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October 11 2014

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Why Peak-Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True

More Experts Now Believe Technology Will Continue to Unlock New Sources

By Russell Gold

The Wall Street Journal

Updated Sept. 29, 2014 4:26 p.m. ET


Have we beaten “peak oil”?

For decades, it has been a doomsday scenario looming large in the popular imagination: The world’s oil production tops out and then starts an inexorable decline—sending costs soaring and forcing nations to lay down strict rationing programs and battle for shrinking reserves.

U.S. oil production did peak in the 1970s and sank for decades after, exactly as the theory predicted. But then it did something the theory didn’t predict: It started rising again in 2009, and hasn’t stopped, thanks to a leap forward in oil-field technology.

To the peak-oil adherents, this is just a respite, and decline is inevitable. But a growing tide of oil-industry experts argue that peak oil looks at the situation in the wrong way. The real constraints we face are technological and economic, they say. We’re limited not by the amount of oil in the ground, but by how inventive we are about reaching new sources of fuel and how much we’re willing to pay to get at it.

“Technology moves so quickly today that any looming resource constraint will be nothing more than a blip,” says petroleum economist Phil Verleger. “We adjust.”

Whether peak oil exists is more than just a point of intellectual debate—although it certainly has proved to be a heated and divisive one for decades. The question—and how we think about it—also has a big potential impact for governments, oil producers and ordinary people across the globe, all of whom depend on the vagaries of oil production and would be threatened by soaring costs and shortages.

The peak-oil boosters argue that instead of plowing money into new ways to find oil, we should be conserving what we have and investing in alternative energy sources so that we’re prepared when supplies run low and costs soar. Most of the naysayers agree that we shouldn’t stick with oil forever. But they think it’s wiser to invest in technology to keep expanding the available supply, until it gets too expensive to do so. At that point, they’re confident, we’ll be able to come up with an economical alternative.

The History of an Idea

Peak oil was most widely popularized by M. King Hubbert, a brilliant—and egotistic, by some accounts—geologist who worked for years at Shell Oil. In a 1956 paper, he predicted that U.S. oil production would peak, probably in the early 1970s, and then decline. It would resemble a bell curve.

Photos from left: Getty Images, Corbis, Statoil, Schlumberger

This came to be called Hubbert’s peak and later peak oil. The idea gained enormous popularity when U.S. oil output did in fact peak in the early 1970s. It took hold at a time when the nation was prepared to believe the worst: Drivers were waiting in long gas lines, and the nation felt it was groaning under the yoke of OPEC. Forecasters like Paul Ehrlich became celebrities with dire warnings of overpopulation and exhaustion of natural resources.

As the theory took hold, it helped justify increased investments in alternative energy, and informed some expert thinking about the future of energy. More recently, the theory saw a surge of interest a few years ago when oil prices were high and seemed stuck there.

“Welcome to the world beyond Hubbert’s peak,” wrote Kenneth Deffeyes, one of the adherents of peak oil, in 2008.

Then the data took a detour from the bell curve. In 2008, the U.S. produced five million barrels a day. In 2009, U.S. oil production began to rise—at first slowly, then quickly. It is still rising today. Through the first half of 2014, it averaged 8.3 million barrels a day.

What changed? An innovation in oil-field technology, which peak-oil theory didn’t anticipate. Energy companies combined hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to wring oil out of super-tight rock formations in North America. The industry figured out that pumping chemically slickened water and sand into shales could create thousands of fractures, each one a tiny path for energy molecules to travel into a well.

At first, drillers targeted natural gas because they thought oil molecules were too big to be extracted. But fracking worked to make oil wells, also. Innovations allowed the industry to locate its frack jobs better and increase density. Now other countries are starting to apply the same techniques and may see the same kinds of gains.

A Different Take

With the recent boom have come arguments that peak oil underestimates the power of innovation. Indeed, many oil experts say, the industry has a history of turning up new supplies just when prospects look bleak.

A century ago, the energy industry found giant new oil fields in Texas and California just as fears spread that oil output had peaked. As production in the U.S. began to decline, other regions picked up the slack: the North Sea, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Technical innovations such as using sound waves to locate oil fields through thousands of feet of water and rock spurred a boom in deep-water drilling.

More broadly, peak-oil naysayers argue, the theory looks at the problem in the wrong way—focusing on the physical supply instead of our ingenuity in being able to reach it. “There has to be a finite limit” of oil and gas in buried reserves, says George King, a global technology consultant for Apache Corp. But the constraint on how much oil can be produced isn’t geological, he believes: “We face technical and economic limits more than anything else.”

And Mr. King is an optimist about our ability to overcome technical limits. “This is an inventive industry,” he says.

One of his responsibilities at Apache, a Houston-based oil and gas company, is to stay abreast of new technologies that could boost output in years ahead. For example, he is paying attention to new ways of squeezing more oil out of tight reservoirs. When rocks are fracked, a large amount of oil remains left behind. Fracking tends to free the lighter, smaller gas and oil molecules but leaves behind heavier and stickier molecules.

One idea calls for using carbon dioxide to flood into the tight rocks and push oil out ahead of it. Another is to use nanochemistry to reduce surface tension and lift oil molecules off rock, much like a detergent lifts stains. “Some companies have really neat ideas” along these lines, he says.

What Next?

To be sure, the peak-oil naysayers don’t think we should wholly embrace oil for all time, just that we shouldn’t try to speed up any transition to alternatives in anticipation of short supplies. After all, misguided energy policy can have very bad outcomes. For instance, in the 1970s, the U.S. thought it was running out of natural gas, and Congress prohibited building any new power plants that used it. Instead, we built lots of coal plants—about half of the modern coal fleet—that burdened us with a legacy of dirty air in some cities. Not to mention that in the past few years, we have tapped an abundance of natural-gas supplies.

And naysayers agree that while they don’t believe supply limits loom, economic limits remain. When the oil industry overcomes an obstacle and boosts oil production, costs typically increase. That opens the door for a better and cheaper energy source that will eventually displace crude oil.

So at some point, the cost of getting more and more oil likely will get so high that buyers can’t—or won’t—pay.

This is an issue the late petroleum economist Morris Adelman wrestled with. “No mineral, including oil, will ever be exhausted. If and when the cost of finding and extraction goes above the price consumers are willing to pay, the industry will begin to disappear,” he wrote in “The Genie out of the Bottle: World Oil Since 1970,” a book published in 1995. Mr. Adelman, a professor emeritus of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died earlier this year at 96.

Already, economics is bringing about some changes. Despite the abundance of oil that fracking has delivered, global oil prices remain high. This has kept the door wide open for alternative sources of energy and spending on energy efficiency. Natural gas has been grabbing market share from oil for years. A few decades ago, heating oil kept American homes snug; now it’s natural gas. And gas is making inroads in transportation—trucks and trains—as are electric cars.

What’s more, climate change has altered the calculus. More advocates are pushing for alternative, low-carbon fuels to slow the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They argue that the possibility of running out of oil isn’t the only reason to reduce its use; in fact, they worry that the expansion of supply is dangerous, hindering efforts to take action on the long-term threat of climate change.

“There will be peak oil, but it will be [because of] peak consumption,” says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, an energy and climate think tank in Oakland, Calif. “What we all want is to move to better, cheaper and cleaner sources of energy.”

Mr. Shellenberger suspects that oil’s long dominance in transportation is weaker than most people suspect. When something better comes along, he says, oil’s days are numbered. “We will be leaving a lot of oil in the ground, in the same way we are leaving coal in the ground,” he says.

Hubbert’s Take

If M. King Hubbert were alive today—he died in 1989—would he admit defeat? Probably not, says Mason Inman, who has written a biography of Mr. Hubbert that will be released next year. He argues that the recent shale boom is just a temporary respite in a long march downward. U.S. oil production could be about to hit a second peak, and then return to its terminal decline.

The production boom “makes things better for a while, but it doesn’t change the long-term picture,” Mr. Inman says.

If Mr. Hubbert were around, he might be dumbstruck by what he sees, Mr. Inman says. Mr. Hubbert, he says, advocated turning to solar power and energy efficiency to break the dependency on oil.

As for the power of innovation to reach new oil reserves, Mr. Hubbert believed that technology would help extend the limits of oil production, but thought its impact was exaggerated, Mr. Inman says. He felt people would invoke technology as a kind of panacea—which it isn’t.

There will eventually be diminishing returns, Mr. Inman says, since oil is a finite resource, even though we don’t really know its limits. “He would probably say, ‘You guys are crazy to be drilling this so fast and using it up and pretending it’s a solution,’ ” says Mr. Inman.

Mr. Gold is a Wall Street Journal staff reporter in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at





Attack code for ‘unpatchable’ USB flaw

6 October 2014 Last updated at 11:29 ET


Computer code that can turn any almost any device that connects via USB into a cyber-attack platform has been shared online.

Computer security researchers wrote the code following the discovery of the USB flaw earlier this year.

The pair made the code public in an attempt to force electronics firms to improve defences against attack by USB.

One of the experts who found the flaw said the release was a “stark reminder” of its seriousness.

Details of the BadUSB flaw were released at the Black Hat computer security conference in August by Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell.

Their work revealed how to exploit flaws in the software that helps devices connect to computers via USB. The biggest problem they discovered lurks in the onboard software, known as firmware, found on these devices.

Among other things the firmware tells a computer what kind of a device is being plugged into a USB socket but the two cybersecurity researchers found a way to subvert this and install attack code. At Black Hat, the BBC saw demonstrations using a smartphone and a USB stick that could steal data when plugged into target machines.

Mr Nohl said he and his colleague did not release code in order to give firms making USB-controlling firmware time to work out how to combat the problem.

Now researchers Adam Caudill and Brandon Wilson have done their own work on the USB flaw and produced code that can be used to exploit it. The pair unveiled their work at the DerbyCon hacker conference last week and have made their attack software freely available via code-sharing site Github.

