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Key decisions on drones likely from Congress

Updated: 7:59 a.m. Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 | Posted: 7:59 a.m. Monday, Dec. 29, 2014


The Associated Press


The Obama administration is on the verge of proposing long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in U.S. skies, but key decisions on how much access to grant drones are likely to come from Congress next year.

Federal Aviation Administration officials have said they want to release proposed rules before the end of this month, but other government and industry officials say they are likely to be delayed until January. Meanwhile, except for a small number of companies that have received FAA exemptions, a ban on commercial drone flights remains in place. Even after rules are proposed, it is likely to be two or three years before regulations become final.

That’s too long to wait, say drone industry officials. Every year the ban remains in place, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic benefits that drones could provide, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

“We need some sort of process that allows some of the low-risk operations,” said Jesse Kallman, the head of regulatory affairs for Airware, a drone technology company backed by Google Ventures. “I think Congress understands that, and hopefully they’ll take steps in the coming year to address that.”

That appears to be what some key lawmakers have in mind. “We in Congress are very interested in UAS,” Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at a hearing this month, referring to unmanned aerial systems, or drones. “We understand UAS are an exciting technology with the potential to transform parts of our economy. … It is our responsibility to take a close look.”

One of the committee’s first priorities next year is writing legislation to reauthorize FAA programs and overhaul aviation policy. The bill is expected to include directions from lawmakers on how to integrate drones into the nation’s aviation system. The last reauthorization bill, passed in 2012, directed the agency to integrate drones by Sept. 30, 2015, but it’s clear the FAA will miss that deadline.

The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to altitudes below 400 feet, forbid nighttime flights and require drones be kept within sight of their operators. Drone operators may also be required to get pilot’s licenses, a possibility already drawing fire from critics who say the skills needed to fly a manned aircraft are different from those needed to operate a drone.

Shuster indicated he’s concerned that requiring pilot’s licenses might be burdensome and unnecessary. And keeping drones within sight of operators would be too strict and limit their usefulness, he said.

The reason for keeping drones within line of sight is that they don’t yet have the ability to detect and avoid other aircraft.

AUVSI, the drone industry trade group, recently hired Mark Aitken, former legislative director to Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., as its government relations manager. LoBiondo is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, which will write the FAA reauthorization bill.

“We’re really looking at an incremental approach still,” Aitken said. “It’s not something that is going to happen overnight.”

FAA officials have been working on drone regulations for nearly a decade. The agency twice drafted regulations that were later rejected by the White House or Transportation Department. The FAA has long maintained that unmanned aircraft must meet the same regulations as manned aircraft unless waiving or adjusting those regulations doesn’t create a safety risk. However, FAA officials more recently have begun talking about “risk-based” regulations, giving industry officials hope the agency might propose a blanket exemption from regulations for the smallest drones — usually defined as weighing under 5 pounds — as long as operators follow a few basic safety rules. Canadian authorities recently approved a blanket exemption for very small drones.

Congress already is getting pushback from private and commercial pilots who worry about possible collisions. The FAA receives reports nearly every day about drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports.

“As a (Boeing) 737 captain, I’ll be damned if myself and 178 other people are taken down by a 12-pound or a 50-pound or a 150-pound piece of metal coming through my windshield,” said Ben Berman at a recent forum hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association. “There are too many near misses occurring every day like this.”

Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents private pilots, said online videos show that “operators are flying near airports, in the clouds and in congested airspace.” He called such actions “reckless” and said they will inevitably lead to a collision.

FAA regulations permit recreational users to fly small drones as long as they stay at least 5 miles away from an airport, limit flights to less than 400 feet in altitude, keep the aircraft in line of sight and fly only during the daytime.

Last week, drone industry trade groups teamed up with the FAA and model aircraft hobbyists to launch a safety campaign aimed at amateur drone operations. The campaign includes a website, , where operators can find FAA regulations and advice on how to fly safely. The trade groups said they also plan to distribute safety pamphlets at industry events and are working with manufacturers to see that safety information is enclosed inside the package of new drones.

Retailers say small drones, which are indistinguishable from today’s more sophisticated model aircraft, were popular gifts this Christmas.



Drone sales soaring in U.S.

Feds preparing to propose rules for the robotic machines.

By Melody Petersen

Los Angeles Times

January 4, 2014

Any day now, federal regulators will propose rules for operating small commercial ‍drones over the U.S.

But the fledgling ‍drone industry has not been waiting to take off. Sales of the unmanned robotic flying machines are soaring.

This month, several thousand people flocked to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena for the commercial ‍drone industry’s first expo.

Gauging from the energetic crowd and busy industry booths, spectators could easily forget that flying a ‍drone to make money is illegal, and that new rules won’t be finalized for months.

The Federal Aviation Administration says that this wees it plans to propose rules for commercial ‍drones weighing less than 55 pounds. The public will then get to comment.

Near the Los Angeles expo entrance, a booth for Drone-Fly Inc., a Westlake Village startup, was promoting its small helicopter-like ‍drones.

“‍Drones will affect and change the world — much like automobiles, but on a much larger scale,” Taylor Chien, DroneFly’s 30-year-old co-founder and chief executive, said in a video playing on a big screen.

Video taken by the company’s camera-equipped ‍drone was screened.

Not everyone was impressed. “It frightens me. It really does,” David Morton, a retired Federal Aviation Administration inspector and speaker at the expo, said when a person in the crowd asked about DroneFly’s video 15 minutes later. “The technology is way ahead of the regulatory environment.”

‍Drones have hit buildings and people, but so far there have been no reports of serious injuries in the United States. A growing concern is the almost daily reports by pilots who see ‍drones flying dangerously close to their aircrafts.

Two aircraft on approach to Los Angeles International Airport in May reported seeing a “trash can-sized” ‍drone at 6,500 feet, according to a report filed with the ‍FAA.

In October, a small plane flying above Burbank at 8,000 feet reported seeing a red-and-black ‍drone, measuring three feet across, passing just off its wing in the opposite direction.

YouTube has videos of ‍drones flying out of control and then disappearing. The “flyaways” can be caused by faulty programming, interference with the ‍drones’ GPS systems or lost connections with the ground controller.

The ‍FAA‍’‍s ban on flying commercial ‍drones until regulations are in place has held back the industry. Yet some entrepreneurs have grown tired of waiting and are operating the ‍drones anyway — spurred by the agency’s lack of enforcement.

Sales are increasing fast as the ‍drones become cheaper, more powerful and easier to fly. Prices start at under $50 on  .

Frank Tesoro, DroneFly’s 30-year-old president, said the company that he founded with Chien in a garage sold $3 million in ‍drones in 2013 — its first year of operation. This year, he said, the company is set to triple that.

Evidence of the industry’s booming sales comes from Parrot, a French firm that is one of the few ‍drone makers that is a public company. The firm said last month that its third-quarter sales of the machines were 130 percent over the comparable quarter last year.

The public often connects ‍drones to their use by the military. Organizers of the expo, however, said they wanted to promote the technology’s many promising commercial uses.

Farmers want to use ‍drones to monitor crops and improve yields. Industrial companies see using them to inspect smokestacks, pipelines and other hard-to-reach property. Journalists envision them as reporting tools.

Only few of companies have received exemptions to fly ‍drones commercially. Anyone, however, can fly a ‍drone for fun or personal use as long as national safety guidelines are followed.

The ‍FAA began a safety campaign last week, reminding amateur operators of the rules. The guidelines require operators to keep ‍drones below 400 feet, always within sight and at least five miles from airports.

Entrepreneurs have been waiting for years for the ‍FAA‍’‍s rules for commercial ‍drones. Many expo attendees said they fear the proposed rules will be so onerous that many people will be kept out of the business.

