out later this year and we want to see if we can … allow some limited commercial use of unmanned aircraft in controlled and low-risk situations,” Dorr said.


Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun provides the best coverage of jobs and the economy in Clark County, including digging into the emerging market for unmanned aerial vehicles and efforts to attract manufacturers and researchers to the region.


By the numbers:

104,000 – Estimated number of U.S. jobs created in UAVs by 2025

$82 billion – Estimated economic impact of UAVs in U.S. by 2025

90 percent – Expected market share in UAV industry from precision agriculture and public safety

6 – Number of test sites selected by the Federal Aviation Administration

Source: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International


What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades


Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.

That variability may itself be a learning tool. “When a kid produces a messy letter,” Dr. James said, “that might help him learn it.”

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

“This is one of the first demonstrations of the brain being changed because of that practice,” Dr. James said.

In another study, Dr. James is comparing children who physically form letters with those who only watch others doing it. Her observations suggest that it is only the actual effort that engages the brain’s motor pathways and delivers the learning benefits of handwriting.

The effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

It now appears that there may even be a difference between printing and cursive writing — a distinction of particular importance as the teaching of cursive disappears in curriculum after curriculum. In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, sometimes after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

Dr. Berninger goes so far as to suggest that cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia. A 2012 review suggests that cursive may be particularly effective for individuals with developmental dysgraphia — motor-control difficulties in forming letters — and that it may aid in preventing the reversal and inversion of letters.

Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.


Not every expert is persuaded that the long-term benefits of handwriting are as significant as all that. Still, one such skeptic, the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, says the new research is, at the very least, thought-provoking.

“With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important,” he said. He added, after pausing to consider, “Maybe it helps you think better.”


Who Will Win in Iraq?

ISIS Will Fail in Iraq, and Iran Will Be the Victor



WASHINGTON — TO go by much of the commentary about Iraq in recent days, the country is already past the breaking point under the lightning campaign by Sunni insurgents. Reinforced by hardened fighters from Syria and sympathetic communities in northern and western Iraq, the insurgents control much of Mosul, the most important city in northern Iraq, and Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein’s clan, and they have laid siege to Samarra, the site of one of Shiism’s most storied shrines. It would be no surprise if the next few weeks brought them to the gates of Baghdad.

But an assault on Baghdad, or even its capture, would be an illusory victory. It can only end in defeat — and the strengthening of the insurgents’ sworn Shiite enemies in Baghdad and, especially, Tehran.

First, consider the brute demographic reality. Unlike in Syria, Sunnis are a relatively small part of the Iraqi population, about 25 percent — though they are a majority in some areas of the west and north. And in Baghdad their numbers are minuscule.

The reason for this lies in an earlier Sunni revolt triggered by the second gulf war. Baghdad was the target then, too, and its Sunni population was about 35 percent. As the Sunnis asserted themselves militarily, Shiites struck back; by 2008, when their fury was largely spent, Sunnis were reduced to as little as 12 percent of the city’s population.

If the insurgents of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, enter Baghdad’s residual Sunni neighborhoods, they will likely be welcomed, but they won’t have much to work with, nor will they have the strategic depth they will need in the street fighting that ensues.

Moreover, rather like what happened in Syria, the Sunni offensive is likely to spur a transformation of the Iraqi Army from the sorry mess it is now into a more resilient and operationally effective force.

In Syria, the army reeled in the face of the rebellion in 2011; desertions were rife and large sections of territory were lost to the insurgency. But as incompetent commanders were killed or relieved and a new leadership emerged, the army was able to bring its vastly greater firepower to bear on an increasingly fractionated adversary. Its combat capability was multiplied by the successful integration of civilian militias and the intelligence and tactical advice supplied by Iran. This trajectory is likely to be replicated in Iraq.

The character of the Sunni offensive will mobilize more than just the army. Mass execution has been meshed with the use of religious symbolism by the insurgents, who framed their objective as extirpating “the filth” — Shiite teaching and believers — from Najaf and Karbala, the two holiest Shiite cities. In a minority war on a majority population, this is a suicidal tactic. The Shiites will hit back even harder than last time.


In addition to being hobbled by their paltry numbers, the rebels have chosen to make war on an adversary with powerful friends who have a serious stake in the future of Iraq.

Iran has already pledged assistance to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and reportedly deployed elite units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to Iraq. The United States has sent an aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ship to the Persian Gulf and stepped up intelligence help for the Iraqi government.

Although Washington is unlikely to use force directly against the rebels — in part because insurgents don’t present the kind of targets that American air power is optimized to destroy, and in part because of reluctance to re-engage militarily in Iraq — the kind of advisory help, material assistance and diplomatic support that is on offer will stiffen Iraq’s spine. Perceptions, real or imagined, of American and Iranian collusion will help, too.

At the same time, gulf states that tacitly support the rebels as payback against Iran for its perceived takeover of Iraq will do nothing to support the rebels’ military campaign, for fear of creating an uncontrollable situation, even if their nationals privately fund the rebel army.

And once the fighting is over, the Sunnis will be even more isolated than before. President Obama’s call for a multiethnic governing coalition aside, it is inconceivable that Mr. Maliki will now reverse his policy of excluding Sunnis from governance.

In short, despite the rapid success of the Sunni campaign, it is a kamikaze attack that will make the Shiite hold on the Iraqi state stronger, not weaker.

That said, it’s unlikely that Mr. Maliki will have the stomach to retake the Sunni-majority areas of western Iraq anytime soon. The rump Iraq, like the Assad regime in Syria, will be ever more in thrall to Iran, and committed to domestic policies that make the reconstitution of the country via a political process ever more unlikely.