“We’re releasing everything we’ve done here, nothing is being held back,” said Mr Wilson in a presentation at DerbyCon.

“We believe that this information should not be limited to a select few as others have treated it,” he added. “It needs to be available to the public.”

Mr Wilson said cybercrime groups definitely had the resources to replicate the work of Mr Nohl and Mr Lell to produce their own attack code so releasing a version to the security community was a way to redress that imbalance.

Responding to the release of the attack tools Mr Nohl told the BBC that such “full disclosure” can motivate companies to act and make products more secure.

“In the case of BadUSB, however, the problem is structural,” he said. “The standard itself is what enables the attack and no single vendor is in a position to change that.”

“It is unclear who would feel pressured to improve their products by the recent release,” he added. “The release is a stark reminder to defenders, though, that BadUSB is – and always has been – in reach of attackers.”


Australia About to Certify its 150th Unmanned Aircraft Operator

by Press • 6 October 2014


  • A 50% growth rate in CASA certified operators has occurred in just five months, meaning unmanned aircraft
  • system start-ups are now one of the fastest growing industry segments in Australia.
  • The rapid growth rate is overwhelmingly dominated by micro and small businesses, which hold 123 out of the
  • 146 already issued operator certificates at 1 October 2014.
  • Four Australian Stock Exchange-listed firms now hold operator certificates.
  • Traditional aerospace and defence firms hold just six certificates out of the total issued, strongly reinforcing the
  • separate and commercially-orientated focus of this fast growing industry.
  • The first Australian university has secured an operators certificate, marking the first time a part of the tertiary education and research sector has attained full compliance with CASA regulations for unmanned aircraft systems.


Brisbane: A major milestone is about to be recorded by the Australian unmanned aircraft industry with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to certify its 150th certified unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operator this month. This milestone represents a 50% increase in the number of CASA certified UAS operators since May this year. If the current pace is sustained, the number of certified operators is now likely to pass 200 by as soon as March 2015.


This surge in certification “represents the true coming of age of the commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) sector in this country” says Joe Urli, President of the Australian Certified UAV Operators Association. “It is now reasonable to talk of a national operator base in the order of 400-500 separate commercial entities within short years, with this reaching into virtually all segments of Australia’s dominant industry sectors. The impacts will be felt from the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) through to small communities in regional Australia, and small and micro businesses are at its forefront.

“The industry is growing at an exceptional rate, and is doing so on a trajectory completely separate to the traditional patterns seen in the Australian national aerospace and defence industry bases. The sheer numbers of new UAS operator certificates are matched by a corresponding boom in start-up companies established specifically to pursue new markets leveraging low-cost, off the shelf products.

“These firms have far more in common with IT sector start-ups than multinational defence manufacturing contractors” says Urli.

“Australian governments are failing to understand this reality and need to acutely realign their understanding of where the commercial UAS sector fits into the national industrial base if our true market potential is to be achieved.”

At 1 October 2014, CASA had issued a total of 146 UAS operator certificates. Analysis of CASA records commissioned by ACUO shows 100 certificates alone are held by micro businesses and another 23 by small businesses. Ten certificates are held by medium businesses, predominantly in the engineering and surveying sector, while six certificates are held by large enterprises.

Four ASX listed firms with operating entities now hold unmanned aircraft operator certificates, these being Cardno (Cardno Hard and Forester); AusNet Services (Select Solutions); Xtek and Worley Parsons.

“The emergence of ASX-listed firms as certified operators is an important indicator of the rate of maturation of the unmanned systems sector in Australia” says Urli. “This should be seen as a direct reflection of a more sophisticated view of technology as an investment option from within the finance sector, as well as a reflection of the inherent opportunities in an important emerging global industry.

“Australia is exceptionally well placed to exploit new opportunities associated with the linking of established industries such as civil engineering and infrastructure development with UAS technology.

Australia is already a world leader in using UAS as an integral element of open pit mining operations using contracted services-type business models.”

Five Australian public agencies currently hold certificates, these including the Australian Federal Police, which has been experimenting with UAS for several years, as well as the state police of South Australia and Queensland.

The national operator base now includes its first tertiary and research sector entity, with the University of New South Wales securing its CASA certification in August. “This is an important turning point given the number of universities with active UAS-focussed research programs in this country. CASA regulatory requirements for UAS have been in place for a decade and the lag now significantly contrasts with the race by universities and research agencies in the United States to secure interim and restricted approvals from the US Federal Aviation Administration for their own flight operations” says Urli.

“We see Australian universities achieving comprehensive compliance with CASA regulations for safe UAS operation as a national competitive advantage if progressed in the near term” says Urli.

“Both the United States and Europe are some three to four years away from a comprehensive UAS certification regime but once it comes into being, the baseline for all university UAS programs will change globally. Serious UAS research programs will be expected to hold certification as part of standard practice.

“Australian universities right now have the privileged position of being able to pursue first mover status with clear global market advantages. The research and tertiary education sectors of few countries ever get such opportunities laid before them.”

The national surge in operator certificates since May has seen Victoria remain the dominant state in overall numbers with 39 holders; however New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia are seeing the fastest rate of growth as a whole.

The impact of the emerging sector on regional Australia is likewise proving to be a sustained feature of the growth pattern, with an approximate 66:33 divide between operators located in capital cities and those in regional areas.

“This pattern first became clear in May of this year and it has remained a constant in the surge of the past five months” says Urli.

“Our analysis indicates this pattern is likely to be sustained given the already established links between the UAS operator community and the mining sector, but also as a reflection of growing interest in the technology by primary producers.”

CASA issued its first UAS operator certificate back in November 2002 to the Brisbane-based company Helimetrex. More than a decade later, in January 2013, there were still only 27 certificates holders in total, this again highlighting the dramatic scale of industry expansion over just the past two years.

“With such widespread interest in the UAS industry, the future looks very prosperous indeed for those with the foresight to legitimize their business model early” says Urli.

The full current list of CASA certificate holders can be viewed at:

The Australian rules for UAS required formal training to get operation certificates, controller certificates, requirements for liability insurance, and registration fees are at


Panetta: ’30-year war’ and a leadership test for Obama

Susan Page, USA TODAY 1:54 p.m. EDT October 6, 2014

CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. — Americans should be braced for a long battle against the brutal terrorist group Islamic State that will test U.S. resolve — and the leadership of the commander in chief, says Leon Panetta, who headed the CIA and then the Pentagon as Al Qaeda was weakened and Osama bin Laden killed.

“I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war,” he says, one that will have to extend beyond Islamic State to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.

In his first interview about his new book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, Panetta argues that decisions made by President Obama over the past three years have made that battle more difficult — an explosive assessment by a respected policymaker of the president he served.

Even before it’s published Tuesday by Penguin Press, the 512-page book has provoked rebukes at the State Department and by Vice President Biden. But Panetta says he was determined to write a book that was “honest,” including his high regard for the president on some fronts and his deep concern about his leadership on others.

Have ‘2nd-term blues’ hit the Secret Service?

In an interview at his home with Capital Download, USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series, Panetta says Obama erred:

• By not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. That “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.” Islamic State also is known as ISIS and ISIL.

• By rejecting the advice of top aides — including Panetta and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to begin arming Syrian rebels in 2012. If the U.S. had done so, “I do think we would be in a better position to kind of know whether or not there is some moderate element in the rebel forces that are confronting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”

• By warning Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, then failing to act when that “red line” was crossed in 2013. Before ordering airstrikes, Obama said he wanted to seek congressional authorization, which predictably didn’t happen.

The reversal cost the United States credibility then and is complicating efforts to enlist international allies now to join a coalition against the Islamic State, Panetta says. “There’s a little question mark to, is the United States going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?”

Showing leadership in the fight against ISIS is an opportunity “to repair the damage,” he says. He says it’s also a chance for Obama to get a fresh start after having “lost his way.”

On Friday, the terrorist group released a video that showed the beheading of a fourth Westerner, British aid worker Alan Henning, and threatened to execute American hostage Abdul-Rahman (formerly Peter) Kassig next.



Panetta’s behind-the-scenes account of events during Obama’s first term, including the internal debate over helping Syrian rebels, is consistent with those in memoirs published this year by Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, whom Panetta succeeded as Defense secretary.

But Panetta’s portrait of Obama is more sharply drawn and explicitly critical.

He praises the president for “his intelligence, his convictions, and his determination to do what was best for the country.” He notes that Obama has faced bitter opposition, especially from congressional Republicans. He credits him with scoring significant progress in fighting terrorism and righting the economy.

In the book’s final chapter, however, he writes that Obama’s “most conspicuous weakness” is “a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause.” Too often, he “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” On occasion, he “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”


Panetta.Worth Fights jacket

2014 _ Leon Panetta’s book Worthy Fights. Written by Leon Panetta and Jim Newton. Handout via Penguin Press(Photo: Penguin Press)

In the interview, Panetta says he thinks Obama “gets so discouraged by the process” that he sometimes stops fighting.

An example: The budget deal that included automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. Even though nearly everyone agreed privately that they were bad policy, Panetta says he found himself a lonely figure actively opposing them by lobbying Congress and making speeches warning that the Pentagon cuts would harm national security.

The book was the target of a veiled rebuke Thursday by Biden. “I’m finding that former administration officials, as soon as they leave write books, which I think is inappropriate,” Biden told students at Harvard. “At least give the guy a chance to get out of office.”

The vice president disputed whether it would have made a difference if U.S. aid had been given earlier to Syrian rebels, and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied that a deal to allow a residual force in Iraq could have been reached in the face of resistance by then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

It is surely no surprise to Panetta that his assessment is drawing White House ire. He provides fodder for the blistering partisan critiques of Obama’s leadership by Republicans, and he is considerably more candid about his misgivings than is typical in memoirs by former officials about the presidents they served, especially while they are still in office.