Among their concerns is that the agency will require ‍drone operators to get licenses similar to what is required of commercial pilots — a certificate that can take many months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“Licenses hold you accountable for doing the right thing with the technology,” Morton said.

“We want to follow the rules,” said A.J. Jolivette, chief executive of Terosaur, a ‍drone firm in Huntington Beach.. But if the rules are too strict, he said, it will cause people to “go around the regulations.”


FAA says ‘no date’ for rules on commercial drone use

by Press • 4 January 2015

By Bennett Haeberle


INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — While the Obama Administration could release proposed rules for the commercial use of drones any day, a Federal Aviation Administration official told I-Team 8 Friday that she could not provide a date.

“We are continuing to work with our administration colleagues to finish the rule. I am sorry to say I do not have a date for you,” FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory wrote in an email to I-Team 8.

The highly anticipated rules were expected to be published before the end of 2014, but that didn’t happen. While Cory’s email did not elaborate, it did seem to indicate that the FAA and the Obama Administration are still tinkering with the details.

Currently, the commercial use of drones is banned in the United States, which has left professional photographers, filmmakers, real estates agents, farmers and others angling for space in a highly restricted yet largely uncharted marketplace.

While some would-be drone professionals have tested the waters by creating websites or offering aerial photography for hire, the FAA has cracked down on some, targeting people in nine states and issuing fines and a total of 17 cease and desist letters to those operating drones for a commercial purpose.

The issue is — those are only the people the FAA has caught.

It’s hard to know the true number of would-be drone professionals jockeying for position before commercial rules are made public.

“If I am out in the field and I want to take a video — a 360 degree video — of a piece of machinery doing, I don’t see why I would feel the need not to do that, especially if I feel it’s going to enhance my marketing effort,” said Brad Zingre, an Avon, Indiana man who also works as marketing representative for Caterpillar.

Zingre is not a commercial drone pilot. He’s a hobbyist, and a novice hobbyist at that. His wife bought him his first drone for Christmas. He has only had a weeks worth of flying under his belt.

“I’ve flown it every day just because it’s new and fun,” he said in an interview Friday.

When asked what he’s learned, he said, “that you crash a lot and the video is not that great.”

The FAA already has proposed guidelines for drone hobbyists, including rules that limit the hobbyists to flying within sight and below a 400 foot ceiling. But with the federal government lagging behind on creating proposed rules and drone sales growing among online retailers, it could soon become hard to differentiate between the hobbyist and the would-be drone professional.

Recently, the FAA and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the Small UAV coalition and other drone groups worked together to put together a website.

The website spells out different safety techniques hobbyists should know in order to fly a drone safely.


Indiana’s drone laws

While Indiana passed a drone law this summer, it largely targeted law enforcement agencies, requiring that police have a search warrant before using a drone unless it involves “exigent circumstances” that would threaten life or public safety.

That new law — House Enrolled Act 1009 — requires police agencies obtain a search warrant before using a drone, with some exceptions.

Among them: police may use a drone if there are “exigent circumstances,” if officers gain permission from a property owner, if there’s a natural disaster, or if it’s used for a geographical survey — so long as it’s not for criminal justice purposes. Exigent circumstances are situations in which officers have sufficient probable cause but do not have time to get a warrant before someone’s life may be in danger or evidence may be destroyed.

Indiana is only one of five states in the U.S. to pass a law either defining or restricting the use of drones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This summer, an I-Team 8 analysis of more than 400 law enforcement agencies across the state found that only four police agencies admitted to having or operating a drone.

I-Team 8’s investigation found it’s not just law enforcement agencies that have found limited access to the use of mini drones.

Aaron Sheller and Matt Minnes were among a group of Indiana farmers interviewed this summer who created the start-up company Precision Drone.

“It’s very exciting. A very exciting time for drone technology,” Sheller said.

The company, which manufacturers drones ranging in price from $4,500 to $17,000, hopes to sell them to farmers to provide them with clearer picture of crop conditions.

“Once we started using drone technology we could see areas of the field that we never would have thought had problems – had problems,” Sheller said.

While the commercial use of drones continues to be banned, the FAA has granted special waivers to several filmmakers and two production companies filming an Alaskan oil pipeline.

Indianapolis councillor weighs drone resolution


Indianapolis Councillor Zach Adamson is toying with the idea of creating a resolution that would ban drone flight in Indianapolis until concrete federal rules are established.

“There have to be some guidelines and that’s all were saying is — maybe we shouldn’t allow this free-for-all until someone comes up with these regulations,” said Councillor Adamson.


Exclusive: U.S. Drone Fleet at ‘Breaking Point,’ Air Force Says


Dave Majumdar


Too many missions and too few pilots are threatening the ‘readiness and combat capability’ of America’s unmanned Air Force, according to an internal memo.

The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of drones is being strained to the “breaking point,” according to senior military officials and an internal service memo acquired by The Daily Beast. And it’s happening right when the unmanned aircraft are most needed to fight ISIS.

The Air Force has enough MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. It just doesn’t have the manpower to operate those machines. The Air Force’s situation is so dire that Air Combat Command (ACC), which trains and equips the service’s combat forces, is balking at filling the Pentagon’s ever increasing demands for more drone flights.

“ACC believes we are about to see a perfect storm of increased COCOM [Combatant Commander] demand, accession reductions, and outflow increases that will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 enterprise for years to come,” reads an internal Air Force memo from ACC commander Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, addressed to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. “I am extremely concerned.”

“ACC will continue to non-concur to increased tasking beyond our FY15 [fiscal year 2015] force offering and respectfully requests your support in ensuring the combat viability of the MQ-1/9 platform,” he added.

In other words, the Air Force is saying that its drone force has been stretched to its limits. “It’s at the breaking point, and has been for a long time,” a senior service official told The Daily Beast. “What’s different now is that the band-aid fixes are no longer working.”

In the internal memo, Carlisle says that the Air Force’s current manning problem is so acute that the service will have to beg the Pentagon to reconsider its demand for 65 drone combat air patrols, or CAPs, as early as April 2015. (Each CAP, also known as an “orbit,” consists on four aircraft.)

But senior military leaders in the Pentagon have been pushing back hard against any reduction in the number of drone orbits, particularly as demand has surged in recent months over Iraq and Syria because of the war against ISIS. In fact, the Pentagon is so fervent in its demand for more Predator and Reaper patrols that the top military brass made an end run to bypass regular channels to increase the number of drone orbits, the ACC alleges.

“The reduced offering of 62 CAPs (plus a 60-day Global Response Force) has been submitted to the Joint Staff; however, the Joint Staff has indicated their desire to circumvent normal processes while proposing their own offering of 65 MQ-1/9 CAPs,” Carlisle wrote. “This simply is not an option for ACC to source indeterminately.”

Carlisle writes that the Air Force would want a crew ratio of 10 to one for each drone orbit during normal everyday operations. During an emergency that ratio could be allowed to drop to 8.5 people per orbit. However, the Air Force is so strapped for people that the ratio has dropped below even that reduced level.

“ACC squadrons are currently executing steady-state, day-to-day operations (65 CAPs) at less than an 8:1 crew-to-CAP ratio. This directly violates our red line for RPA [remotely pilot aircraft] manning and combat operations,” Carlisle wrote. “The ever-present demand has resulted in increased launch and recovery taskings and increased overhead for LNO [liaison officer] support.”

“It’s at the breaking point, and has been for a long time. What’s different now is that the band-aid fixes are no longer working.”

The Air Force has been forced to raid its schools for drone operators to man the operational squadrons that are flying combat missions over places like Iraq and Syria. As a result, training squadrons—called Formal Training Units (FTU)—are being staffed with less than half the people they need. Even the Air Force’s elite Weapons School—the service’s much more extensive and in-depth version of the Navy’s famous Top Gun school—course for drone pilots was suspended in an effort to train new rookie operators.