That’s hardly an optimal outcome for Washington: Among other things, Washington’s support for the Maliki government will put further strain on its ties to the gulf states; it will also complicate any effort to deal aggressively with Iran, with which it will find itself in an odd-couple alliance.

American policy makers might anticipate that the insurgency will burn itself out before it presents a real threat to American interests. But they can’t relax too much, because to the extent that this sectarian brawl produces something resembling a winner, it won’t be in Washington, Mosul or Baghdad — but in Tehran.

Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, was the senior director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council from 2011 to 2012.




Main Iraq Oil Refinery in Flames After Rebel Attack

Militants Attacked a Refinery in Baiji Overnight, as Government Forces Fought to Repel Militants

By Ali A. Nabhan

Updated June 18, 2014 8:01 a.m. ET

Kurdish fighters attacked ISIS in Jalula and the militant group took partial control of an oil refinery in Baiji. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani said Iran will “spare no effort” in protecting Shiite sites in Iraq.

BAGHDAD—Parts of Iraq’s main oil refinery were in flames Wednesday as government forces fought to repel militants who gained partial control of the oil facility, Iraqi security officials said.

Sunni militant fighters behind a week-old offensive that has claimed several major cities and towns in northern Iraq attacked the refinery in the northern city of Baiji overnight and seized part of the installation, an oil ministry official in the country’s north said.

The official said employees fled the refinery as it came under attack, the latest in a weeklong siege of the oil hub.

The fighting over the main source of Iraq’s refined fuel for its domestic market doesn’t affect production or exports from the country’s oil fields and facilities in the south, where militants haven’t reached.

But the fall of the Baiji refinery to rebel control would intensify the turmoil inside Iraq, as well as open to militants another major potential source of income.

The price of crude oil hasn’t reacted specifically to the Baiji news, said Cuneyt Kazokoglu, an analyst at FACTS Global Energy in London, but if the refinery is closed Iraq’s gasoline and diesel imports will likely increase.

In midmorning trading, oil was at $113.50 a barrel and hovering close to 9-month highs touched June 14, just after the crisis in Iraq crisis broke.

Reuters reported mortar strikes and machine-gun fire at the refinery Wednesday morning as government forces and militants battled for control. Officials said some fuel storage centers inside the installation were on fire.

Militants including hundreds of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, are battling to hold captured cities and seize more territory in their offensive against the Shiite Muslim-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.

Iraq’s Sunni minority accuses Mr. Maliki’s government of systematic discrimination against Sunnis and other sects and political blocs in Iraq. Some Sunni veterans of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces and Sunni tribal fighters also are participating in the offensive.

Iraq said government security forces were bolstering their numbers around the north Wednesday in a bid to recapture territory.

In Diyala province, directly to the east of Baghdad, an Iraqi government airstrike targeting a meeting of ISIS fighters killed 15 of them overnight, according to Abdul-Amier al Zaidi, the commander of a government command center.

Security forces were preparing a government offensive to reclaim the area of the attack, Udhaim, from ISIS fighters, Mr. Zaidi said.

The Iraqi military was reinforcing its forces in the Diyala provincial capital, Baquba, after fighting near the city Tuesday.

Authorities also reported fighting Wednesday at the northwestern city of Tal Afar, after militants seized much of that town over the weekend, sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing. Iraqi television on Tuesday showed government reinforcements rolling to that battle.

In Washington, President Barack Obama was due to brief Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday on White House plans for support against the push by extremists in Iraq.

Mr. Obama has decided against immediate airstrikes against the ISIS fighters and their allies, opting instead to provide military intelligence to the Iraqi military and to push Mr. Maliki harder to address what a range of Sunni, Shiite and other factions in Iraq charge are divisions worsened by what they describe as Mr. Maliki’s exclusionary policies.


Costly errors give new hope to al-Qaeda

Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 1:08 AM

By John Nagl

The dissolution of Iraq is the entirely predictable result of a series of bad American decisions compounded by Iraqi government mistakes. The result is a disaster for the Iraqi and American people and a gift to radical Islamists worldwide. Correcting the mistakes will be enormously costly in blood and treasure and will take decades to repair.

The initial and most costly mistake was the decision to invade Iraq in the first place on the misguided belief that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Ignoring the history of deterrence, through which states choose not to use these weapons against other states for fear of reprisal, post-9/11 hysteria drove an illogical and destabilizing decision to upset the balance of power in the Middle East with no plan to police the inevitable chaos that followed the invasion.

Initial errors of providing too few troops to govern Iraq after Saddam was toppled were compounded by disbanding the Iraqi army and forbidding former Ba’ath party members from future government service; together, they inspired a Sunni insurgency against the American occupation. Too-few troops who had never been trained to conduct counterinsurgency fought against an enemy they didn’t understand and could rarely see. Iraq descended into chaos.

When all seemed lost, America made its one good decision of the entire fiasco, installing Robert Gates as secretary of defense and Gen. David Petraeus as Iraq commander to implement a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy for the first time. The surge forces battled insurgents and also partnered with reconstituted Iraq security forces. Violence plummeted, and by 2010 there was a decent chance that, with continued American air power and advisers to support Iraqi forces and compel good decisions by the fledgling Iraqi government, a democratic Iraq would emerge from the shambles of one of the biggest mistakes in American history.

We fumbled the ball at the goal line by failing to negotiate a long-term security relationship with the Iraqi government. Left on its own, the Shia government followed its worst impulses, oppressing the Sunni minority and inspiring a reinvigorated insurgency.