“Look, I’ve been a guy who’s always been honest,” Panetta says. “I’ve been honest in politics, honest with the people that I deal with. I’ve been a straight talker. Some people like it; some people don’t like it. But I wasn’t going to write a book that kind of didn’t express what I thought was the case.”

Panetta also argues that there is time for Obama to change tactics and recover — and that it is imperative he do so.

Congressional leaders, Democratic and Republican, share the blame for the dysfunctional state of affairs in Washington, he says, but he adds they might well respond to stronger and more engaged presidential leadership.

“He’s going to have to jump in the ring and fight it out for the next two years,” Panetta says. “My hope is that the president, recognizing that we are at a kind of critical point in his administration, will take the bit in his teeth and will say, ‘We have got to solve these problems.”



Panetta’s résumé gives his words weight. He has held top jobs in Congress and the executive branch, dealing with both domestic and national security issues, and emerged with his reputation for competence and good humor intact.

“In many ways, my story is the American story,” he says when asked why he wrote the memoir. “I’m the son of Italian immigrants, and they really believed that by coming to this country they could give their children a better life, and the reality is, I kind of lived that life.”

At first a moderate Republican, he worked in the Nixon administration before being pushed out after aggressively enforcing civil rights laws. He changed parties, was elected to nine terms in the House from California as a Democrat and served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Clinton appointed him Budget director, then moved him to White House chief of staff to impose order in what had been a chaotic operation. After the 2008 election, Obama tapped him as CIA director, then named him to head the Pentagon.

At the end of Obama’s first term, Panetta headed home to California, where he and his wife, Sylvia, have founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at California State University-Monterey Bay — an institution he helped establish in his congressional district when Fort Ord closed.

Now 76, he lives in the comfortable, casual house his father built in 1948, on a 12-acre ranch dotted with the walnut and elm trees planted then. In one corner of the living room is the Baldwin grand piano his parents gave him for his 12th birthday. (His musical prowess raised his mother’s hopes that he would become a concert pianist, though his father at one point advised dentistry as a career.) Framed family photos are everywhere.

His 12-year-old golden retriever, Bravo, trails him indoors and out.

Sitting in the living room, Panetta briefly assesses the legacies of the three presidents he has served.

For Richard Nixon, history will “probably be a little kinder to him later on,” given his achievements in opening relations with China, protecting the environment and other issues. “But the problem is that once a president resigns because of scandal, I think that’ll always darken his view in history.”

For Bill Clinton, history will remember that he “always kept fighting back” to get things done, even while battling impeachment. “Whether it was Democrats or Republicans, you know, he found a way to be able to do some things, to be able to accomplish some things that were important.”

He makes a similar observation about Hillary Clinton, saying she would be a “great” president. “One thing about the Clintons is, they want to get it done,” he says, in words that draw an implicit contrast with Obama. “When it comes to being president of the United States, it’s one thing to talk a good game. It’s another thing to deliver, to make things happen.”


And Barack Obama’s legacy?

“We are at a point where I think the jury is still out,” Panetta says. “For the first four years, and the time I spent there, I thought he was a strong leader on security issues. … But these last two years I think he kind of lost his way. You know, it’s been a mixed message, a little ambivalence in trying to approach these issues and try to clarify what the role of this country is all about.

“He may have found himself again with regards to this ISIS crisis. I hope that’s the case. And if he’s willing to roll up his sleeves and engage with Congress in taking on some of these other issues, as I said I think he can establish a very strong legacy as president. I think these next 2 1/2 years will tell us an awful lot about what history has to say about the Obama administration.”


Exelis Unveils Cognitive Electronic Warfare Technology

Oct 6, 2014 Bill Sweetman | AWIN First


Exelis is launching a new family of electronic warfare (EW) systems that it expects to offer better detection and jamming capability against emerging, more flexible radio-frequency (RF) threats.

Dubbed Disruptor SRx, the new products use “cognitive EW” technology, and are claimed to be able to respond in real time to previously unrecorded waveforms or operating modes. It is aimed at applications ranging from unmanned air vehicles to combat aircraft, has potential land and sea uses, and – according to Exelis – will work within a “system of systems” approach rather than being based on a single processor.

Disruptor SRx takes advantage of modern microprocessor and RF circuitry design to fit a digital receiver, digital radio-frequency memory (DRFM) and a digital signal processor in a single module. The module has a standalone capability to both identify signals against a threat library (as traditional systems do) and classify unknown signals and generate jamming signals if necessary, using high-speed processing and “machine learning” to respond on the fly.

Because the modules are self-contained, a system based on Disruptor SRx is not reliant on a centralized EW management computer to identify signals and generate countermeasures techniques. This cuts out system-wide connections and reduces latency, helping the system to react.

The modules will be delivered pre-configured to address different bands, and can cover from NATO A/B band (up to 500 MHz) to the millimeter-wave bands used by missile seekers. Exelis has designed the system to be “platform-agnostic” and to be installed behind existing antennas, and says that the individual modules are small enough to fit in spaces that were not designed to accommodate processing hardware.

Disruptor SRx is in the prototype stage, Exelis says, and applications are under study.


Gen. Hostage’s Warning’s-Warning.aspx

October 2014

By John A. Tirpak


Mike Hostage laid out the Air Force’s past and future readiness problem in no uncertain terms.

Last year’s budget sequester so crippled the Air Force that a third of its fleet was grounded and only a handful of jet aircraft were ready in case of a new international crisis, according to the head of the combat air forces. That debacle drove USAF’s request to shrink even more, as the service desperately tried to save enough cash to keep a smaller force fully prepared for unexpected wars.

And without Congress’ help, the same sequestration-based disaster will surely play out again next year.

Last summer’s stand-down was as badly timed as could be imagined. It was preceded by years of here-and-now combat operations that shortchanged depth and left the Air Force in a fragile readiness state, according to Air Combat Command chief Gen. Gilmary Michael Hostage III.

And, as he said in a July speech at an Air Force Association-sponsored event, the damage is still reverberating.

“By the end of the grounding period—three months and a week—we had eight combat ready airplanes” in the continental US that weren’t either already forward deployed to a combat area or getting ready to go.

“In other words, I had no reservoir force, were a contingency to pop up—a Syria, Iran, North Korea. … That was how bad it got.” He said he spent this past summer on Capitol Hill trying to explain “the reality of what sequestration does to us. We have to stop this.”

Hostage said he’s reached the practical limits of asking his people to “do more with less” and won’t do it anymore.

He started his speech—attended by industry, media, foreign air attachés and USAF officials—by noting that “my successor’s been named,” so “I say what I want. I don’t care who hears me. I’m going to tell the truth … because at this point, there’s not much they can do to me.”

Hostage is expected to retire this fall, and Pacific Air Forces chief Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle is set to take over ACC.

The command faced “pressure” not to ground units because “that would look bad,” Hostage said, but he had little choice. There’s “no definition for flying below … basic military capability rate,” meaning that aircrew are safe to fly, and in bad weather, but aren’t combat ready.

Rather than take his whole force below BMC, he elected to keep some units ready while others he simply shut down. Such a “debacle” mustn’t happen again, and he’s made a commitment to his airmen, saying, “I will not send you into combat unless you are organized, trained, and equipped to do what we’re going to ask you to do. I will get fired before I send somebody who’s not ready to go.”


How did USAF get in this mess?

The Pentagon knew sequester was coming for the first half of last year, but until the law actually kicked in, spending wasn’t seriously constrained.

“We had already been overspending because of the Continuing Resolution. Then, oh, by the way, [Congress decided not to] … reimburse” war spending.

“We had to absorb all that in six months. When we did the math, that would mean … flying the aviators once or twice a month. So I said, that can’t happen. So we figured out who we could keep fully operational and who we had to stop.”

While he believed airmen would accept grounding as a one-time fix to fiscal problems, “I don’t think they can accept it if I go back to them, year after year, and say, … ‘This year, we’re going to ground you.’ I think we would run into a morale issue pretty quickly.”

It was only because of the Murray-Ryan bipartisan budget deal that there was relief from sequester in Fiscal 2014. ACC has “clawed [its] way back out of that hole” by getting its pilots and crews requalified, but “it was a long struggle,” Hostage related, and depot maintenance is still backlogged. The three months of grounding required six months of rebuilding proficiency. Then, there was a 10-day government shutdown, requiring a further three weeks “on the recovery.”

Before the budget deal, Hostage said, he was contemplating “several months” of keeping units at BMC in Fiscal 2014, then working them back up to combat mission readiness, to avoid grounding. However, he’s decided that just won’t work. In fact, he fully expects that sequestration will return, and “we’re going to hit the same spot at the bottom of the cliff.”

He sees no sign that the nation is confronting its fiscal problems, the sequester being simply a “by-product.”

“Based on that, I’m telling my force we have to be ready to deal with a sequestered budget for the duration of the law.” It expires in 2023.

The only reasonable path, he said, is to make “painful decisions” like the personnel cuts and aircraft retirements USAF has requested in its Fiscal 2015 budget. Those amount to some 27,000 people and hundreds more airplanes than the Air Force has already reduced over the last eight years.


What We Owe Young Airmen

As ACC commander, Hostage said his role is not to “whine” about what he doesn’t have, but to “produce as much combat power as I can possibly produce for whatever the nation allots to me to do that.” And the way to achieve that, he said, is for USAF to get smaller—”not able to go as many places at once” but with enough proper equipment and training that “wherever we go, we will dominate.”

To achieve that, USAF must have the flexibility to manage, he said, and politics “is not letting us make those hard choices.”

The “horrific” budget options include cutting A-10s, KC-10s, and U-2s, he noted.

“I have need for those capabilities. I just don’t have the resources,” he explained. Hostage would like to retain a force of 250 A-10s, but, he said, the funds won’t be there, and frankly, “it really pisses me off” when people say the Air Force wants to cut these airplanes.

“I’m only losing the U-2 because I was directed [by Congress] to buy the Global Hawk and the only way I could buy the Global Hawk is to get rid of U-2s. I can’t afford both.” In a “perfect world,” he’d have both, because “right now” the unmanned Global Hawk doesn’t have “the same awareness” of a U-2 pilot.