Overworked drone crews have had their leaves canceled and suffered damage to their careers because they could not attend required professional military education courses.

The result is that drone operators are leaving the Air Force in droves. “Pilot production has been decimated to match the steady demand placed upon the RPA community by keeping ‘all hands’ in the fight,” Carlisle wrote. “Long-term effects of this continued OPSTEMPO are manifested in declining retention among MQ-1/9 pilots, FTU manning at less than 50%, and enterprise-wide pilot manning hovering at about 84%.”

The Air Force has about seven pilots for every eight drone pilot slots, in other words.

But it takes more than just pilots to operate the drone fleet. In addition to the pilots who “fly” the MQ-1s and MQ-9s, there are sensor operators who work the cameras and other intelligence-gathering hardware onboard the unmanned aircraft. Further, there are maintenance crews who have to fix those drones. Perhaps most crucially, drones require hundreds of intelligence analysts who have to comb through thousands of hours of video surveillance footage to understand what the flight crews are watching.

“Some have looked at this as a problem with just RPA pilots and the number of them required for these CAPs, but that ignores the tail required for supporting RPA operations,” a senior Air Force official said. “This tail requires hundreds of man-hours to support every hour of flight in forward operations, maintenance, and most starkly in the processing, exploitation, and dissemination of the intelligence that RPAs create.”

The problem for Carlisle and the Air Force is that even as the demand increases on the drone fleet, fewer new troops enter the ranks while more and more veteran operators vote with their feet.


New U.S. Stealth Jet Can’t Fire Its Gun Until 2019

Dave Majumdar


America’s $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is slated to join fighter squadrons next year—but missing software will render its 25mm cannon useless.

The Pentagon’s newest stealth jet, the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions until 2019, three to four years after it becomes operational.

Even though the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is supposed to join frontline U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons next year and Air Force units in 2016, the jet’s software does not yet have the ability to shoot its 25mm cannon. But even when the jet will be able to shoot its gun, the F-35 barely carries enough ammunition to make the weapon useful.

The JSF won’t be completely unarmed. It will still carry a pair of Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM long-range air-to-air missiles and a pair of bombs. Initially, it will be able to carry 1,000-pound satellite-guided bombs or 500-pound laser-guided weapons. But those weapons are of limited utility, especially during close-in fights.

“There will be no gun until [the Joint Strike Fighter’s Block] 3F [software], there is no software to support it now or for the next four-ish years,” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “Block 3F is slated for release in 2019, but who knows how much that will slip?”

The tri-service F-35 is crucial to the Pentagon’s plans to modernize America’s tactical fighter fleet. The Defense Department hopes to buy 2,443 of the new stealth jets in three versions—one for the Air Force, one for the Navy, and one for the Marines. Versions of the jet will replace everything from the air arm’s A-10 Warthog ground attack plane and Lockheed F-16 multirole fighter, to the Navy’s Boeing F/A-18 Hornet carrier-based fighter, to the Marines’ Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump-jet. But the F-35 has been plagued with massive delays and cost overruns—mostly due to design defects and software issues. There have also been problems with the jet’s engine. An F-35 was destroyed on takeoff earlier in the year when a design flaw in its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine sparked a fire.

Another Air Force official familiar with the F-35 confirmed that the jet won’t have the software to fire its gun until the Block 3F software is released to frontline squadrons sometime in 2019. Neither Lockheed nor the F-35 Joint Program Office responded to inquiries about the status of the jet’s gun.

Right now, the F-35’s software doesn’t support the use of the aircraft’s GAU-22/A four-barreled rotary cannon. The weapon was developed from the U.S. Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier II jump-jet’s GAU-12/U cannon, but it has one fewer barrel and weighs less.

It’s also supposed to be more accurate—when it can be fired, that is. The gun can shoot 3,300 rounds per minute, though the Air Force’s F-35A version can carry just 180 rounds for the gun.

“To me, the more disturbing aspect of this delay is that it represents yet another clear indication that the program is in serious trouble.”

The Navy and Marine Corps versions of the F-35 have differing configurations and rely on an external gun pod. The software won’t be ready for those jets for years, either. And while that gun-pod version for the Navy and Marines carries slightly more ammo, with 220 rounds, some in the military are complaining that it’s not enough. “So, about good for one tactical burst,” the first Air Force official said. “Hope you don’t miss.”

The lack of a cannon is a particular problem, as the F-35 is being counted on to help out infantrymen under fire. (This is known as close air support, or CAS, in military jargon.) The F-35 will lack the ability to mark a target or attack enemy forces in “danger close” situations, said one highly experienced Air Force fighter pilot.

“Lack of forward firing ordnance in a CAS supporting aircraft is a major handicap,” he added. “CAS fights are more fluid than air interdiction, friendlies and targets move… Oftentimes quickly. The ability to mark the target with rockets and attack the same target 10 seconds later is crucial.”


Typically, aircraft will work in pairs where the flight lead will make an initial pass to mark a target with rockets. A second aircraft will then attack with its guns. Incidentally, the F-35 won’t be armed with rockets, either, sources told The Daily Beast.

The reason pilots would choose to use guns over a bomb or a missile is simple. Basically, a pilot might not want to drop a bomb near ground troops in situations where the enemy has gotten in very close to those friendly forces. Even a relatively small 250-pound bomb could kill or injure friendly troops who are within 650 feet of the explosion.

By contrast, a gun will allow a pilot to attack hostile forces that are less than 300 feet from friendly ground forces.

Proponents of the F-35 within the Air Force leadership argue that the jet’s sensors and ability to display information intuitively will allow the stealthy new fighter to do the close air-support mission from high altitudes using satellite-guided weapons. But there are situations where that won’t work.

“GPS-guided munitions with long times of fall are useless when the ground commander doesn’t know exactly where the fire is coming from, or is withdrawing and the enemy is pursuing,” said another Air Force fighter pilot. “GPS munitions are equally useless when dropped from an aircraft when the pilot has near zero ability to track the battle with his own eyes.”

The lack of a gun is not likely to be a major problem for close-in air-to-air dogfights against other jets. Part of the problem is that the F-35—which is less maneuverable than contemporary enemy fighters like the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker—is not likely to survive such a close-in skirmish. “The jet can’t really turn anyway, so that is a bit of a moot point,” said one Air Force fighter pilot.

“The JSF is so heavy, it won’t accelerate fast enough to get back up to fighting speed,” said another Air Force fighter pilot. “Bottom line is that it will only be a BVR [beyond visual range] airplane.”

That means the F-35 will be almost entirely reliant on long-range air-to-air missiles. It doesn’t carry any short-range, dogfighting missiles like the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder when it’s in a stealthy configuration. One pilot familiar with the F-35 added that “they will not have a large enough air-to-air [missile] load to be on the leading edge” of an air battle in any case.

Another senior Air Force official with stealth fighter experience agreed. “From an air-to-air standpoint, an argument could be made that the F-35A not having a functional gun—or any gun, for that matter—will have little to no impact. Heck, it only has 180 rounds anyway,” he said. “I would be lying if I said there exists any plausible tactical air-to-air scenario where the F-35 will need to employ the gun. Personally, I just don’t see it ever happening and think they should have saved the weight [by getting rid of the gun altogether].”


However, the Air Force official said that very fact the F-35 will not have a functional gun when it becomes operational is symptomatic of a deeply troubled program. “To me, the more disturbing aspect of this delay is that it represents yet another clear indication that the program is in serious trouble,” the official said. F-35 maker “Lockheed Martin is clearly in a situation where they are scrambling to keep their collective noses above the waterline, and they are looking to push non-critical systems to the right in a moment of desperation.”