The summer of 2012 saw another unforced American error. We had the opportunity to support moderate Sunni insurgents fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but chose to let them fight without our assistance. Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters took control of the insurgency, killing many of the moderate fighters and creating an impossible choice for American policy in Syria: We could support al-Qaeda or the tyrant Assad, who regularly uses chemical weapons against his own people. As in Iraq, the window to support the good guys closed, never to be reopened.

Now an unholy alliance of al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian insurgents has combined with native Sunni insurgents and captured much of the country that American forces fought so hard to secure. Without American advisers and the airpower they bring, which would easily decimate the insurgents, the Iraqi forces have simply melted away, surrendering without a fight.

Without American airpower and Special Operations Forces to control it and inspire a will to fight, there is a real chance that Baghdad will fall, just as Saigon did in 1975 when America similarly abandoned its allies without advisers and air support.

Ending wars is easy. Ending them responsibly by leaving a better peace behind is harder and more expensive, requiring the long-term commitment of troops – a tough decision we have made in the wake of every victorious war since World War II. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we spurned the sacrifices of our own soldiers and our allies by making an expedient but shortsighted decision that, having paid the price to win the war, we would not pay the much smaller price to secure the peace.


Our negligence and dereliction of duty have given new hope to al-Qaeda and may cost us a friendly government in Iraq that many of my friends died to establish. The big question now is whether, as currently planned, we will similarly devalue the work of my friends who died to give the Afghan people a chance at freedom by failing to provide that country with the advisers and airpower that would secure Afghanistan against its inevitable future enemies. We can already see the heavy cost of failing to build a better peace in Iraq.


The Case for Doing Nothing in Iraq

The same people who got us into this mess want America to “do something.” Ignore them.


June 16, 2014


Here we go again. Whenever there’s a crisis anywhere in the world, you can count on America’s pundit class to demand action—usually of the military variety. Don’t just stand there, bomb something! After more than two decades of unchallenged American hegemony, Washington keyboards seem almost programmed to call for intervention halfway around the globe.

So it is with Iraq today, where the government has lost effective control of the Sunni Arab majority areas of the country. ISIS, the feared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has served as a vanguard uniting disaffected Iraqi Sunni Arabs into a fighting force effective enough to defeat larger and better-armed Iraqi government armed forces in certain areas. Chattering-class members from across the political spectrum see U.S. vital interests threatened, and are demanding that President Obama fire up the fighter-bombers.

Eleven years after the invasion that precipitated the present morass, how should we think about all this? Should we listen to the very same people who called for the war in 2003, with disastrous results, and are now insisting on action?

The escalating civil war in Iraq, and the increasingly likely de facto partition of the country, should be assessed from first principles. The United States spent enormous amounts of treasure and considerable blood trying to turn Iraq into a functioning multi-ethnic democracy; this effort failed. The costs are sunk. Our analysis must begin from the present: We are being asked to pay new costs and bear new burdens. For what and with what hope of success?

A small but increasing number of U.S. scholars, policymakers and politicians are beginning to subscribe to a new view of U.S. grand strategy, which in a recent book I have called Restraint. We believe that the United States needs to restore discipline to its foreign policy—set priorities more rigorously and calculate both costs and chances of success with a more skeptical eye.

The term grand strategy gets bandied about in various forms; I define it as protecting U.S. territorial integrity, sovereignty and safety and the power position needed to secure them in an uncertain world.

So where does Iraq fit in? ISIS is full of bad guys—no question. But a divided Iraq at worst might threaten U.S. safety by providing a “safe haven” for terrorists who might plot against the United States. The world is, unfortunately, full of bad guys and safe havens. The United States now watches them in Pakistan, Yemen and across Africa with various intelligence means, and occasionally raids them, solo or in the company of friends. More importantly, the United States has hardened itself against terrorist threats. This combination of defensive measures, surveillance and the occasional raid buys a lot of safety. America need not throw in with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a power-hungry Shiite supremacist bent mainly on serving the interests of his own faction, to keep its people secure. Maliki’s heavy-handed employment of surveillance, incarceration, and violence has driven Sunni Arab fence sitters into the arms of ISIS fanatics; he’s part of the problem, not the solution.

That ought to make us cautious about meddling in Iraq’s internal politics. Restraint strategists are alert to the costs of intervening in the internal politics of other countries and the low odds of success inherent to doing so.


In the first place, though the timing and the causes are murky, identity politics have surged across much of the world, a phenomenon that probably antedates the end of the Cold War. Here’s how it works: Political entrepreneurs organize followers around appeals to national, ethnic and religious identities. This kind of politics makes compromise hard. Politically mobilized identities are deeply mistrustful and fearful of neighboring groups. And they are especially resistant to outsiders who come to visit with guns and explain to them how they should live. The United States has paid a high price for its efforts to reengineer the politics of others, efforts that have usually failed. Still, a little well-timed meddling could be useful. Identity politics does open the door for the United States practice a version of “divide-and-conquer” politics, but this only works if America patiently holds back, avoids making itself the problem and waits for opportunities. Mobilized identities may seem homogeneous, but they often contain deep divisions as well. That’s an opening.