“So don’t tell me I cut the U-2. I didn’t. I’m sacrificing the U-2 to pay for something I’m told I ave to buy.”

The aircraft the Air Force is consolidating around, he said, will let ACC “produce combat power across the range of military options that we have to be prepared for.”

However, “I don’t think we’re going to be allowed” to make those hard choices.

The Air Force of 30 years ago was big enough to ride out political and economic “perturbations,” but it’s too small for that now, Hostage said.

“We don’t have the latitude anymore to hang onto the amount of force structure we have or the infrastructure.”

USAF has for years begged Congress to let the service close bases. It doesn’t have enough airplanes to spread around them all.

“I could close one in three bases across my command and still have plenty of infrastructure,” he asserted. This “baggage” is “having a serious impact on our ability to produce maximum combat power.”

Hostage now tells commanders he won’t ask them to try to do more with less. Instead, “I tell [them] … work to the maximum amount of combat capability you can produce. When you hit a limitation, tell me what that is.

Don’t push past it. … Don’t cut corners. Don’t do the things you’re tempted to do because you don’t want to report failure.”

Instead, Hostage wants commanders to “tell me what your limit is, stop at that point, and I will either fix that limit or we’ll deal with it until the time comes that we can remove [it].” He said, “We owe it to those young airmen” not to ask them to do more than they are trained and equipped to do.

The effects of the sequestration will linger for some time. One entire class of the USAF Weapons School was canceled, and “we can never recover from that because time moves on.” The potential future service leaders who missed that class “will not get the chance to go [back], and if they do, they’ll bump somebody else.” The result will be a years-long deficit in elite operational weapon experts that will only heal when that year group finally ages out of the Air Force.

The service has just 17 E-8 JSTARS aircraft used to track and target ground vehicles. USAF will be taking some of them out of service to free up funds to develop—”out of hide”— a replacement for the type. While an E-8 replacement isn’t in the “top three” of USAF buying priorities—the F-35, the KC-46 tanker, and the Long-Range Strike Bomber are—the JSTARS would be fourth, he said.

Having fewer E-8 JSTARS available involves taking some risk. Consequently Hostage told the industry representatives in the audience that “what’s critical about this program is speed. I need to put renewed capability on the ramp as soon as possible because I’m taking risk in the interim.”

ACC is uninterested in “new stuff,” but simply needs a sustainable replacement for the capability already in the JSTARS. (Air Force leaders have said they expect the solution to be a heavily tricked-out, off-the-shelf, business-class jet aircraft.)

ACC is also trying to work more closely with industry to identify the technologies that will make a real difference in preserving the nation’s military edge, he said. Independent research and development has two functions: to produce “the stuff I actually need to go to war” and to keep adversaries second-guessing.

“What I really want to do is make [adversaries] … spend whole bunches of money to defend themselves against something that I don’t spend very much on. … I want them to spend a million bucks to defend against my five-dollar weapon. I can’t afford to be on the opposite side of that.”

One of those asymetric imbalances he mentioned as being in the Air Force’s favor was directed energy, including both high-powered lasers and high-powered microwaves.

Not all of USAF’s troubles are due to shortages. In remotely piloted aircraft, the Air Force has too many.

ACC’s fleet of RPAs is “overweighted” with machines good “at fighting in a permissive environment,” he said. “I need to resize and reapportion that fleet.” It would be “foolish” to get rid of all the existing RPAs, as the MQ-9 Reapers “still have some applicability on the edges of a contested fight, but only on the edges,” Hostage observed. “I need the ability to produce [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] in a contested environment.”

The other services that depend on USAF for ISR have come to expect a “staring eye on the battlefield, 24/7” and that’s “not going to happen in a contested environment,” Hostage warned.


Fight Complacency

The answer isn’t a stealthy new RPA. “We’re working to build … the capability” to deliver that expected ISR product, though not necessarily with an aircraft,” he said. “There’s a love affair out there in the nonaviation world with the concept of the unmanned platform, but I really need the human tightly in that loop.” So-called “nontraditional ISR”—in the form of a fighter with sensors in the thick of the action—will still be essential.

“The day will come” when pilots flying an aircraft remotely will have all the “kinesthetic” awareness of what’s going around the airplane, and when that day comes, “I’m happy to stop flying manned airplanes. But that day is not here, yet.” While Hostage doesn’t think “we’ve seen the birth of the last human aviator,” he said, “I believe it will happen someday.”

Hostage said the effort to second-guess potential enemies and have the right mix of capabilities on hand for any contingency is an ongoing battle of wits, and it’s getting harder to think out loud about that particular cat-and-mouse game.

An Air Force “Red Team” looks constantly “at what potential adversaries are capable of, what their methodologies are. We look very carefully at what they think of us. We watch how they train, because how they train indicates what they think we’re capable of.” He said, “We think we know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and we look for disconnects” in the comparison.

Times have changed, though, and thinking openly about the challenges has become precarious.

Twenty-five years ago, “there was no possibility that all your secrets could disappear just because somebody plugged a thumb drive into your computer,” he said. “So we’re far more circumspect now about talking and writing and publishing and putting out there those kinds of thoughts.” Hostage said, “We live in a world where, when I tell you something, … the next day it’s known around the world,” and “some very smart people” decide, “ ’Let’s go steal what they’re doing.’ ”

Hostage pushed for the new bomber, explaining that “we have an ancient fleet of B-52s [and] a rapidly aging fleet of B-1s,” both “excluded” from operating in or near denied airspace, because they lack the stealth to survive. They can “get close” to contested space, with the help of fifth generation fighters, “but they can’t conduct deep strike in the way the B-2 can.” The stealthy B-2 fleet, at 20 airplanes, however, is “just way too small to be our sole capability” against heavily defended targets deep within an enemy’s territory. USAF must preserve the ability to deny “sanctuary” to any target, he asserted.

While Hostage is thrilled with the capability delivered by the fifth generation F-22 and F-35, they have a shared shortcoming: magazine depth. That’s why he’s hopeful that research into directed energy weapons will bear fruit and that lasers may even be “retrofittable” onto older generation fighters to keep them relevant.

He could not say whether directed energy will “define” a future sixth generation fighter and even conceded that air dominance after the F-22 may not even be an aerial platform. In the near-term, however, Hostage warned that the US must not be complacent about its ability to win air wars. The surface-to-air missile threat is large and proliferating and making it tough to engage even a medium-size nation such as Syria with good weapons.

“I could not send an A-10 into Syria right now,” he said. “They’d never come back. I would have to conduct three weeks of very significant [integrated air defense system] degradation before I could think about sending a fourth gen platform, and I sure as heck wouldn’t send an A-10 in because the rate of fire that would come in at low altitude would be unsustainable.”

Good as it has been, Hostage said, the A-10 no longer represents a survivable system in well-defended airspace.

When “I talk ‘contested/denied space,’ I’m talking about the South China Sea,” Hostage said, as well as “dozens” of other places where small, mobile, or shoulder-fired threats are proliferating to create contested airspace. Simply put, the environment USAF has to fight in is changing.

Hostage said people have to understand USAF is “no longer a requirements force [where] you tell me what the requirement is, I build the force.” The Air Force has become a capabilities force: “I’ve got this much capability, you’ve got this much requirement. You tell me where you want to use it, but when you use this much, we’re done,” he said.


Can Drones Help Us Clear ISIS-Controlled Cities?

Peter Storey

Posted on October 6, 2014


As U.S. airpower returns to Iraq and spreads to Syria in the fight against ISIS, the utility of air assets in urban areas should be revisited. Despite the wealth of literature on the topic within U.S. military circles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the lessons and technology developed during and since the Iraq War have been poorly covered with reference to this question. Consequently, the experience from engagements including Fallujah I and II (2004), Mosul (2004) and Sadr City (2008), and the Iraq War more broadly, as well as the developments surrounding this technology in the last ten years has been neglected. Despite becoming a flavor of the month in military circles  because of their tactical capabilities and ethical implications, UAVs remain an understudied subject with regards to what can be achieved from the perspective of the challenging battlespace that is urban warfare.


Airpower in Urban Terrain

Historically, aircraft have faced numerous practical and resulting political issues in operating in dense urban landscapes. To name a few: Deploying munitions safely and effectively; delivering accurate and timely intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); being deployed safely with regards to aircrew; and airpower working as part of a joint force. These practical issues in turn create political issues from collateral damage – noncombatant and structural – as well as from the deaths of U.S. servicemen due to enemy and friendly fire. While the latter places pressure on the U.S. military from the public, the former creates local, domestic, and international pressure to restrict airpower’s rules of engagement so as to cease violations of the Law of Armed Conflict.

With regards to deploying munitions safely and effectively, the U.S. has historically faced issues in procuring and utilizing a suitable array of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) in dense urban landscapes. On the one hand, utilizing large bombs can create substantial levels of collateral damage for the urban landscape and its inhabitants; on the other, this may result in fratricide for the U.S. military, especially when opponents ‘hug’ U.S. troops. In Fallujah in 2004 for instance, one veteran noted that the skyline of the city resembled the setting of a Godzilla movie, such was the destruction from aircraft. Furthermore, due to the proximity of fighting in Mogadishu in 1993, Rangers were forced to expose themselves to enemy fire so as to mark their positions for strafing “Little Bird” helicopters.

It is difficult to affirm that UAVs such as the Predator, Reaper, or Gray Eagle carry highly accurate munitions for urban warfare, improving upon these practical and political issues. The Hellfire missile, for instance, has a blast radius of 20 meters and shrapnel can be propelled over a much greater distance. Whilst the “Romeo” Hellfire II missile has entered service over concerns of the Hellfire, doubts still remain regarding its accuracy, especially when the density of an urban metropolis, such as Baghdad or Fallujah, is taken into consideration. As Israel demonstrated this summer in Gaza, the truly “smart” bomb remains as elusive as the silver bullet. Even with accurate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and precision-guided munitions, the likelihood of airpower causing collateral damage, let alone fratricide, remains relatively high.