FAA Grants Real Estate, Agricultural UAS Exemptions

by Press • 6 January 2015


The Federal Aviation Administration today granted two regulatory exemptions for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, including the first for real estate photography.

The agency gave the exemptions to Douglas Trudeau with Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, AZ, and Advanced Aviation Solutions in Spokane, WA. Before these exemption approvals, the FAA had granted 12 exemptions to 11 companies in a variety of industries.

Mr. Trudeau’s exemption authorizes him to fly a Phantom 2 Vision + quadcopter to enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos. Advanced Aviation Solutions plans to use a fixed-wing eBee Ag UAS to make photographic measurements and perform crop scouting for precision agriculture.

Both applicants also must obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that ensures the airspace for their proposed operations is safe, and that they have taken proper steps to see and avoid other aircraft. In addition, the COAs will mandate flight rules and timely reporting of any accident or incidents.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx found that the UAS in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

In granting the exemptions, the FAA considered the planned operating environments and required certain conditions and limitations to assure the safe operation of these UAS in the National Airspace System. For example, operations require both a pilot and observer, the pilot must have at least an FAA Private Pilot certificate and a current medical certificate, and the UAS must remain within line of sight at all times.

As of today, the FAA has received 214 requests for exemptions from commercial entities.



Pentagon Wants ‘Real Roadmap’ To Artificial Intelligence

By Patrick Tucker

Defense One

January 6, 2015


In November, Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall quietly issued a memo to the Defense Science Board that could go on to play a role in history.

The memo calls for a new study that would “identify the science, engineering, and policy problems that must be solved to permit greater operational use of autonomy across all war-fighting domains…Emphasis will be given to exploration of the bounds-both technological and social-that limit the use of autonomy across a wide range of military operations. The study will ask questions such as: What activities cannot today be performed autonomously? When is human intervention required? What limits the use of autonomy? How might we overcome those limits and expand the use of autonomy in the near term as well as over the next 2 decades?”

A Defense Department official very close to the effort framed the request more simply. “We want a real roadmap for autonomy” he told Defense One. What does that mean, and how would a “real roadmap” influence decision-making in the years ahead? One outcome of the Defense Science Board 2015 Summer Study on Autonomy, assuming the results are eventually made public, is that the report’s findings could refute or confirm some of our worst fears about the future of artificial intelligence.

In the event that robots one day attempt to destroy humanity, 2014 will be remembered as the year that two of technology’s great geek heroes, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, predicted it would happen. And if that never comes to pass, 2014 will go down as the year two of the world’s smartest people had a media panic attack about robots for no reason.

In August, Musk tweeted that artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons and in October, likened it to “summoning a demon.” Hawking, meanwhile, told the BBC in December that humanistic artificial intelligence could “spell the end of the human race.” The context for the claim was a discussion of the AI aide that helps Hawking to speak despite the theoretical physicist’s crippling ALS.

The statements surprised many as they seemed to rise from thin air. After all, 2014 was not a year in which artificial intelligence killed anyone or even really made headlines. A few thousand more people encountered Apple’s AI administrative assistant program for the iPhone, Siri and, despite improvements, found the experience frustrating and disappointing. (It’s no wonder that fewer than 15 percent of iPhone owners have ever even used Siri). IBM searched for new applications for Watson beyond winning quiz shows. Computers continued to beat humans at chess and continued to not understand chess in any remotely human way — not why we play, not why we sometimes quit, not the significance of chess in Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece the Seventh Seal, nada. When a computer finally passed the Turing Test, a commonly cited measure for strong artificial intelligence, the response from many in technology community, after some gleeful reposting, was rejection of Turing Test as a useful metric for measuring humanisticAI.

The route to a humanistic artificial brain is as murky as ever. Inventor and Google director of engineering Ray Kurzweil has suggested that it will only be possible only after humanity creates a map of the human brain accurate to the sub-cellular level, a prize that seems far off.

Elon Musk’s freakout was prompted not by any technological breakthrough but by philosopher Nick Bostrom’s book titled Super Intelligence (Oxford 2014).

It’s a remarkable read for many reasons, but principally, it offers a deep exploration of a threat for which there is no precedence or any real world example in the present day. It is a text of brilliant speculation rather than observation. Here’s how Bostrom describes the rise of malevolent super-intelligence in chapter six, evolving from a limited AI program, somewhat like Siri, but one capable of recursive learning.

Now when the AI improves itself, it improves the thing that does the improving. An intelligence explosion results— a rapid cascade of recursive self-improvement cycles causing the AI’s capability to soar. (We can thus think of this phase as the takeoff that occurs just after the AI reaches the crossover point, assuming the intelligence gain during this part of the takeoff is explosive and driven by the application of the AI’s own optimization power.) The AI develops the intelligence amplification superpower. This superpower enables theAI to develop all the other superpowers detailed in Table 8. At the end of the recursive self-improvement phase, the system is strongly super-intelligent.

The book carries on like this. It reads almost like an Icelandic Saga, but rather than filling in the gaps of history with imaginative tales of heroic exploit, it offers a myth of the future, one told not in verse but in the language of an instruction manual. It presents a logical argument for the inevitability of super-intelligence but no proof, nor any clear evidence that it has or will happen, because, of course, none exists.

In response to this year’s AI panic, Rodney Brooks, the roboticist behind not only the popular Roomba robot vacuum cleaner but also bomb disposal system, the PackBot, was quick to rebut the notion of malevolent AI as any sort of serious threat.

Brooks is an experimental roboticist, sometimes called a scruffy, someone willing to take every manner of device, sensor, computer program and apply it to the goal of achieving a slightly better result. In talks, he will frequently point out that the first Stanford self-driving vehicle, a cart, took six hours to traverse a mere 20 meters. It was through a great deal of slow, painful and incremental research that, in 2005, researchers from Stanford were able to reveal a car that could travel 132 miles in about the same amount of time. Brooks is well-aware that artificial intelligence lends itself of to terrifying caricature. For Brooks, decades of difficult experimentation informs an outlook that is very different from that of Musk, Bostrom or even Hawking.

“I think it is a mistake to be worrying about us developing malevolent AI anytime in the next few hundred years,” he recently wrote on the blog of his newest company, Rethink Robotics. “I think the worry stems from a fundamental error in not distinguishing the difference between the very real recent advances in a particular aspect of AI, and the enormity and complexity of building sentient volitional intelligence.”

Let’s take Brooks’s position that a “sentient volitional intelligence” – which in English means something like human thinking and will— is impossible in the near term. Does artificial intelligence still pose any sort of actual threat to humanity? Bio-ethicist Wendell Wallach says yes.

In his book Moral Machines, Wallach, with co-author Colin Allen, argues convincingly that a robotic intelligence need not be “super” or even particularly smart in order to be extremely dangerous. It needs only to have the authority, autonomy if you will, to make extremely important, life or death, decisions.

“Within the next few years, we predict there will be a catastrophic incident brought about by a computer system making a decision independent of human oversight,” the authors write. “Already, in October 2007, a semiautonomous robotic cannon deployed by the South African army malfunctioned, killing 9 soldiers and wounding others… although early reports conflicted about whether it was a software or hardware malfunction. The potential for an even bigger disaster will increase as such machines become more fully autonomous.”

Wallach, unlike, Bostrom, does not look toward a future where humanity is locked in conflict with Skynet. Machines, software, robotic systems cause loss of life not because they have developed will but because they lack it, are incredibly stupid, poorly designed are both. But it’s a future where humanity has outsourced more and more key decisions to machines that are not nearly as intelligent as are people.