Consider Iraq. Sunnis and Shia may dislike one another, and dislike U.S. tutelage. But left to their own devices, these groups easily fall out even among themselves. Part of the hagiography of the Iraq “surge” is that the United States somehow played a magical tune that caused the Sunni “Awakening,” and brought many Iraqi Sunnis to the U.S. side. Smart diplomats and commanders actually took advantage of extant divisions. Iraqi Sunnis turned on their foreign jihadi allies, who somehow thought that Islam would overcome local loyalties and permit them to run the show. What’s the relevance to today? For those thinking of active participation on the side of the Shiite regime in Baghdad, a smarter strategy is to wait for the Sunni population’s alliance of convenience with the jihadis to fall apart.



Restraint strategists believe that local politicians are strategic actors who intelligently pursue their own interests with the resources they possess. One resource is “the lie.” During and after the surge, the United States argued that the Maliki regime needed to take many steps to reconcile with the Sunni Arabs. Maliki was happy to assure us that these things would happen. If that is what we want to hear, that is what he will tell us. The Pentagon was required by Congress to issue quarterly reports on “progress” in Iraq. The political and economic sections of these reports, which ceased publication with the departure of the last U.S. troops in December 2011, make for dismal reading. They consistently report little if any progress. Why would Maliki, who depends on the Shiite majority for his electoral success, offer anything to the Sunni Arabs? It was entirely rational for him to talk the talk of reconciliation. But given the intense identity politics of Iraq, he wasn’t about to walk the walk: His best strategy was to “cheap ride” on the Americans. Let them fight the Sunnis, reconcile with the Sunnis, build up the Iraqi Army and rebuild infrastructure while he consolidates power in his own base.




Some, including me, believed there was a chance that after the United States left, Maliki would stop cheap riding on U.S. power and throw some bones to the Sunni Arabs in the hopes of consolidating the quiescence U.S. military and political efforts helped to achieve. No such luck. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Maliki believed that if things deteriorated either the Americans or the Iranians would come to the rescue. This is looking like a good bet. Be that as it may, those who presently argue that Maliki must demonstrate a real effort to unify the disparate groups in his country seem hopelessly naive. Maliki will say whatever he has to say to get outside assistance. He won’t deliver. Moreover, given his past pattern of misbehavior, such statements, even if accompanied by some small symbolic concessions, will lack credibility with Sunni Arabs.


Finally, restraint strategists have a certain respect for military power. We admire a drone, a smart weapon or an airplane as much as anyone. Footage of single strikes is strangely comforting—a single weapon is seen to hit a single target, yielding a white flash that one hopes took the right bad guy out of the fight. But taken together, we still think war is war: not a scalpel but a battle axe. And once you start swinging that axe, there may be unintended consequences. If the United States were to go so far as to help the Baghdad forces retake Mosul and other cities by providing air support, the Sunni Arabs who live there are not likely to think more kindly of us. If the United States provides such air support, and intelligence support, the Iraqi military will never grow up. The combination will be deadly to U.S. interests. All Sunni Arabs will know that we are the pillar of Shiite hegemony in Iraq. If one is interested in the safety of American citizens, this is not a particularly smart role to assume.




An ISIS statelet straddling Iraq and Syria might provide haven for Islamic terrorists who ultimately decide that attacks on Western targets are in their interests, though there is little sign presently that this is ISIS’s program. But “ISISstan” will not be a great base, or a safe one. It has no international airport or seaport. Its neighbors—Jordan, the Assad regime’s rump Syria, Turkey, Iran, the Kurdish statelet and the Baghdad-centered Shiite state in the rest of Iraq will be uncooperative, indeed hostile. Transit across them will be difficult. Given the regional ambitions of ISIS, they will further alienate these neighbors, who will have strong interests of their own in vigilance against aggressors and trespassers. Finally, the Sunni Arabs, if left to themselves, will likely have a falling out. As during the “Awakening,” some factions will look for external allies. The United States should avoid getting married to any group, but the price of its support should be intelligence on groups who might be “going global,”—intelligence that can be used against them.


Because the United States has fought and bled for Iraq, there is a strong disposition among those who supported that fight to fight even more for the same unattained and unattainable objectives. These objectives, including the construction of a liberal democratic, non-sectarian Iraq, are congenial to the foreign-policy operatives of both political parties, who seem to share a passion for reform projects abroad. These are, however, not vital interests of the United States, which is to say interests that the United States should be willing to do a lot of killing and dying to achieve. And they are probably not attainable in any case. De facto partition is an acceptable outcome.


Finally, to the extent that we can read the views of the American public, more of them than not wanted out of Iraq when President Obama was elected. He delivered on that promise. Aside from the arguments of restraint advocates that new military efforts in Iraq are neither necessary nor wise, we should also consider whether they would be consistent with the democratically expressed views of the American people. Odd indeed to repudiate the product of democracy at home to pursue a futile quest to achieve it in a divided and violent society abroad.


Barry R. Posen is Ford international professor of political science at MIT and director of the MIT Security Studies Program. His most recent book is Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy.



Part One: War Zones

When drones fall from the sky

Written by Craig Whitlock

Published on June 20, 2014


More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation.

Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act.


Crashes around the world

More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.

Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.

The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck.

“All I saw were tents, and I was afraid that I had killed someone,” Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman told investigators after an accident in November 2008, when he lost control of a Predator that plowed into a U.S. base in Afghanistan. “I felt numb, and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth.”

Investigators were unable to pinpoint a definitive cause for the accident but said wind and an aggressive turn by the pilot were factors. Wageman did not respond to a request for comment through an Air Force spokeswoman.

Several military drones have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again. In September 2009, an armed Reaper drone, with a 66-foot wingspan, flew on the loose across Afghanistan after its handlers lost control of the aircraft. U.S. fighter jets shot it down as it neared Tajikistan.