Previously, a second major issue for airpower in urban warfare was in delivering accurate and timely ISR for commanders and troops on the ground. Insurgents defending urban landscapes were  familiar with the area they are defending, unlike the assaulting forces. As a result, ISR is crucial to mitigate this disadvantage for U.S. forces. Infamously for the U.S. military in the Battle of Mogadishu, the Navy’s Orion surveillance plane was poorly integrated with the Army. As a result, when a Humvee convoy was sent to rescue the crew of the first downed Black Hawk helicopter in the center of Mogadishu, ISR from the Orion was too slow to effectively direct the convoy, prolonging the operation and endangering the lives of U.S. servicemen.

UAV technology has done much to reverse this crippling problem endemic in the fast-paced nature of urban warfare. In addition to general advances in ISR technology which have facilitated closer integration between ISR assets and troops and commanders, UAVs hold numerous advantages over manned aircraft from the perspective of ISR. Indeed, the ISR technology on the Predator and Reaper costs more than the actual UAVs themselves. Such ISR technology is so powerful that it can read a vehicle’s licence plate from two miles away. Furthermore, due to the relatively low-tech propeller design of these UAVs, they are able to hover above urban battle zones at high altitudes almost undetected, with long flight times and air-to-air refueling ensuring that UAVs can stalk a target almost indefinitely. Such technology was put to good use in Sadr City in 2008 when Shadow and Predator UAVs expertly stalked and eliminated Mahdi Army rocket teams which were harassing the diplomatic Green Zone of Baghdad. As a result, while unwanted casualties from munitions may forever be a problem, improved ISR from UAVs has aided in mitigating this urban warfare issue.

The third major issue for airpower in urban warfare has been the risk to aircrew in this environment. Despite attackers generally establishing control of the air in asymmetric urban warfare, in performing strafing missions, low-level ISR collection, med-evacs or other roles, aircraft expose themselves to weaponry such as small-arms, RPGs and MANPADS. This was vividly demonstrated in Mogadishu with the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters by RPGs, with the resulting effort to rescue the crews leading to the death and maiming of almost one hundred US servicemen. As a result of this costly tactical success, the US mission in Somalia was cut short by President Clinton. Especially in wars of choice, the need to avoid such casualties is vital for the US.

Clearly, UAVs by their very nature take this danger out of the equation for urban warfare. UAV controllers and ISR analysts sit hundreds, if not thousands of miles away in the safety of military compounds. Whilst the aircraft may still be in danger, the potential political repercussions from the death of U.S. servicemembers is no longer relevant. Even the aircraft itself is generally much more expendable. Whilst UAVs such as Global Hawk may carry a price tag similar to manned aircraft, UAVs such as Predator and Reaper are much cheaper. Indeed, the cost of one F-22 is roughly equivalent to the cost of eighty-five Predators.

The fourth issue is the role of airpower in joint forces conducting urban operations. Historic problems abound regarding the integration of different aspect of militaries in the confusing landscape of densely-populated cities. This was especially an issue for airpower in Russia’s disastrous 1994-5 Battle of Grozny, in which three different ministries had forces engaged in Grozny and coordinated appallingly. For example, a helicopter from one ministry accidentally attacked the headquarters of Internal Affairs. In another instance, aircraft destroyed the five lead vehicles of the 104th Russian Airborne Division. At the outset of the Iraq War, a similar friendly fire incident happened in An Nasiriyah, in which up to ten marines were killed by fire from two A-10s piloted by men of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

With the experience of Iraq, major concerns of “jointness” have largely faded away with regards to airpower in urban warfare. As the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, noted in a Foreign Affairs article last year, “The armed forces have made enormous strides towards true jointness” over the last decade. However, a more interesting and potentially troublesome issue regarding jointness is that the lack of a U.S. Air Force monopoly over UAVs has opened the door for the relative redundancy of joint forces in urban warfare. Obviously, necessity may always prelude working as a joint force. However, with the U.S. Army having its own Predator/Reaper-like technology in the Gray Eagle, as well as numerous smaller and unarmed UAVs, such as Shadow and the hand-launched Raven, all the bases of tactical and operational air support in urban warfare are covered, rendering joint forces potentially unnecessary in urban warfare.


Unmanned Challenges

As a result, it is evident that the proliferation of UAVs within the U.S. military has enabled airpower to play a much more dominant role in urban warfare. With such technology, however, comes new issues. As Peter Singer identified, the new ISR capabilities of UAVs has produced the modern “tactical general”, in that commanders dedicate too much time to managing tactical engagements, neglecting operational and strategic considerations. At the same time, a report by Bradley T. Hoagland for the Brookings Institution revealed how the standards of UAV operators are deficient, with recruits generally being taken with marks on their record or finishing in the bottom half of their class. UAVs are effectively seen as a dead-end career path. From the perspective of the complex and fast paced nature of urban warfare, both of these issues for airpower need addressing, having the potential to undo many of the advantages UAVs deliver.

Ultimately, UAVs are not a magic bullet. In real terms, however, there is simply no easy fix to the complex nature of urban warfare – it is a powder keg of practical and resulting political issues. This being said, it is clear that UAVs have enabled airpower to play a more active role in this environment. To differing degrees based upon political context, urban warfare will always require a ground element. This may clearly be seen in the battles of Fallujah in 2004, when US forces rooted out insurgents house-by-house. However, at the other end of the spectrum, Sadr City in 2008 proved how airpower – specifically UAVs – could take the lead in urban warfare if operational objectives stopped short of physically controlling the ground through an ISR-intensive approach.

In the air war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, control of urban centers such as Mosul and Tikrit will be a vital element. While airpower may still be a controversial asset to utilize in such battle zones due to the practical and political consequences of their utilization, it is clear that airpower can act more cleanly and effectively in urban warfare with developments in UAV technology over the previous decade.


 Peter Storey is a graduate of the University of Sheffield and holds a Masters degree in Intelligence and Strategic Studies from Aberystwyth University, UK. He focuses on asymmetrical warfare, Afghanistan, and terrorism.


Do Drones Have a Future?

Paul Scharre    

October 7, 2014 · in Analysis


Thirteen years ago today the Predator drone saw its first armed reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan. Since then, the U.S. military drone fleet has grown by leaps and bounds. The U.S. Air Force has scores of Predators and Reapers stationed around the globe 24/7, high-altitude drones like Global Hawk patrol the stratosphere, and the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have thousands of small hand-launched unmanned aircraft to support ground troops.

The future, though, looks less favorable.


Budget cuts and bureaucratic resistance are squeezing unmanned aircraft programs. “Next-gen” aircraft show no signs of making it off the drawing board. With this in mind, it’s worth taking stock of what the prospects look like for future unmanned aircraft in the U.S. military. Each military service has its unique needs and bureaucratic hurdles, so below is a service-by-service rundown of the most important needs and gaps. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every Gray Eagle, Puma, Raven, Scan Eagle, Global Hawk, Triton, Fire Scout, and Sentinel out there, just a quick summary of the most important debates about where unmanned aircraft are going in the future.


Air Force

The Air Force has embraced unmanned aircraft (or “remotely piloted aircraft,” as the Air Force prefers to call them) for reconnaissance and counterterrorism strikes. Other missions, less so. On paper, the vision is there. The Air Force’s new Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Vector released this spring is an outstanding vision for the future of unmanned aircraft. The problem is it isn’t funded. The document talks about “next-gen RPA,” but such a thing does not yet exist and the Air Force doesn’t seem to be making any progress in funding one. There are pilots inside the Air Force who have experience with unmanned aircraft and see their value, but that cadre of officers is still fighting an uphill battle against the larger bureaucracy that has a hard time envisioning a future without pilots in cockpits. As just one data point, the highest-ranking Air Force officer in charge of unmanned systems requirements, a full Colonel position, has been a terminal job for three out of the past four people who held it. The holder of that position has typically moved on to retirement, not promotion into higher-level jobs. In other words, working unmanned systems isn’t exactly a fast track to making general officer.

The Air Force is taking a look at small unmanned aircraft as part of a new “flight plan” they are developing. This has a great deal of potential to expand how the Air Force is thinking about unmanned aircraft if it includes the potential for swarms of low-cost expendable platforms. This could include air vehicles that don’t look like traditional aircraft, like the miniature air-launched decoy (MALD). These air vehicles could be recoverable or disposable. But it’s not clear if the new flight plan will include them. There are major conceptual hurdles within the Air Force to harnessing the full potential of unmanned systems. The idea of building large numbers of low-cost expendable platforms is quite a paradigm shift. Another big one is the idea of multi-aircraft control where one person controls multiple air vehicles at the same time. So far, there has been resistance in some quarters in the Air Force to multi-aircraft control, but it will be necessary if the Air Force is to harness the advantages of swarming.



The U.S. Navy’s next-generation unmanned aircraft program has been its Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft. There’s been an ongoing debate about the scope of the Navy’s program, with some significant scrutiny from the Hill. Some have accused the Navy of deliberately downscoping the requirements for UCLASS so as to not compete with the Navy’s next-generation manned fighter program, F/A-XX. Unfortunately, as a result the Navy’s current vision of UCLASS also isn’t very useful. What the Navy needs is a long-range penetrating aircraft, as threats to the carrier will push it increasingly further from shore, beyond the range of existing aircraft. UCLASS will also need to be highly stealthy to penetrate advanced air defenses. Yet the current specifications for UCLASS are for a modestly stealthy maritime surveillance aircraft that will not have the stealth and payload necessary to be truly relevant against more sophisticated adversaries. The Department of Defense (DoD) has put on hold releasing its final requirements to industry, so there is still hope that DoD senior leaders will overrule the Navy and put the UCLASS program back on a more sensible track. The fate of UCLASS is a canary-in-the-coal-mine for whether DoD is serious about addressing future threats, or is willing to sacrifice future relevance in order to preserve pilots’ jobs.