The distinction between malevolent AI and dumb and dangerous is important because while there is no clear evidence that super-intelligence is even possible, humans are leaving ever more important decisions in the hands of software. The robotic takeover of the human decision space is incremental, inevitable and proceeds not at the insistence of the robots but at ours.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the United States military, the institution that effectively created the first random access memory electronic computer and everything that has followed from that, including modern robotics. Faced with rising costs for staffing, a public increasingly averse to casualties but a growing number of commitments and crises to contend with, military research into artificial intelligence—in autonomy—touches everything from flying jets to administering healthcare.

Consider the automatic piloting features of the current version of the F-35, the military’s joint striker fighter, the most expensive aircraft in history, in part, because it’s loaded with a lots of sophisticated software to take over more and more human pilot responsibilities. In November, the Navy ran it through a battery of tests. While the Pentagon hasn’t released data on those tests yet, pilots that took part in an exercise to land an F-35 on the deck of an aircraft carrier reviewed the experience positively. “It makes landing on the boat a routine task,” Cmdr. Tony “Brick” Wilson told U-T San Diego writer Jeanette Steele.

Earlier this year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, put out a proposal for a system, called the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, to effectively automate most of the piloting of an aircraft, in order to “reduce pilot workload,” according to the agency. Even those planes that are piloted are becoming less so.

Then, of course, there are unmanned systems, which usually require a two-person team, at least. But that’s rapidly changing. The high-tech, largely classified RQ-180, developed by Northrup Grumman, will show off new more autonomous features, in addition to stealth capabilities unprecedented in a UAV when it becomes operational. It’s currently in testing.

“The next generation of UAVs will need to be much more capable—faster, with greater autonomy in case communication links are disrupted, and stealthier so they are more difficult for an adversary to detect,” defense analyst Phil Finnegan of the Teal Group told Popular Science writer Eric Adams.

Perhaps the most important factor contributing to far more autonomous military machines is cyber-vulnerability. Any machine that must remain in constant communication with an operator—even when that communication is encrypted—is more hackable than a system that doesn’t require constant contact to perform basic functions. A number of high profile cyber-breaches made that very obvious in 2014. During the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, the firm IOActive demonstrated, live, that backdoors had compromised a number of key pieces of common military communications equipment. Even encrypted data can still give away information about the sender or receiver that could be important or exploitable.

“If you can’t ensure stable connectivity it makes the push for more advanced robotics more difficult to imagine unless you take letting the robots think for themselves more seriously…because the solution to some of those issues could be autonomy,” Michael Horowitz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, remarked at the Defense One Summit in November.

It’s no coincidence that 2014 saw several key, Defense Department announcements regarding the electromagnetic spectrum, in particular the release of a much-anticipated spectrum strategy framework. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that waning U.S. dominance in the particle space where electronic communication happens makes communication-dependent systems more vulnerable.

“Communication with drones can be jammed… that creates a push for more autonomy in the weapon,” futurist and technologist Ramez Naam said during the Defense One summit. “We will see a vast increase in how many of our weapons will be automated in some way.”

Greater autonomy does not necessarily mean the ability to shoot at (robotic) will with no human issuing the actual command. When you talk to drone and robotics experts inside the Pentagon about the prospect of killer robots, they’ll often role their eyes and insist that the Defense Department has no plans to automate the delivery of what is often, euphemistically, referred to as “lethal effects.”

It’s an attitude enshrined in current policy, a 2012 Defense Department directive that, as Defense One has observed previously, expressly prohibits the creation or use of unmanned systems to “select and engage individual targets or specific target groups that have not been previously selected by an authorized human operator.” The directive is signed by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who was serving as deputy secretary of defense at the time.

But a directive is very different from a law. There’s no real reason why some different defense secretary – or the same man, in Carter’s likely case – couldn’t issue a counter directive in the face of a new set of circumstances. And within that wording of the current directive, there’s a lot of room. Left open is the question of how or when to “engage” a target or “group.”

Will we reach a point where it makes more sense to endow unmanned systems with the system authority to select their own targets? What about the ability to simply suggest a target to a human operator who is unrested, overburdened and possibly overseeing several drones at once?

Of course, the United States military isn’t the only player building autonomy robotic systems, either weapons or consumer devices.

“Even though today’s unmanned systems are ‘dumb’ in comparison to a human counterpart, strides are being made quickly to incorporate more automation at a faster pace than we’ve seen before,” Paul Bello, director of the cognitive science program at the Office of Naval Research told Defense One in May. “For example, Google’s self-driving cars are legal and in-use in several states at this point. As researchers, we are playing catch-up trying to figure out the ethical and legal implications. We do not want to be caught similarly flat-footed in any kind of military domain where lives are at stake.”

In conversation with Defense One, the Pentagon official reiterated that point, that regardless of what the military does or does not build, the national security community has a big interest in understanding the possibilities and limitations of AI, especially as those will be tested by other nations, by corporations and by hobbyists. “You are absolutely right, it’s a concern,” he said.

What level of vigilance should the rest of us adopt toward ever-smarter robots? It’s a question we’ll be asking well beyond 2015, but in the coming year within the guarded walls of the Pentagon, a real answer will begin to take form.



Watchdog Wants to Know if DOD Has Actually Saved Money by Jumping to the Cloud

By Frank Konkel

January 5, 2015


Last month, the Defense Department inspector general published a hard-hitting report questioning the structure and execution of the department’s cloud computing strategy.

Now, auditors are putting DOD technology officials on notice that they’re already beginning another probe of the agency’s cloud efforts.

The message of the new report: Show us the money.

A Dec. 9 letter from Carol N. Gorman, assistant IG for readiness and cyber operations, said the audit aims to determine whether DOD components actually performed cost-benefit analyses before acquiring cloud computing services and “whether those DOD components achieved actual savings as a result of adopting cloud services.”

The memo is addressed to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition technology and logistics, the DOD chief information officer, the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, and the commanders of U.S. Cyber Command and U.S. Strategic Command.

A cost-benefit analysis would include data relevant to a component’s return on investment: current IT spending compared to estimated spending offered through various cloud service providers; performance metrics; energy savings and a slew of other data sets. A cost-benefit analysis puts numbers to the cloud, which for all its fame as an IT driver remains a somewhat nebulous term. In addition, a cost-benefit analysis also serves as a baseline for determining the success of any cloud-computing deal.


Cloud computing is traditionally associated with improvements in IT efficiency and cost savings for enterprise IT organizations in both the private and public sectors. Instead of building and managing their own energy-chugging data centers, organizations essentially rent a range of services such as storage, compute or analytics from cloud service providers in the cloud – which are just the cloud service providers’ data centers.

The logic most organizations follow is that purchasing IT as a service makes sense as security concerns continue to be addressed through various initiatives. The DOD IG, however, wants to make sure component agencies are doing their homework before they jump to the cloud. If they haven’t, the DOD IG isn’t likely to mince words, despite the Pentagon’s continued efforts to retool its cloud strategy.


U.S. surveillance drones largely ineffective along border, report says

By Craig Whitlock January 6 at 2:10 PM 


U.S. drones deployed along the borders are grounded most of the time, cost far more than initially estimated and help to apprehend only a tiny number of people trying to cross illegally, according to a federal audit released Tuesday.

In a report that could undermine political support for using more drones to secure the nation’s borders, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found “little or no evidence” that the fleet had met expectations or was effective in conducting surveillance.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been flying surveillance drones for nearly a decade, launching them from bases in Texas, Florida, North Dakota and Arizona. The agency has nine of the Predator B model — a modified version of the MQ-9 Reaper drone flown by the Air Force — and has plans to more than double the size of its drone fleet to 24 as part of a $443 million expansion.

The inspector general, however, questioned whether those plans make any sense or would be cost-effective.

In an audit of the fleet’s operations during fiscal 2013, the inspector general calculated that it cost $12,255 per flight hour to operate the drones, five times as much as Customs and Border Protection had estimated.