The documents describe a multitude of costly mistakes by remote-control pilots. A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down. Later that year, another armed Predator crashed nearby after the pilot did not notice he had squeezed the wrong red button on his joystick, putting the plane into a spin.

While most of the malfunctioning aircraft have perished in combat zones, dozens have been destroyed in the United States during test and training flights that have gone awry.

In April, a 375-pound Army drone crashed next to an elementary-school playground in Pennsylvania, just a few minutes after students went home for the day. In Upstate New York, the Air Force still cannot find a Reaper that has been missing since November, when it plunged into Lake Ontario. In June 2012, a Navy RQ-4 surveillance drone with a wingspan as wide as a Boeing 757′s nose-dived into Maryland’s Eastern Shore, igniting a wildfire.

Defense Department officials said they are confident in the reliability of their drones. Most of the crashes occurred in war, they emphasized, under harsh conditions unlikely to be replicated in the United States.

Military statistics show the vast majority of flights go smoothly and that mishap rates have steadily declined over the past decade. Officials acknowledge, however, that drones will never be as safe as commercial jetliners.

“Flying is inherently a dangerous activity. You don’t have to look very far, unfortunately, to see examples of that,” said Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare for the Pentagon. “I can look you square in the eye and say, absolutely, the [Defense Department] has got an exceptional safety record on this and we’re getting better every day.”

The Post’s analysis of accident records, however, shows that the military and drone manufacturers have yet to overcome some fundamental safety hurdles:

•A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.

•Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.

•Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been “possessed” and plagued by “demons.”

•Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.


Among the models that crashed most often is the MQ-1 Predator, the Air Force drone manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, of San Diego. Almost half the Predators bought by the Air Force have been involved in a major accident, according to purchasing and safety data.

Frank W. Pace, president of aircraft systems for General Atomics, the leading producer of large military drones, said the Predator has exceeded expectations for reliability. It was designed to be lightweight and inexpensive, costing less than $4 million apiece. During the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, nobody expected the Predator to last very long.

“It was more of a mind-set that you were going to get shot down or have other losses, so you don’t want to put all this money into a redundant system,” Pace said, referring to backup systems designed to kick in when a failure occurs.

He emphasized that none of the Predator accidents have been fatal.

“We’ve never reported a loss of life,” he said, “so we’re doing pretty good.”


Accidents span globe

Drones have revolutionized warfare. Now they are poised to revolutionize civil aviation. Under the law passed by Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to issue rules by September 2015 that will begin the widespread integration of drones into civilian airspace.

Pent-up demand to buy and fly remotely controlled aircraft is enormous. Law enforcement agencies, which already own a small number of camera-equipped drones, are projected to purchase thousands more; police departments covet them as an inexpensive tool to provide bird’s-eye surveillance for up to 24 hours straight.

Businesses see profitable possibilities for drones, to tend crops, move cargo, inspect real estate or film Hollywood movies. Journalists have applied for drone licenses to cover the news. chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos wants his company to use autonomous drones to deliver small packages to customers’ doorsteps. (Bezos also owns The Post.)

The military owns about 10,000 drones, from one-pound Wasps and four-pound Ravens to one-ton Predators and 15-ton Global Hawks. By 2017, the armed forces plan to fly drones from at least 110 bases in 39 states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico.

The drone industry, which lobbied Congress to pass the new law, predicts $82 billion in economic benefits and 100,000 new jobs by 2025.

Public opposition has centered on civil-liberties concerns, such as the morality and legality of using drones to spy on people in their back yards. There has been scant scrutiny of the safety record of remotely controlled aircraft. A report released June 5 by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there were “serious unanswered questions” about how to safely integrate civilian drones into the national airspace, calling it a “critical, crosscutting challenge.”

Nobody has more experience with drones than the U.S. military, which has logged more than 4 million flight hours. But the Defense Department tightly guards the particulars of its drone operations, including how, when and where most accidents occur.

The Post filed more than two dozen Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Responding intermittently over the course of a year, the military released investigative files and other records that collectively identified 418 major drone crashes around the world between September 2001 and the end of last year.

That figure is almost equivalent to the number of major crashes incurred by the Air Force’s fleet of fighter jets and attack planes during the same period, even though the drones flew far fewer missions and hours, according to Air Force safety statistics.

The military divided the major accidents into two categories of severity, based on the amount of damage inflicted to the aircraft or other property. (There are three other categories for more minor accidents.)

According to the records, 194 drones fell into the first category — Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused, under current standards, at least $2 million in damage.

Slightly more than half of those accidents occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq. Almost a quarter happened in the United States.

More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.


In most instances, military officials convened an accident investigation board to determine the cause. In 18 cases, the drone crashes were so sensitive that the military classified the names of the countries where they occurred and details of what happened.

Two hundred and twenty-four drones crashed in Class B accidents that, under current standards, cost between $500,000 and $2 million. Officials withheld basic details about those mishaps, such as the dates and locations, on the grounds that the lesser damage totals did not warrant a public investigation.

The military documents do not include information about drones operated covertly by the CIA. The spy agency has its own fleet of about 30 armed Predator and Reaper drones overseas, all flown remotely by Air Force pilots assigned to the CIA.

The CIA also flies highly advanced RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drones, including one that U.S. officials have acknowledged went down in Iran in December 2011.


‘Hit by a UAV!’

As the military dispatched drone after drone to Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, some Air Force commanders saw the potential for trouble in the increasingly crowded skies.

Air Force leaders circulated briefing materials that quoted an unnamed general as saying, “What I worry about is the day I have a C-130 with a cargo-load of soldiers, and a [drone] comes right through the cockpit window.”