Marine Corps

As Marines return to their core mission of expeditionary, amphibious operations, they also have the need for an upgraded unmanned aircraft. While they don’t need a stealthy combat drone like the Navy or Air Force, they do need a long-endurance surveillance aircraft, like today’s Predator or Reaper, to cover Marines when they go ashore. Right now, the U.S. military only has the ability to fly Predators and Reapers from land bases. This means, without a new system, the Marines may not have those capabilities in the future depending on where they are operating. The Marines have a very small sea-based drone, the RQ-21 Blackjack, but it is not remotely on the same scale as a Reaper-like aircraft. Without their own organic sea-based capability, the Corps will have to rely on the Air Force or Navy to provide persistent airborne surveillance to protect Marines on the ground. Historically, Marines have been reluctant to rely on the other Services, instead keeping all of the capabilities needed to support Marines within the Corps. The key challenge will be that there isn’t any excess space on Marine amphibious assault (LHA/LHD) ships, so any added unmanned aircraft will mean giving something else up. That’s a hurdle that the Navy hasn’t been able to overcome on its carriers, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Marine Corps ends up any differently. Ultimately, when the Corps looks to the future capability mix they’ll need to support Marines ashore, it’s hard to imagine that unmanned aircraft are not a necessary part of that mix, and that the Marines won’t want to own those aircraft themselves. Right now, though, those discussions about investing in a large unmanned aircraft for persistent surveillance don’t even seem to be happening.



Perhaps surprisingly, the Army is furthest ahead of all of the Services in terms of integrating unmanned aircraft into their aviation organization and doctrine. The Army has adopted a concept of “manned-unmanned teaming” for its aviation assets, pairing unmanned Gray Eagle and Shadow aircraft with manned Apache helicopters. While the Army has been talking about manned-unmanned teaming for several years, the concept really came to fruition when budget cuts forced the retirement of the Kiowa helicopter. In the future, a manned-unmanned team of Gray Eagles, Shadows, and Apaches will perform the Kiowa’s armed reconnaissance mission. This is more efficient and, as the Army fleshes out doctrine and tactics more completely, will also allow new concepts of operation as the unmanned aircraft can be sent forward for more dangerous missions. In a truly groundbreaking innovation, the Apache pilots will actually have the ability to task and control the unmanned aircraft directly from their helicopters.

Moving forward, the Army will need to evolve to a model of cooperative multi-aircraft control where one person controls several aircraft at the same time. In order to make this feasible without overloading the human operator, the aircraft will have to operate autonomously and cooperatively with the human overseeing the “swarm” as a whole. Swarms of self-cooperating unmanned aircraft could be used for a range of missions, including surveillance, communications relay, cargo resupply, electronic attack, and close air support. In order to get there, the Army needs to be doing experiments with swarming now to learn what is possible technologically, how to use a swarm, how to control it, and where technology needs to be further developed. While no one in the Army is opposed to such a concept, the funding isn’t there yet to develop the swarm.


A Future for Unmanned Aircraft?

In the future, unmanned aircraft will need to be more autonomous and more cooperative, allowing one person to control a swarm of vehicles. Some of them will need to be stealthy, but some may be low-cost systems for other missions that don’t need stealth. A concept that has not yet been fully explored is the idea of using swarms of low-cost, expendable systems to saturate and overwhelm an enemy’s defenses. Ideally, the Air Force’s small, unmanned aircraft plan that is under development will explore that idea. But even if it does so successfully, it won’t come to fruition without funding.

The obstacles to getting where each of the services needs to be go beyond a lack of funding, however. While unmanned aircraft have been embraced for niche roles like reconnaissance, parts of the military resist their incorporation into core mission areas. While the Air Force has had enough experience with unmanned aircraft to build up an advocacy group, they don’t have a critical mass yet, and funding a next-gen unmanned combat aircraft is quite clearly not high on the Air Force’s priority list as an institution. The Air Force is moving out this year with concepts for a sixth-gen fighter aircraft, the F-X, but next-gen unmanned aircraft keep ending up below the cut line during budget season. Within the Navy the situation is far worse, with no internal advocacy group for unmanned aircraft. While there are sailors who see the value in unmanned systems, there hasn’t been enough experience yet to build up a community like there is in the Air Force. The Marine Corps is in a similar position, where bringing an unmanned aircraft onto the deck of an amphibious assault ship will mean taking off a manned aircraft, and there is a strong constituency to resist such a move and none to push for it.

There is also cultural resistance in some circles to new, perhaps uncomfortable, concepts of operation like multi-aircraft control. The services have different cultures, and so react to some concepts differently. Piloting is central to Air Force culture and identity, and concepts like multi-aircraft control that would change the paradigm of one-pilot-to-one-aircraft meet headstrong resistance. The situation is very different in the Army, where piloting is not central to Army culture. The Army even refers to the people controlling its unmanned aircraft as “operators,” not pilots. To the Army, unmanned aircraft are merely another piece of equipment; nothing about them threatens the Army’s identity. (When unmanned systems encroach on core Army functions, it is another matter.)

These distinctions extend beyond just terminology and into choices about what technology is adopted. Army unmanned aircraft have a higher degree of automation than Air Force unmanned aircraft, including automated takeoff and landing, which Air Force Predators and Reapers don’t have. Automating takeoffs and landings would be safer and save money, since most accidents happen on takeoff and landing. But the Air Force isn’t investing in it. If you have the paradigm of a pilot as a person in direct physical control of an aircraft, then trusting that control to automation and having the pilot direct the aircraft at the mission-level might be uncomfortable. In the face of this discomfort, a “go slow” approach might be tempting.

That would be a mistake. As the saying goes, “the enemy gets a vote.”

Twenty-three nations either have or are developed armed unmanned aircraft. Many more will have access to cheap, off-the-shelf commercial drones that could be assembled into swarms to target U.S. ships and bases. While sophisticated stealthy aircraft will be available only to a few nations, some of those nations might be American competitors.

The unmanned revolution is barreling forward, with or without the U.S. military onboard. Much of the innovation in robotics is being driven by the commercial sector, meaning it will be widely available to everyone. The U.S. military is used to competing in a world where some of the most game-changing innovations – such as stealth, GPS, and precision-guided weapons – come from the U.S. defense sector. It is ill-prepared for a world where such technologies are widely available to all. Staying ahead will require coming up with the most innovative uses of new technology, and being able to rapidly incorporate commercial sector innovations. In order to make that happen, though, unmanned aircraft will need funding and advocates inside the bureaucracy.

While the United States currently has a lead in unmanned aircraft, that lead is fragile. Drones have a future, regardless of what the United States does. The only question is whether the United States will retain its edge, or cede the lead in unmanned aircraft to others.

Paul Scharre is a fellow and Director of the 20YY Warfare Initiative at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). From 2008-2013 he worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense on policies for unmanned and autonomous systems. He is a former infantryman in the 75th Ranger Regiment and has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.



Obama’s drone order could come ‘any day now,’ lobbyist says

by Press • 7 October 2014

By Megan R. Wilson


President Obama’s executive order on drone privacy could come “any day now,” according to a lobbyist for the industry.


Michael Drobac, a senior policy adviser at Akin Gump, last week launched a coalition for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that includes Amazon Prime Air, Google[x]’s Project Wing, GoPro and Parrot, among others.

Members of the Small UAV Coalition have been meeting behind the scenes with officials from the White House and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as they seek to integrate unmanned aircraft into American airspace, Drobac said.

The executive order from Obama reportedly would require federal agencies and departments to detail the size and scope of their domestic drone fleets and how they use any data they might collect.

The step, demanded by privacy advocates, could help the FAA as it seeks to issue guidelines for the commercial use of UAVs. The executive order would be ultimately implemented by other federal departments, including the Pentagon and the Department of Commerce.

Drobac, the coalition’s executive director, and other Akin Gump lobbyists have been lobbying on behalf of the Small UAV Coalition since August, according to disclosure records.

He said progress on the drone rules has been slow and that the coalition hopes to “work collaboratively” with the FAA to turn that around.

The FAA must come out with final drone rules by September 2015 and should be initiating proposals next month, but industry experts and a government audit have said it is falling behind those deadlines.

The agency has said it is making “significant progress” despite facing hurdles in the rule-making process.

While the FAA has designated six drone-testing sites nationwide, Drobac said some companies have had problems either getting approval or access to those locations, and that very few tests have actually taken place.


“It’s a vicious cycle,” Drobac said, because companies can’t prove they can operate the UAVs safely without the tests.

He said the foot-dragging by the government could spur companies to outsource their research and operations to avoid the burdensome approval process in the United States.

“Some take a view of this as being in the long-term future,” such as within the next 10 years, Drobac said. “The technology to do this safely is here now. How long do we go forward before we acknowledge that it’s here?”



EW Needs $2B More A Year; ‘Major Deficiencies’ Found By Defense Science Board

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on October 08, 2014 at 2:30 PM


WASHINGTON: A classified Defense Science Board study, now on the desk of Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, recommends that the Pentagon invest an additional $2 billion a year in electronic warfare and create a high-level executive committee to oversee the four services’ EW spending.

“We need to dig ourselves out of a big hole, because we have seen a significant erosion of our electronic warfare capability over the last two decades,” said Paul Kaminski. It was Kaminski who proposed the study — tentatively titled 21st Century Military Operations in a Complex Electromagnetic Environment — some 18 months ago when he was chairman of the Defense Science Board. A legend in the defense acquisition world, Kaminiski was the Pentagon’s top procurement officer in the 1990s. It’s the current holder of that post, Under Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Frank Kendall, who would co-chair the proposed executive committee alongside the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld.

They’d have a big mess to clean up in electronic warfare, Kaminski made clear this morning at the annual conference of the EW group Association of Old Crows. (Click here for full coverage). In the DSB study, he said, “we found major deficiencies.”