Although the agency planned to fly four drone patrols a day — each for an average of 16 hours — the aircraft were in the air for less than a quarter of that time, the audit showed. Bad weather and a lack of personnel and spare parts hindered operations, it concluded.

“The unmanned aircraft are not meeting flight hour goals,” the auditors wrote, adding more broadly that Customs and Border Protection “cannot demonstrate how much the program has improved border security.”

As evidence, the report cited statistics showing that of the 120,939 illegal border crossers apprehended in Arizona during 2013, fewer than 2 percent were caught with the help of drones providing aerial surveillance.

In Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of border-crossing apprehensions were attributed to drone detection.

The findings echo earlier audits by the inspector general of the domestic drone program but could carry extra weight as Congress considers whether to spend more on drone surveillance to secure the borders as part of immigration legislation.

In a written response to the audit, Eugene Schied, an assistant commissioner with Customs and Border Protection, disputed the characterization in the findings. The drone program, he said, “has achieved or exceeded all relevant performance expectations.”

Schied accused the inspector general of cherry-picking statistics and ignoring information that makes the drones appear more effective. For instance, Schied said, drones “directly contributed” to the seizure of almost 50,000 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $122 million, along the Southwest border in 2013.

Customs and Border Protection dismissed suggestions that a major expansion of its drone fleet would occur anytime soon. Although plans to fly as many as two dozen drones were authorized years ago, Schied said the department did not have the money to follow through and that “there is no intent at this time” to operate more than 10 of the aircraft.



Pentagon To Close, Consolidate Bases in Europe, Base F-35 in England

Marcus Weisgerber January 8, 2015


Congress won’t let the Pentagon close or realign bases in the United States, so the Defense Department has looked to shut down facilities elsewhere: in Europe.

Pentagon officials announced Thursday that they will close or reduce its presence at dozens of facilities across the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Portugal, part of a broader consolidation plan that they say would save DOD $500 million annually. The officials stressed that the reorganization would not impact the American military’s ability to respond to a crisis on the continent and in some cases could respond even faster due to better positioning.

The move comes amid increased tension across Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. While the U.S. will consolidate facilities, it still plans to boost rotational deployments of American troops and weapons to Europe for drills with NATO forces, Pentagon officials said. In 2015, the Pentagon plans to spend nearly $1 billion on efforts to boost U.S. training and exercises across the continent.

“Taken together, these decisions on our force presence in Europe will enhance our operational readiness and mission posture at reduced funding levels, all toward the objective of maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic alliance and meeting our common security interest,” Derek Chollet, assistant secretary for international security affairs, said Thursday.

The most notable decision announced Thursday is that the Pentagon is moving U.S. Air Force tankers, intelligence planes and tiltrotor aircraft from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, to other bases across Europe. The Air Force used the Cold War-era airfield since 1950 when WB-50 Superfortresses arrived at Mildenhall.

A number of aircraft, particularly Air Force KC-135 aerial refueling tankers and special operations CV-22 Ospreys will move from Mildenhall to Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases, respectively, said Tim Bridges, the deputy assistant secretary for Air Force installations. Both bases are in Germany.

The idea behind the Osprey move is to position them “closer to where the fight is,” Bridges said. All U.S. Air Force personnel are expected to leave Mildenhall around 2019, he said.

Of course, the U.S. decision to drawdown its presence at RAF Mildenhall is disappointing. However, we recognize that such changes are sometimes necessary.

While the Air Force would reduce its footprint in the United Kingdom, it announced England would be the first European country to host American F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The British are buying their own F-35s, which will fly from the Royal Navy’s new HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers.

The Air Force will base two squadrons of F-35s, each with 24 aircraft, at RAF Lakenheath in Eastern England. The base is also home to F-15 Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles and HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search-and-rescue helicopters. F-35s are scheduled to start arriving there in 2020.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon called the Pentagon’s decision to base F-35s in England a “resounding vote of confidence by the U.S.”

“I am delighted that the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and U.S. Air Force will be operating this superb aircraft alongside one another from bases in the U.K.,” he said in a statement. “It is an indication of the strength of our continuing shared commitment to transatlantic security.”

The British secretary was not so upbeat on the U.S. departure from Mildenhall.”Of course, the U.S. decision to drawdown its presence at RAF Mildenhall is disappointing,” Fallon said. “However, we recognize that such changes are sometimes necessary.”

The base consolidation will not alter the number of U.S. troops in Europe, which will stay near the current level of about 67,000, Chollet said.

Pentagon officials have been working on the European base consolidation plan for about two years. When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2014, DOD officials considered pausing the consolidation effort, but decided to press on.

“We weren’t talking about reducing our ability to conduct the mission; we were talking about our ability to do that same mission for less money, and that was an effort worth continuing,” said John Conger, who is acting assistant secretary of defense for energy installations and environment at the Pentagon.

For several years the Pentagon has said it wants to close or realign bases across the United States, a plan that has been flat out rejected by Congress.But with fewer bases, fewer U.S. and local host country support and maintenance people will be needed, Conger said.

“Approximately 1,200 U.S. military and civilian support positions will be eliminated and about 6,000 more U.S. personnel will be relocated within Europe,” he said. “Up to 1,100 host-nation positions could also be eliminated and approximately 1,500 additional Europeans working for the U.S. could end up being impacted over the next several years, as many of their positions are relocated to areas we need to maintain for the long term.”

Some of those reductions will be offset by 1,200 new positions associated with the two new F-35 squadrons at Lakenheath.

A full list of the bases being consolidated or closed follows:

United Kingdom

• Divest RAF Mildenhall – Returns the installation and four supported sites to the United Kingdom. DoD intends to relocate the operational units at RAF Mildenhall within Europe – the assigned KC-135s and the 352nd Special Operations Wing to Germany, and the assigned RC-135s within the U.K. This consolidation paves the way for the stationing of two squadrons of F-35s at RAF Lakenheath, starting in 2020.

• Divest RAF Alconbury/RAF Molesworth – Consolidation of missions allows the permanent return of RAF Alconbury, RAF Molesworth and supporting sites to the United Kingdom. The majority of U.S. personnel, and many of the U.S.-funded host nation positions assigned to these bases will be transferred to RAF Croughton.



• Close Mainz Kastel Station – Fully returns the site to Germany.

• Close Barton Barracks – Fully returns the site to Germany, and relocates the Department of Defense Dependents Schools district office to Sembach.

• Partially close Pulaski Barracks in the Kaiserslautern area – Returns part of the site to Germany.

• Close Weilimdorf Warehouse Site – Returns the site to German control.


• Close two Baumholder Waterworks – Returns control to Germany.

• Relocate HQs DISA-Europe from Stuttgart to Kaiserslautern.

• Close Amelia Earhart hotel in Wiesbaden.

• Partially close Artillery Kaserne in Garmisch – Returns two-thirds of the site to Germany.

• Restructure the Army Air Force Exchange Services bakery and water distribution operations at Gruenstadt.

• Close Husterhoeh Kaserne in Pirmasens – Returns the site to Germany.

• Relocate mail sorting/distribution from German Aerial Mail Terminal in Frankfurt to Germersheim Army Depot – Efficiencies and personnel moves only.

• Create a distribution center of excellence at Germersheim Army Depot.

• Consolidate various communication data centers across EUCOM.

• Close commissaries at Illesheim and Sembach, as well as the four commissaries in Stuttgart at Kelley Barracks, Patch Barracks, Panzer Barracks and Robinson Barracks, once a new replacement store on Panzer is constructed.

• Consolidate Defense Media Activity operations across Europe.

• Consolidate communications, postal services and personnel management that support the U.S. mission to NATO and the U.S. military delegation to the NATO Military Committee.