“What I worry about is the day I have a C-130 with a cargo-load of soldiers, and a [drone] comes right through the cockpit window.”

—Unnamed general in Air Force briefing materials


The general’s worries were well founded. On Aug. 15, 2011, a C-130 Hercules weighing about 145,000 pounds was descending toward Forward Operating Base Sharana, in eastern Afghanistan. Suddenly, a quarter-mile above the ground, the huge Air Force plane collided with a 375-pound flying object.

“Holy shit!” yelled the Hercules’s navigator, according to a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder. “We got hit by a UAV! Hit by a UAV!”

It was an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV in military jargon. An RQ-7B Shadow, flown by an Army ground crew, had smashed into the cargo plane’s left wing between two propellers. Jet fuel cascaded out of a gash in the wing.

The Hercules crew shut down one engine and radioed to clear the runway. Within two minutes, the plane landed, smoke pouring from the left side. “There’s a big frickin’ hole in the airplane,” the pilot said, according to the cockpit voice recorder. No one was hurt.

About 50 seconds later, the unwitting drone operator radioed the control tower to confess he had lost track of his aircraft.

“We had a, ah, C-130, um, that hit a UAV,” the air-traffic controller responded. “I’m suspecting that it’s yours.”

The collision pulverized the Shadow. As word spread, it left drone manufacturers and drone advocates in the military on tenterhooks. If investigators determined the drone crew was responsible for a midair disaster, it would undermine plans to fly robotic aircraft not just overseas but back in the United States.

The military has never publicly disclosed the outcome of the investigation. Two Pentagon officials said in interviews that the drone operator was not at fault, but they did not give further details.

In response to a FOIA request from The Post, the Air Force released hundreds of pages of documents from its safety probe. The official finding of what caused the crash was censored, but some of the documents suggest the air-traffic controller was at least partly blamed. The records show the controller, a civilian contractor whose name was redacted, was temporarily demoted and given remedial training.

Military officials said there has been only one other case of a midair drone collision, involving a helicopter and a small, hand-launched drone in Iraq a decade ago.


Close calls on the ground have been more frequent.

“Where the hell is — where is the runway?” screamed Air Force Capt. Matthew Scardaci as his engine conked out and his Predator crashed into Kandahar air base on May 5, 2011, according to a voice-recording transcript. “Oh shit, oh damn, oh my God what is that!? . . . What was all that stuff that I just hit?”

A row of empty shipping containers, it turned out. Nobody was hurt. Scardaci did not respond to a request for comment through an Air Force spokeswoman.

In eastern Afghanistan, Predators armed with Hellfires crashed near residential areas in the city of Jalalabad twice in the space of six months.

In one instance, on Aug. 20, 2011, a drone “began falling out of the sky” after its propeller broke. “I looked below us, and there were houses everywhere,” the camera operator told investigators.

The Predator smashed into two Afghan housing compounds and sparked a fire. No one was hurt. The military compensated the homeowners with an undisclosed amount of money.


‘Oops’ and ‘uh-oh’

Inside ground-control stations, drone pilots sit with binders of checklists that guide them through every conceivable scenario. But costly errors are still easy to make.

One recurring mistake: forgetting to turn on the Stability Augmentation System, which prevents the drone from going wobbly or into a spin. In at least five cases, pilots did not switch it on, or accidentally switched it off, then sat perplexed as the aircraft went into a nose dive.

On Aug. 16, 2010, neither the pilot nor the camera operator noticed the bright red warning lights on the video screens in front of them when their Predator took off from Balad air base in Iraq with the stabilizer turned off.

“That’s freaking us!” the camera operator yelled as the drone crashed, leaving a hole three feet deep near the runway. “What in the hell happened?” Investigators blamed “pilot inattention” for the accident.

In four cases between 2009 and 2012, Air Force officials determined that pilots’ mistakes were willfully negligent, placing them under investigation for suspected dereliction of duty, a criminal charge under military law.

One flew a Predator, unintentionally, into a 17,000-foot Afghan mountain, even after he was warned to watch out for high terrain.

Investigators concluded that the inexperienced pilot was rushing to help troops on the ground and preoccupied with nearby storm clouds, unaware of the mountain looming ahead.

The accident reports do not disclose the outcomes of the dereliction-of-duty cases or identify the pilots. Air Force officials declined to elaborate.

In another dereliction case, voice-recorder transcripts show an irritated camera operator lecturing a habitually nervous pilot right before takeoff at Jalalabad on July 24, 2012.


“Stop saying ‘uh oh’ while you’re flying,” the operator chided. “It’s never good. Like going to the dentist or a doctor . . . oops, what the f— you mean oops?”

Sure enough, a few minutes later — oops. The armed Predator rammed a runway barrier and guardhouse.

“Whoa,” the pilot said. “I don’t know what the hell just happened.”


Reliability gripes

The original Predator was designed without redundant systems common to larger, manned aircraft. It bore only one engine, one alternator, one propeller. If any of those parts failed, the plane would come down.

Since the drone program began, the Air Force has acquired 269 Predators. Forty percent have crashed in Class A accidents, the most severe category. An additional 8 percent wrecked in Class B accidents.

As the accidents piled up, Air Force crews griped about reliability. Some of the complaints were aimed at General Atomics, the manufacturer.

“I don’t want to be the one that crashes a plane, but I hope that this causes folks, and when I say folks, I mean GA [General Atomics], I hope we hold them accountable for some of this stuff,” Air Force Maj. Elizio Bodden, a Predator instructor pilot, told an accident investigation board after a crash in Iraq on Nov. 29, 2007. “We know we are flying with some defective stuff, but we still do it.”