The causes? The US took its eye off the EW ball after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, especially after 9/11, when it focused on relatively low-tech threats in Afghanistan and Iraq. Outside the war effort, stealth aircraft like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter sucked up the lion’s share of investment. Meanwhile, our better-funded adversaries — Russia, China, Iran, and others — exploited rapidly advancing technology that can jam, deceive, or hack the sensors, networks, and GPS signals on which our military relied. The increasingly complex environment requires not only renewed investment in traditional EW equipment but the creation of battle management systems to coordinate operations in an increasingly complex electromagnetic environment, he said.

“It’s actually pretty clear what we need to do in many areas, but I’d say the scale of the EW problem today and the years of neglect make the remedy expensive,” Kaminski said. “We also need something else besides money: We need senior level attention to the problem.”

I chased down Kaminski after his public remarks to get more detail. First, he made clear that the DSB concluded the Pentagon needs to add $2 billion more on top of the current level of investment in EW, whatever it actually is. “It is really hard to get a figure of what’s being spent on EW now,” Kaminski told me. “Do you want to count the platform?” — e.g. the full cost of a Navy EA-18G Growler — “[or] do you want to count the payload [only]?”– just the jammers and EW sensors on the plane. Overall, he said, “What we’re talking about here is about a $2 billion a year increase over that base.”

Even with that added money, he said, “it’s going to be a tradeoff: Do you buy a couple fewer platforms and spend some more money or not?”

To direct these investments — and force the hard choices when the services want to spend money on something else – is going to take an executive committee of top officials: Kendall, Winnefeld, representatives from the services and appropriate agencies. “What you want an EXCOM to do here is to oversee it,” he said, “because much of those budget increases will be in service budgets,” as well as at DARPA and other agencies.

What about the role of Strategic Command, officially the “advocate” for EW across the services but, as STRATCOM’s own director of operations lamented yesterday, lacking authorities and funding to make things happen?

“There is room for an enlarged role by STRATCOM — and also PACOM,” Kaminski told me. He wasn’t thinking about a governance role, it became clear, but of exercises to sharpen the forces’ EW edge and try out new tactics and technology, for which he held up Pacific Command’s “Northern Edge” wargames as a model.

“This is an area where we need some additional progress in modeling and simulation, testing and exercises,” Kaminski told me. In his public remarks, he’d said bluntly that “we’re pretty weak at the modeling and simulation at the campaign level” — that is, looking at the chaotic interplay of the whole electromagnetic battle, rather than at one system as a time — and only exercises in the real, physical world can verify or correct such complex models.

Inadequate training has contributed to “a very limited ability of our key decision-makers to understand the potential impact of electronic warfare,” Kaminski told the conference. And what EW efforts exist remain largely stovepiped by service, despite lip service to jointness and interoperability. “Unfortunately I still hear more talk than action,” he said. The Air Force and Navy-led Air-Sea Battle initiative is promising, but overall, he said, “this is being driven probably more by our unified and specified regional commands,” particularly PACOM, rather than by the services.

The problem goes beyond the services, though, he said. Fundamentally, our whole acquisition system — from the identification of new threats to the fielding of new technology — is much too slow for a world in which Moore’s Law doubles computing power every 18 months and software-defined systems can change their entire electromagnetic profile in mid-mission.

“This migration to a digital software-driven world and the availability of high-end electronics has to change our whole paradigm,” Kaminski said. During the Cold War, the US would identify a new piece of Soviet hardware, study it, officially certify it as “a documented and approved threat,” and then embark on a program to develop, test, and field a countermeasure. “10 or 12 years later we were fielding a capability to deal with that threat,” he said. That doesn’t work today. [It] has no chance of working today.”



Managing The Chaos Of Electronic

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.    

on October 08, 2014 at 4:00 AM


WASHINGTON: If you know both the enemy and yourself, you will not be defeated in a hundred….ducks?

“We’ve got twenty shotgun shells and a hundred ducks” in the electronic warfare world today, lamented Strategic Command’s Rear Adm. John R. Haley this morning. “There are so many devices out there and so many things being used.”

That proliferation of potential targets has major implications for how the American approach to EW has to change. Once upon a time, the “ducks” we had to keep track of were relatively few and well-defined: Soviet air-defense radars and headquarters radio transmitters, for example. But today there are more cellphone users in Afghanistan than people who know how to read, and some of them are Taliban, using those cheap, low-power, and widely available civilian systems to coordinate military operations. The electromagnetic spectrum — especially in cities — has become a buzzing, blooming confusion of signals emitted by everything from iPhones to advanced anti-aircraft missile batteries.

Historically, the military, the media, and Congress have focused on a small number of high-profile systems, Haley’s handful of shotgun shells: The Navy EA-18G Growler and the new Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) being developed to go on it; the Army’s CREW (Counter Radio Electronic Warfare) jammer to shut down roadside bombs; the Air Force’s EC-130H Compass Call. Those individual pieces of equipment remain important, Haley said, but as the electromagnetic battlefield becomes ever more complicated and confusing, “all these systems have to be enabled by something that wraps [then] up into an electromagnetic battle management system.”

EMBM — to use the truly appalling acronym — was the major focus of today’s panel of military officers at the Association of Old Crows (AOC) electronic warfare conference, where Haley was the senior speaker.

“We like the sexiness of effects, delivery, and battle damage assessment, [but] sometimes we pole vault over planning and management,” said Richard Wittstruck, the Army’s acting deputy program executive officer for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEW&S). But if you want to “shoot a hundred ducks with twenty rounds,” he said, continuing Haley’s metaphor, you need some system to identify “which of those hundred ducks are important [in terms of] your military objectives and how do we prioritize them based on the intelligence we’ve received?”

The system “will have to be able to filter out those things that just don’t matter at that time for that particular warfighter,” said Air Force Col. Marcus “Shaka” Boyd of the 608th Air and Space Operations Center. “That’s where — again — battle management… is really going to come into play, to define what those filter algorithms will actually be.”

With ever more friendly, neutral, and enemy emissions on the battlefield, the optimal employment of our own electronic warfare systems “is going to change from day to day and in some cases from second to second,” Boyd said. (In fact, an article in the October Journal of Electronic Defense suggests only autonomous artificial intelligence can keep up).You may have great individual systems for electronic attack, protection, and support, Boyd said, but if you have inadequate battle management, you’ll get inferior results. In one case in Afghanistan, he recalled, a unit inadvertently jammed the data links being used by special operations. On the other hand, he said, if we get battle management right, it multiplies the effectiveness of all the individual systems.

So who’s getting it right?

The Army rolled out new doctrine for Cyber Electromagnetic Activities in February and will unveil a new “electronic warfare planning & management tool” (EWPMT) at next week’s Association of the US Army conference. “The Army is back in the EW business,” Wittstruck said.

Haley, however, said that “the Marine Corps is probably furthest down along the road. The Commandant has the Marine Corps working electromagnetic spectrum battle management in a system that is real today — software with computers — and actually working. It’s not operational yet but it’s a lot closer than what everybody else has.”

“We tend to look at this problem as overwhelming and I think it’s actually pretty manageable,” said Marine Col. Richard “Otter” Bew, the Commandant’s deputy legislative liaison. Yes, there are more and more transmitters — friendly, enemy, and civilian — in any given geographical area, he said. But different users tend to be on different wavelengths (otherwise they’d interfere with each other), and the US military has remarkable capability to sort them out.

That said, the Marine’s new electromagnetic battle management system is not yet a “program of record” officially enshrined in the budget Bew cautioned me and another reporter after the panel.

Nor is Bew sanguine that the Marines’ venerable EA-6B Prowler is going away with no replacement. “How do you maintain a cadre of expertise when there’s no platform?” he asked the other panelists. Unlike the Navy, “the Marine Corps is not going to buy the EA-18G [Growler],” Bew told me and the other journalist.

That doesn’t mean Marine strike fighters become more vulnerable, he said, because the Corps is replacing its old F-18 Hornets with the new F-35B, which has not only stealth but also some electronic warfare capabilities of its own. “If you take four F-18s that the Marine Corps flies supported by a Prowler, and you take four F-35s not supported by a Prowler… which package is more survivable?” he asked. “You would probably conclude that I haven’t given anything up in terms of strike package survivability.”


But the Marines are giving up the Prowler’s ability to provide electronic warfare support to the rest of the force, including ground troops and non-stealthy aircraft. “We still have an EW requirement,” he said. “Addressing that piece is something that the Deputy Commandant for Aviation, the Deputy Commandant for Capabilities Development and Integration, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps have been engaged in.”

Whatever answer they come up with, Bew said, “it’s going to be fundamentally different from how we do EW today.”


White House Shifts Its Cyber Legislative Strategy

Emphasis Will Be on Smaller, Not Comprehensive Legislation

By Eric Chabrow, October 9, 2014. Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity


The Obama administration is shifting its strategy to get Congress to enact meaningful cybersecurity reform.

Speaking at a forum Oct. 9, sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel says the administration will abandon its efforts to seek passage of a comprehensive cybersecurity measure in favor of smaller, more tailored bills.


“I do think it will probably be easier for us to get smaller pieces of cyber-legislation rather than one, giant comprehensive bill,” says Daniel, a special assistant to the president. “So, a lot of our efforts are involved in getting whatever we can passed on whatever vehicle we can manage to get it attached to, as long as the policy and the legislation itself is acceptable. So, I think, that’s one thing I would say that we’re trying a different way of going about it.”

Daniel, at the forum, also addressed the White House reaction to recent bank breaches and law enforcement concerns over the hard-to-crack encryption in the new Apple iPhones.

Working with the Democratic-controlled Senate, the administration over the past few congresses has backed comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that has never come up for a floor vote. However, the Republican-led House of Representatives has passed a series of cybersecurity bills with bipartisan support, including measures to encourage cyberthreat information sharing between the government and business and reforming the Federal Information Security Management Act, the law that governs federal government IT security.