• Divest Leased Site in Brussels – Consolidation of U.S. facilities in Brussels to Sterrebeek.


The Netherlands

• Divest Shinnen Emma Mine Leased Site, Netherlands and consolidate U.S. facilities at Brunssum.



• Place a portion of the Pisa Ammo Storage Area, near Livorno, into caretaker status.

• Partially close Camp Darby near Livorno. Returns about half of the installation to Italy.

• Convert the Vicenza Health Center to outpatient and specialty care only.



• Streamline operations and property at Lajes Field – Reduces active duty, civilian personnel and contract providers by two-thirds. A number of the buildings at Lajes will also be returned to Portugal.

Op-Ed Our mistake: Thinking that all countries should be structured like U.S.

By Stephen D. Krasner

The U.S. hasn’t been winning wars because we’ve been pursuing unattainable goals. Here’s what needs to change

January 8, 2015, 5:10 PM


The United States has the most potent military in terms of firepower and operational capacity in history. Our military overthrew Saddam Hussein and crushed the Taliban in a matter of weeks. Our forces can direct a rocket from Nevada through a window in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and nimbly set up nearly 20 Ebola treatment centers in Liberia..

“We think that modern liberal democracy is what many countries should aspire to and that, absent obstacles, it will spring into existence. This is a chimera.”

Yet this same military, as writer James Fallows recently pointed out in the Atlantic, has not won its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya or anywhere else in the last 20 years — if winning means creating a stable, capable and ideally democratic governing structure that is able and willing to police its own territory. After the United States poured billions of dollars into the Iraqi army, it fell apart in the face of a few thousand initially lightly armed Islamic State fighters.

Conditions in Afghanistan are in some ways far better than they were before 9/11: Life expectancy has jumped by more than five years; and many more children, girls as well as boys, attend school. But the Taliban remains an active threat. Kabul is haunted by the fear of terrorist attacks. Foreigners have fled. Opium production is up. Corruption is rampant. In Iraq, Nouri Maliki has resigned as prime minister, but the likelihood that Iraq will become a well-governed unified state is nil even if Islamic State is degraded over time. Libya is descending into chaos.

We have not lost because the military and its leaders failed to adapt or because military resources were misdirected. We have lost because we — our civilian leaders, our country — have accepted objectives that are not attainable. Our goal has been to put countries on the road to modernity, to move them toward well-governed, prosperous, democratic states that respect human rights, have an active civil society, treat women and men as equals, have a free press, extend the rule of law to all members of society and encourage market-oriented economic activity.

Our military knows how to fight effectively against an enemy as unconventional as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or Islamic State, but also how to train their Iraqi and Afghan counterparts to pull off complicated military maneuvers.

But what our military cannot do — what no one can do — is to transform domestic political and economic institutions in these countries. We, our leaders and our people, are guilty of assuming that the United States is not only a “city on a hill” but also the natural model for how human beings should organize political authority. We think that modern liberal democracy is what many countries should aspire to and that, absent obstacles, it will spring into existence. This is a chimera.

Some time ago, the Times ran an op ed that stated that the Middle eastern societies do not want democracy, and that all the M/E’s that believed in democracy were already here. I am coming more and more to agree with that author. What we see in Paris, and will soon see here is a vast…

For most of human history in most of the world, rulers who wield power have invariably acted in their own self-interest. Controlling the state is the path to personal wealth and power. Corruption is not an aberration, it is the lubricant that makes their governing possible. Modern election outcomes in these places are often perverted or produce leaders who have no interest in sustaining accountable governance, even though the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to provide technical election assistance, support political parties and civil society organizations, and establish election monitors.

It does not matter how well our military is trained, how wisely we deploy our defense dollars or how conscientious our politicians might be. Our military intervention cannot put these countries on the path to modernity. We must change our goals if we are to enhance our own national security and provide a better life for the citizens of the countries where we send our men and women to fight.

Our objective should be “good enough” governance, which means ensuring that a state is capable of keeping order within its own boundaries — at least enough order to contain transnational terrorists. The provision of this order may sometimes be arbitrary and brutal. Maintaining order in some countries might require an American military whose primary mission would be to degrade transnational terrorist entities and perhaps intervene to maintain a balance of power among local strongmen.

Where ethnic conflicts have eroded trust, we should encourage decentralization. Ideally, “good enough” governance would include providing some public services such as healthcare and primary education that would not threaten the local elite’s ability to extract resources and stay in power. Some degree of economic growth might be possible provided we recognize that these rulers always require their cut of the profits.

Unless we accept that our Wilsonian aspirations are unreachable and counterproductive, the United States will not be able to align its assets — military and civilian — with policies that have a chance of keeping us safer. Such a development just might leave some countries better off than they were before we intervened.

Stephen D. Krasner is a professor of political science and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was director of policy planning for the State Department from 2005 to 2007.


North Dakota’s fledgling drone business awaits FAA action

by Press • 9 January 2015


GRAND FORKS – Hundreds of companies have contacted North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft test site over the past year hoping to test drones, cameras or other technology.

Researchers say they have plenty of demand. What they need are rules.

More than a year after North Dakota was named one of six national test sites for drones, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to write regulations governing drone use in the United States. Observers say the pace of rulemaking is keeping a potentially huge industry grounded.

The lack of rules is forcing businesses and even some North Dakota researchers to take their drones to Canada where it’s easier to get permission for test flights. Canada, Australia and several European countries have fewer restrictions on drone flights. That’s attracting U.S. firms and leading some in Congress to worry the United States will lose business.

“The FAA is just not moving as quickly as we would like them to move and we don’t really understand why that is,” said Al Palmer, head of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Industry leaders and researchers have become increasingly frustrated waiting for regulations, said Palmer, who compared the FAA to a turtle. “In order to move forward they have to stick their neck out.”

The FAA is expected to release proposed rules for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds within the next month. But Palmer said those rules won’t likely be final until 2017, extending the uncertainty for unmanned aircraft businesses.

Military drones fly from the Grand Forks Air Force base, and the region is developing a commercial drone industry. Testing of drone-carried sensors for agriculture is expected to begin this spring, said Robert Becklund, director of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site.

Becklund said the lack of clear guidance from the FAA is scaring away customers. Businesses don’t know what kind of restrictions the federal agency will impose for commercial use of drones, and the rules for using the North Dakota airspace are bureaucratic and limiting.

But Becklund said he isn’t deterred by the slow pace of federal bureaucracy and hopes the FAA will soon authorize drone test flights over a large area of North Dakota. That will significantly reduce paperwork and delays.

“It doesn’t really surprise me that it’s taking this long to get things moving,” he said. “From a practical point of view, it’s plenty frustrating for us here who want to contribute directly to the FAA’s needs.”

The FAA doesn’t comment on pending regulatory decisions and declined to make officials available for this story. Part of the problem, observers say, is that the FAA needs drone data to help establish safety standards. Test sites could help provide that data. But Congress provided no funding for the test sites, so the FAA can’t order research.

Becklund is looking for creative ways to make the test site more accessible to companies doing drone research and development. Under current rules, they need to partner with a public research university to test drones or drone equipment. Some businesses balk at sharing information and equipment, however.

Economic development officials say uncertainty about federal rules has many small businesses waiting to invest money in drone technology. But some big companies are already committed to the Grand Forks area. Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman plans a facility in a new technology park at the Grand Forks Air Force base.

Local officials say they are close to finalizing an agreement with the Air Force so drone companies can build research facilities at the air base.

Becklund said changing the description of drones from aircraft to experimental aircraft might smooth the FAA rule process and move things forward.

“I think that’s the real way ahead here,” said Becklund, who may push for the change this year. “The test site will help them get the airspace and then they can fly those airplanes themselves.”