Pace, the General Atomics executive, blamed most Predator accidents on pilot mistakes during landings. He said that the company has made some safety upgrades to the aircraft but that adding extra engines or duplicate power systems was not practical, because it would require “a big redo.”

He noted that the aircraft has a limited future. General Atomics ceased production of the original Predator model in 2011 and replaced it with the MQ-9 Reaper, a more reliable aircraft that can fly twice as fast and carry more missiles and bombs. The Air Force plans to stop flying Predators by 2018 and has not been “interested in putting their money into upgrades,” Pace said.

The Air Force acknowledged that Predators crash more frequently than regular military aircraft, but officials said the drone’s safety record has improved markedly.

During its first dozen years of existence, the Predator crashed at an extraordinarily high rate — for every 100,000 hours flown, it was involved in 13.7 Class A accidents.

Since 2009, as the Air Force has become more experienced at flying drones, the mishap rate for Predators has fallen to 4.79 Class A accidents for every 100,000 flight hours.


Army crash rates

The Reaper has fared better than the Predator, incurring 3.17 Class A mishaps per 100,000 hours over the past five years.

Air Force officials pointed out that the crash rate for Reapers now approaches the standard set by two fighter jets, the F-16 and F-15, which over the past five years have posted Class A mishap rates of 1.96 and 1.47 respectively, according to statistics from the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

“We’ve learned a lot about flying [drones] because we had to,” said Air Force Col. James Marshall, the safety director for the Air Combat Command. “War is a great motivator when lives are on the line.”

The Reaper has not been immune to deficiencies.


After one crashed during a training mission in California on March 20, 2009, Air Force investigators blamed a faulty temperature control valve in the oil system. A similar incident had occurred one month before.

Further investigation revealed that sliders in the valves had been installed upside-down. Air Force inspectors were even more surprised to learn from General Atomics that the firm had bought the valves from a Houston company that did not design its products for use in airplanes.

The valve “is not of aerospace grade. In other words, the thermostatic valve was designed specifically for industrial applications ONLY,” an Air Force investigator wrote in the accident report. “This thermostatic valve was not intended for aircraft.”


MQ-9A mishap at Creech AFB on March 20, 2009.

Unlike the Air Force, the Army does not make the argument that its drones are nearly as safe as regular planes.

In June 2013, Army safety officials posted a bulletin noting that their drones had crashed at 10 times the rate of manned Army aircraft over the previous nine months.

As bad as that number sounded, the officials said it actually understated the problem. Commanders were not reporting many drone mishaps, as required, to the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.

About 55 percent of the Army’s MQ-5 Hunter drones, which can carry weapons, have been “lost for various reasons” in accidents during training and combat operations, according to Col. Tim Baxter, the Army’s project manager for unmanned aircraft systems.

The RQ-7 Shadow, the smaller reconnaissance model that crashed into the Hercules cargo plane, has also been accident-prone. At least 38 percent of the Army’s fleet has been involved in a major accident, according to a Post analysis of Army safety statistics.


Into mountains, into the sea

The accident investigation reports describe a profusion of emergencies in which drones swerved so far out of control that crews had to resort to extreme measures to prevent catastrophes.

On six occasions between 2006 and 2012, records show, pilots intentionally flew straight into the side of a mountain after their aircraft’s engines began to fail.

Under military guidelines, it was considered safer to ram a remote peak on purpose than to risk a drone falling on someone during a Hail Mary landing attempt at an airfield.

“He smashed it to smithereens,” an Air Force mission supervisor reported approvingly after a pilot struggling with a broken propeller motor commanded his Predator to strike a mountain in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 26, 2012.

In several other cases, drones simply disappeared and were never found.

The nighttime skies were clear, with little wind, on July 10, 2011, when crew members who had been flying an armed Predator at an altitude of 16,500 feet over eastern Afghanistan saw their screens go blank. The satellite links had gone down. Despite hours of searching, nobody could find the plane on radar. An airborne search also proved fruitless.

Large drones are equipped with transponders to broadcast their locations. If they lose all electrical power, the transponders do not work; most models do not carry battery-powered backup systems, because of the extra weight.


Such was the fate of an armed Predator that disappeared 20 minutes after taking off from Kandahar air base on Nov. 20, 2009. Searchers looked for two days but found no trace and declared it lost.

Five weeks later, troops stumbled across the wreckage, crumpled in the dirt seven miles from the base. Investigators determined the crash was a caused by a “catastrophic electrical failure” triggered by a short-circuited alternator cable.

Lightning, high winds and icing can be especially lethal for drones.

On Dec. 13, 2012, a Navy helicopter drone was trying to land on the USS Robert G. Bradley, a guided-missile frigate, off the coast of Libya when the tail rotor shattered just 15 feet above the flight deck.

Witnesses saw a two-foot chunk of ice fall off the tail; investigators concluded that icy conditions were to blame. Luckily for the crew, the drone, an MQ-8B Fire Scout, veered into the sea at the last second, narrowly missing the ship.


Lost links

Drones depend on wireless links for navigation and control. Pilots and camera operators issue directions to the drone by a command link, usually by satellite. Data about the aircraft’s movements and internal operations returns via a separate link.

Pilots rely on satellites to track drones

From takeoff until it leaves the line of sight, the drone is controlled with a direct data link from a ground-control station.

If the communication link is lost, the drone is programmed to fly autonomously in circles, or return to base, until the link can be reconnected.