Lawmaking is a Challenge

Daniel says the White House is committed to getting cybersecurity legislation enacted before the current Congress adjourns at year’s end. “But obviously, getting anything passed on Capitol Hill right now is quite a challenge,” he says. “We try to be realistic, but it’s something that we still remain heavily engaged in.”

The Senate has not scheduled any votes on cybersecurity legislation, and many people who track cybersecurity legislation have expressed doubts that Congress will act this year (see Expectations Low for Cyber Legislation).

It is unclear whether compromise can be reached between the White House and the House over several key pieces of cybersecurity legislation. The administration has threatened a presidential veto of the House-passed cyberthreat information sharing bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, because it believes the measure provides insufficient privacy safeguards and furnishes too broad liability protections to businesses that share cyberthreat data (see White House Threatens CISPA Veto, Again). Regarding FISMA reform, the White House has backed legislation to give the Department of Homeland Security sway over civilian agencies’ IT security activities, provisions the House bill lacks (see FISMA Reform Awaits Another Day).


Monitoring JPMorgan Chase Breach

During the forum, Daniel was asked, but didn’t provide much additional insight, about a report that the White House had been closely following suspected attacks on banks since the summer, as tensions between the U.S. and Russia continue to rise. The report also says President Obama and his top national security advisers have been asking about the motive behind the attack on JPMorgan Chase (see Chase Breach: Who Else Was Attacked?).

Daniel says he couldn’t provide details because of a continuing investigation by the FBI and Secret Service. “Part of our job on the National Security Council is to make sure the president and his senior advisers remain informed about a wide array of national security threats that confront the country,” he says. “That was the context we were treating this particular issue.

“It is something that we pay attention to in the sense that we are mindful of all the threats to our critical infrastructure, whether you’re talking about the financial sector, the electric sector, the telecommunications sector, so put into that broader context, anytime we see specific targeting or successful penetrations of those kinds of companies, it’s something we’re going to engage on.”


Encryption: Policy Tension

Responding to a question, Daniel sympathized with objections raised by Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey that Apple’s new iPhone and forthcoming Android mobile phones have data encryption so sophisticated that law enforcement with search warrants would not have access to the data. But the cybersecurity coordinator also noted the advantages of and need for industry to create stronger encryption (see Apple iOS 8 Reboots Privacy, Security).

“It’s not so much in encryption itself, it’s how is it that the government and our law-enforcement agencies [can] continue to gain access to information in the course of an investigation in a court approved process in a way that doesn’t put something completely beyond the reach of law enforcement?” Daniel asks. “Even things that are in safes and other places are reachable by search warrant, in many cases, and so we don’t want to have something that puts it utterly beyond the reach of law enforcement in appropriate circumstances.

“On the other hand, I think clearly we need to improve the use of encryption and how we employ it, and in many cases that would be very beneficial in protecting our intellectual property. This is a very hard area. We’ve had debates about encryption going back decades, probably as long as there has been encryption. … This is going to continue to be a policy tension that we’re going to have to try to navigate.”



This Drone Fits In Your Pocket

by Press • 10 October 2014



The narrative around drones is that they are killing machines. Unmanned tools of war that the government uses to avoid putting boots on the ground in conflict zones around the world.

But drones are actually much more than that. In September, the Federal Aviation Administration gave approval to six Hollywood production companies to use drones for filming. Independent photographers and filmmakers like to use them, too, to get thatperfect aerial shot.

And as NPR’s David Schaper reported:

“Industries want permission to use drones for everything from surveying crops and pipelines, to real estate and wedding photography, even delivering packages. At least 40 applications seeking drone-use approval are pending before the FAA.”


So what if there was a drone that fit in your pocket, that you could carry around 24/7?

That drone has arrived. The Anura from AeriCam is a quadcopter not much larger than an iPhone with propellers that fold in so you take it on the go.

The San Francisco-based drone company aims to put the product on Kickstarter this month, says Jason Lam, AeriCam’s founder. Lam says the company hopes to attract 500 backers in order to keep the Anura below $200.

The drone connects with Apple and Android smartphones over Wi-Fi and has a built-in microcamera that shows aerial views on the phone’s screen. The phone also serves as the drone’s remote control.

“I think being small and being at a much more reasonable price, a lot more people will be able to own one than realize it,” says Lam, who was a fashion photographer in New York City before founding AeriCam in 2009. “I think that also sparks a lot more interest in the drone industry, and you don’t know what that will lead to.”

Learning to fly the Anura is like playing a video game, Lam says. And even though the drone weighs less than 5 ounces, the Anura is durable.

“The big drones, one crash you usually have to repair it,” Lam says. “These guys are quite stable, especially if you fly them inside at home.”

Although it’s noted for its small size, the Anura isn’t the first personal drone out there.

The PlexiDrone, from Toronto-based robotics startup DreamQii, fits into a backpack when disassembled. The larger size comes with added features such as the ability to draw a flight path, obstacle detection and swappable parts. PlexiDrone doesn’t have a camera built in but is designed to easily attach one, like a GoPro.

Another drone can actually be worn like a bracelet. With the flick of your wrist, the Nixie flies away and films you while you’re climbing a mountain or riding the big wave. The creators plan to present the prototype at the Intel Make It Wearable Challenge Finale on Nov. 11 in San Francisco.

Lam says small, personal drones are changing the perception of how drones can be used — not just as machines of war.

Small drones like the Anura teach people “a little bit more about what the deal with drones is because it is a growing industry,” he says. The drone industry will have an estimated economic impact of more than $82 billion by 2025, according to a 2013 report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

But the implications of having commercial drones on the market are vast. The flying of small drones in the U.S. airspace is currently legal, an administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board ruled in March.

The FAA appealed the decision, citing safety concerns. In 1981, the FAA issued voluntary guidelines for those flying model airplanes. The agency asked them not to fly above 400 feet and to stay away from airports.

Drones also raise privacy issues. Many worry about people using them for spying. Police in some states are prohibited from using drones for surveillance but can use them for search and rescue.

Lam recognizes these risks, but he also says the use of drones shouldn’t be restricted too much just because some people will use them maliciously.

“People out there who want to do something like that, you can’t really stop them,” he says. “You always have a few people that’s gonna try to do something.”

Lam says people have been interested in flight for centuries, and he wanted to make that dream more accessible to the masses.

“I wanted these to be able to be enjoyed anytime,” he says. “You don’t have to plan to go out and fly. It’s not an event that you have to create. This is like, ‘Oh, I just want to fly now.’ You have access to a real aircraft.”


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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fewer than 30% have been saying all year that the country is headed in the right direction, and voters have some pretty definite ideas on what needs to be done. But rather than discuss the issues, too often political candidates go negative.

Thirty-four percent (34%) of Americans think there are more negative ads this election cycle compared to past years. Most adults believe those ads backfire and make them less likely to vote for the candidate who puts them out. But clearly the politicians think the attack ads work because they keep producing them.

Fifty-six percent (56%) say it is possible for a candidate to win an election without criticizing his or her opponent. Of course, it doesn’t help that 63% believe the media reports more on negative campaigning than on issues raised by candidates.

No wonder fewer voters than ever think either major political party has a plan for the nation’s future, with most still convinced that neither represents the American people.

Democrats have a two-point lead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot, but the weekly gap between the two parties has generally been two points or less most weeks this year.

Here are our latest numbers for the Senate races in North Carolina and Texas and the governor’s races in Maine, Georgia and Minnesota.  Check our latest election update video.

Unlike many of those running for office, what most Americans continue to hold a negative view of is the federal government, and they want less of it in their lives. 

Just 25% of Americans now trust the government.

We’ve found this trust deficit in other surveys. Sixty percent (60%) don’t trust the federal government to fairly enforce gun control laws, which doesn’t help those seeking stricter regulation of firearms.

Similarly, 57% of voters favor a comprehensive immigration reform plan that would give legal status to those who entered the country illegally but have otherwise obeyed the law – if the border is really secured to prevent future illegal immigration. The problem for immigration reformers is that only 33% think it’s even somewhat likely that the federal government will actually secure the border, with seven percent (7%) who say it’s Very Likely.

The Washington Post reports that police nationwide through a practice known as civil forfeiture have seized $2.5 billion in private property since 9/11 without a warrant or any crimes being formally charged by claiming nonetheless that the property was obtained through criminal activity. Much of that money the cops have kept for their own budgets. But 70% of Americans say a criminal conviction should be necessary before authorities seize someone’s property, and 42% think the main reason the police seize the property is because it’s a major revenue source for them.
Not exactly a vote of confidence.

Or take something like the growing Ebola epidemic. Most Americans want a temporary ban on flights from Ebola-infected countries in Africa, but the federal government refuses to go that far, opting instead for screenings at just five airports.

Then there’s the public school system, one of government’s chief responsibilities, but most voters think the majority of high school graduates today don’t have the skills for either college or the workforce

Working Americans overwhelmingly (85%) still consider themselves middle class, including 19% who describe themselves as upper middle class. But more voters than ever (67%) say the U.S. economy is unfair to the middle class.

Consumer and investor confidence have not improved.

Fortunately for the country, Americans are a resilient people: Most still think their lives are good despite all this negativity.

In other surveys last week:

— Voters still aren’t sold on Obamacare’s individual insurance mandate.

Most Americans say President Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 2009. The president’s daily job approval ratings still linger around the -20 mark.

— Though the recent security lapses by the Secret Service have been highly publicized, many voters think they are just the tip of the iceberg.

— Despite ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, voters don’t think the U.S. government should get involved. But most also agree that the United States overlooks many abuses by the Chinese government because of that country’s economic power.

Does America think college campuses can ever be made safe from sexual assault? 

Flu season is back, and more Americans than ever (58%) plan to get a flu shot this year.

— Voters are slightly more accepting of women and gay and lesbian soldiers.

Most Americans exercise at least once a week and believe it’s important for a healthy life.


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