CES 2015: Why the future of drones is up in the air


by Press • 8 January 2015

Tiny drones, pink drones, selfie-taking drones, military drones, drones that fly themselves – the drone zone at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is positively buzzing – in every sense of the word.


“Drones are arguably the most hyped product at CES,” said Ben Wood, from analyst firm CCS Insight.

“A veritable minefield in terms of regulation and safety but as prices tumble expect to see them in a lot more Christmas stockings this year.”

The Consumer Electronics Association, which organises CES, said the drone market should be worth about $130m (£86m) in 2015 – 50% higher than 2014.

In a few years the trade group expects it to be a billion-dollar market.

But not all is stable in the world of drones. Two key issues are dogging the field – regulation and power.

In the US the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has very strict rules around their commercial use.

Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s integration office, said its regulations for commercial use were strict for good reasons.

“People who are being paid to do a job are more likely to take risks to accomplish that,” he said.

Away from commercial use, there is much anxiety around the world about amateur drones and privacy, as most of the craft come equipped with cameras.

The second big worry is battery life.

I spoke to several drone companies at CES representing both budget and high-end Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and the average battery life for the craft is about 20 minutes – with some managing just 10 minutes of flight time. One firm claims its devices have a flight time of about 50 minutes.

“One of the biggest frustrations with drones is battery life,” said Mr Wood.

“It’s rare to get more than 15 minutes of use and there seems little prospect of that improving any time soon.

“For prolonged usage, owners are typically obliged to get additional batteries, which means added cost.”

Despite the challenges, drones seem here to stay, and those on show at CES are a good sampling of the current state of the market.


AIN:- ICAO Panel Will Recommend First UAV Standards in 2018

by Press • 7 January 2015

by Bill Carey


The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) new Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Panel aims to deliver standards for unmanned aircraft to the organization’s governing council in 2018. Once approved, the standards will guide ICAO’s 191 member states in setting their own national regulations. The overall process of producing RPAS standards is expected to take a decade or longer.


The panel’s current focus “is on development of standards and recommended practices (SARPs) for adoption by the Council of ICAO in 2018 related to airworthiness, operations (including RPAS operator certification) and licensing of remote pilots,” Leslie Cary, ICAO’s RPAS program manager, wrote in response to an AIN query. “Guidance material related to command and control in support of airworthiness and operations certifications will be part of the 2018 deliverable.”

The panel plans to complete SARPs for air traffic management and “detect and avoid” requirements for unmanned aircraft in 2020, said Cary, who serves as the RPAS Panel secretary. “Most topics will take several years and several packages to complete; the 2018 packages will be the start of a very complex activity,” she said. “We anticipate a rolling delivery of SARPs, Procedures for Air Navigation Services and guidance material on a biennial basis for the next 10+ years until all the topics are complete.”

Twenty-one states and nine international organizations nominated members to serve on the panel, Cary said. The members held their first meeting in late November and elected Randy Willis, manager of air traffic strategic operations with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, to serve as chairman, and Mike Gadd, manager of aircraft certification with the UKCivil Aviation Authority, as vice chairman. The panel’s next meeting will be held June 15-19 in Montreal.

The RPAS Panel replaced a lower-level Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group that ICAO formed in 2007. The study group produced several guidance documents, including Document 10019, or “Manual on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems,” which ICAO expects to publish in March. The manual “serves as an educational tool for states, industry, service providers and other stakeholders on most of the topics that comprise the regulatory framework,” Cary said. “It discusses how existing manned aviation provisions apply to unmanned (aircraft) and provides some guidance on how to address the gaps. The material will be revised and expanded as the actual regulatory framework develops and is adopted.”

Aerospace companies in Europe and the U.S. are developing UAVs to meet current manned and future unmanned aircraft certification requirements. In October, Airbus Defense in Spain formally applied to the European Aviation Safety Agency for civil type certification of its 1,256-pound Atlante UAV—the continent’s first such application. Airbus said a second Atlante is now flying “and has been conducting various trials of different sensors, systems and guidance techniques.”


France’s Sagem completed a series of test flights of its one-ton Patroller UAV near Toulouse in November that demonstrated “a complete anti-collision function.” The project also demonstrated the Patroller’s ability to perform approaches to Toulouse-Blagnac airport based on ATC procedures.

In the U.S., General Atomics, the FAA and NASA conducted flight tests in November of NASA’s Ikhana Predator B fitted with a “detect and avoid” suite, including General Atomics’ due regard electronically scanned radar.


Ramussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Obama vs. Congress – Round One. Voters are strongly hoping the country comes out the winner.

In a 50-50 nation, it’s no surprise that voters are evenly divided when asked whether President Obama or the new Republican-led Congress should take the lead on issues important to the nation.

Taxes, spending, Obamacare and immigration top Congress’ to-do list as far as voters are concerned, but they also fully expect partisan politics to get in the way.

Voters still believe government spending will go up during the president’s last two years in office but think taxes are likely to remain about the same.

Looking for places to cut? Americans continue to believe that government employees earn more, do less and have more job security than those in the private sector.

The outgoing postmaster general criticized Congress this week for not allowing the financially troubled U.S. Postal Service make needed reforms like cutting mail delivery to five days a week, but Americans aren’t entirely convinced the agency should be able to make budget changes without Congress.

As for Obamacare, voters are nearly tied in their views of it, the health care law’s best showing since just before its official rollout in November 2013. But they still expect the quality of health care to suffer and costs to go up as a result of the law.

For the first time, however, most voters want the health care law fixed on a piece by piece basis rather than repealed entirely

Voters are also closely divided over whether Congress should try to find ways to stop the president’s plan to allow several million illegal immigrants stay in this country legally and apply for jobs.

The president of Mexico visited with Obama this week and assured him that Mexico will do all it can to make his new plan a reality. But most voters favor ending foreign aid to our southern neighbor until it does more to prevent illegal border crossings.

Despite the huge Republicans gains on Election Day, the president’s job approval ratings have improved steadily over the last couple months, so both sides are coming to the negotiating table feeling that they have the support of the American people.

Democrats have kicked off 2015 with a lead over Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot. But the parties have been within two points of each other most weeks for months.

Both sides also will try to take credit for the improving economy. Our regular economic indicators including the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Index suggest that something other than traditional beginning-of-the year optimism is going on.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence continues to climb, hitting a six-year high for the second month in a row in December.

Thirty percent (30%) now believe the unemployment rate will be lower in a year’s time, the highest level of optimism in two years.

Thirty-three percent (33%) of voters think the country is heading in the right direction. While this is far from a cause for celebration, it’s the first time this finding has climbed out of the 20s in months. Will optimism continue to grow?

The horrifying events in France remind us of the ever-present threat of terrorism, a topic we will address in surveys early next week. Jury selection began on Monday in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev nearly two years after his arrest for the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013. Most voters still think the bombing suspect should receive a death sentence if convicted.

Looking a few months down the road, most of the presidential attention among Democrats is focused on Hillary Clinton and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, but for Republicans the field is wide open – with candidates both old and new. So how do voters feel about the GOP presidential contest this far out? 

In other surveys last week:

— With only a handful of reported cases in this country, Americans are less concerned about the threat of Ebola and more confident the U.S. public health system can handle the killer virus.

— The U.S. birthrate declined for the sixth year in a row in 2014, but Americans are still more worried about the population growing too fast rather than too slow.

— Seventy-three percent (73%) of voters agree it’s important for someone to be married before they have children.

— Fewer voters now think there should be a waiting period before allowing a woman to have an abortion.

— Very few voters know how much the United States spends on students each year, but they do know the money being spent isn’t doing much good.

More voters than ever think women are good for the U.S. military and believe even more strongly that they should be allowed to fight on the front lines.

Is the telephone fading away as a means of communication? 


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