When the drone leaves the line of sight, the ground-control station switches to a satellite link to control the aircraft. The drone also uses GPS to relay its position.

The links can be easily interrupted by various forms of interference. Usually, the outages last only a few seconds and are harmless. Just in case, drones are programmed to fly in a circular pattern until the links are restored. In worst-case scenarios, they are supposed to return automatically to their launch base.

Records show that does not always happen. In more than a quarter of the accidents examined by The Post, links were lost around the time of the crash.

Several pilots told investigators that they were so accustomed to lost links that tended not to get nervous unless the disruptions lasted for more than a few minutes.

“I’d say after the three- or five-minute period, you sort of get the feeling that the plane just stopped talking to us and we may not recover this one,” a Predator pilot testified after an April 20, 2009, crash in Afghanistan.

Less than a month later, five hours into a reconnaissance mission over Afghanistan, a Predator lost its links and vanished in midair. Investigators never found the wreckage and were unable to determine a cause; the weather was clear, and there were no signs of mechanical problems or errors by the crew.

Satellite connections can be lost when a drone banks too sharply or drops in altitude too quickly. Electrical problems on the ground can also disrupt links.

On July 21, 2008, chaos erupted inside an Air Force ground-control station where crew members were flying three Predators simultaneously over Afghanistan. The station lost its power supply, and all its screens went black.


After several minutes, power was restored and pilots regained control over two of the Predators that had followed their programmed flight patterns and were flying in circles.

The third disappeared.


Rasmussen Reports


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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Americans are more unhappy about the overall economy despite signs that the housing industry is recovering at last. Is government spending at least partially to blame?

Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Likely Voters now believe that the U.S. economy is unfair to the middle class, and 61% say it’s unfair to all Americans. Both are at their highest levels in a year-and-a-half.

This takes on added significance when you consider that 83% of working Americans consider themselves middle class 

The economy and health care continue to be the top issues on voters’ minds as they head into the upcoming elections, but government spending has now worked its way into the top three on the list of 15 major issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports.  

Voters still believe that cutting spending – and taxes – will do more to help the economy than raising them will

Only 24% think the federal government should increase spending in reacting to the nation’s economic problems. Sixty-three percent (63%) believe the government should cut spending instead. 
Fifty-six percent (56%) think thoughtful spending cuts should be considered in every program of the federal government

But most (55%) also still expect government spending to increase under President Obama, and only nine percent (9%) expect their taxes to go down.

This helps explain why the president’s daily job approval ratings continue to bump along at the negative levels seen for much of his presidency. 

Still, while consumer and investor confidence this week fell further from recent highs, they remain well ahead of where they’ve been for the past several years. 

There also are increasing signs that the housing bust may be behind us. Forty-four percent (44%) of Americans now say it’s a good time for someone in their area to be selling a house. This is the first time this number has broken the 40% mark in over five years of regular surveying.

Thirty-nine percent (39%) of homeowners expect their home’s value to go up over the next year, the highest level of short-term confidence in five years of regular tracking. Fifty-five percent (55%) expect their home’s value to go up over the next five years.

Americans continue to frown on government help for the housing market, though. 
Only 21% believe that if someone cannot afford to make increased mortgage payments, the government should assist them. Most (63%) still think people in that situation should sell their home and find a less expensive one.

Other economic indicators are less reassuring.  

Americans remain slow to recover their faith in the nation’s banks since 2008’s financial meltdown. Fifty-two percent (52%) say they are confident in the banking system again this month, but that compares to 68% in July 2008. 

Concern about inflation is still very high, and the number who expect their grocery bills to keep going up (74%) is at its highest level in nearly two years.

As for health care, just 24% of voters believe the quality of care in America will get better under Obamacare, and most (56%) still think costs will continue to rise.

Iraq is back in the news as an al-Qaeda-led insurgency threatens to topple the democratically elected government the U.S. military left behind two years ago. Forty-six percent (46%) of voters favor the United States making military airstrikes there to help the government fight back, but 60% oppose returning U.S. troops to Iraq

With congressional hearings about the Benghazi issue beginning soon, the Obama administration made the surprising announcement this week that it has captured the Islamic militant suspected of masterminding the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. Voters strongly believe the suspect in the Benghazi killings should be tried in U.S. courts and, if found guilty, 64% think he should be sentenced to death. 

Thousands of young illegal immigrants are flooding the border in what appears to be a concerted effort by some of our southern neighbors to dump their economic problems on the United States.

Americans are slightly more supportive of increasing the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States if the federal government can fully secure the border first to prevent future illegal immigration. But 58% still want to decrease legal immigration or keep it about the same.

Thirty-nine percent (39%) believe the United States should welcome all potential immigrants, other than national security threats, who are willing to work hard and able to support their family. But slightly more (43%) disagree.

One problem is that while 71% of voters have a favorable opinion of immigrants who work hard to pursue the American Dream, only 49% now think most immigrants are working hard to support their family and pursue that dream.

Just 26% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction, the lowest weekly finding since early December 2013.

In other surveys this week:

— Democrats lead Republicans by two points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Likely New Jersey Voters approve of the job Chris Christie is doing as governor, but 43% believe the budget situation in the state is worse now that it was a year ago.

— Democrat Cory Booker, running for reelection after less than a year in office, holds a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Jeff Bell in New Jersey’s U.S. Senate race.

— Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans believe being a father is the most important role for a man to fill in today’s world.

Thirty-nine percent (39%) will watch the World Cup soccer championships this year, up from 29% who were following the games in 2010 and 21% four years earlier.


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