Overwhelmed with Data Feeds, Military Turns to NFL Broadcast Tricks for Highlighting Drone Targets
A growing swarm of drones keep watch on the battlefield, but military analysts struggle to watch every second of live surveillance footage so that they can quickly pass on warnings about ambushes or possible targets to warfighters. Now the U.S. military has turned to ESPN and Fox Sports to learn how to quickly identify and transmit the video highlights, the New York Times reports. NFL broadcasters rely on a dedicated production crew and some nifty software to orchestrate straightforward TV action from the chaos of each football play. The U.S. Air Force is similarly installing a new $500 million computer system that can quickly single out important info through highlight clips, text and graphics, and then send the package out as an automatic alert. Telestrators used by the likes of famed broadcaster John Madden to scrawl football plays have already been installed on some Air Force hand-held video receivers. That allows officers to quickly circle possible vehicles or people that they want a drone to keep an eye on. Military analysts even spent time inside broadcast vans outside football stadiums, and watched how producers tagged quarterback Tom Brady and other players so that they could easily call up highlight reels later by searching their names. But even the best systems can still have problems with plays where football players are swarming in for a tackle. The military has yet to find software that can automatically scan for vehicles or armed men, especially given the more dire consequences of mislabeling civilians as targets. The Air Force recognizes that human eyes remain essential beyond those of just the drone operators. It plans to hire thousands of more analysts, and will push to stream drone surveillance video directly to the frontline troops. That way, soldiers will really know their drone buddies on the battlefield.
Pakistan Taliban says leader injured in attack
The leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, has been wounded in a suspected U.S. drone strike, intelligence and Taliban sources told CNN Friday. The strike in northwest Pakistan occurred on Thursday a couple of weeks after a suicide bomber killed seven CIA officers at a base in Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman denied Thursday and again Friday that Mehsud was hurt. The spokesman, Azam Tariq, said Mehsud had left the site of the attack -- a religious school -- before the missiles struck. He dismissed reports of an injury to Mehsud as propaganda. Other Taliban and intelligence sources, however, said doctors were treating Mehsud for injuries he sustained in the drone strike. The drone attack killed 10 people, with four missiles landing near a madrassa, or religious school, Pakistani intelligence and local officials said Thursday. The school had been converted into a training camp for militants, the officials said. The U.S. military routinely offers no comment on reported attacks by drones, or unmanned aircraft. The United States is the only country operating in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from remote-controlled aircraft. The strike happened in the village of Pasal Kot. That's in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan's volatile tribal region that is the site of previous drone strikes and clashes between the Pakistani military and Islamic militants. It comes a few days after Mehsud appeared in a video the Pakistani Taliban released. In it, he sits next to Human Khlalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the man believed to be the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives and a Jordanian army captain at a base in eastern Afghanistan on December 30. That attack was carried out to avenge the death of Mehsud's predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, who died in a suspected U.S. drone strike last year, according to al Qaeda's commander of operations in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu Yazid.
UAV Predator Air Strike On IED Implacement Team - Iraq
Turkey, Israel on track to close drone deal: official
Turkey and Israel appear to be on track to finalise a long delayed multi-million-dollar deal for the delivery of 10 drone aircraft for the Turkish air force, a Turkish official said Friday. The project, launched in 2005, was under threat of cancellation amid delays and rising tensions between the two countries over Israel's devastating offensive in the Gaza Strip last year. "Turkish experts are currently in Israel to test the drones," the defence ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Should the systems pass the tests, six aircraft will be brought to Turkey's southeastern province of Batman, on the border with Iraq, for further tests, the official added. "If there are no problems, we will take the drones. We expect the delivery to take place in the first six months of this year," he said. The announcement came ahead of a visit by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to Turkey on Sunday for talks on mending battered ties following the latest diplomatic row. On Wednesday Israel was forced to apologise after Ankara threataned to withdraw its ambassador over Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon's public dressing down of the envoy. The drone project had been expected to be completed in the second half of 2009, but it was delayed by technical problems, forcing Turkey to give the two contractors -- Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit -- a deadline until early 2010 and threaten to cancel the tender. Last week, Defence Minister Vecdi Gönül said that negotations were under way on the compensation the Israeli companies would pay for the delay, but refused to give a figure. Media reports have suggested that the compensation could be somewhere around 12 million dollars (8.2 million euros). The drone contract was part of an 185-million-dollar project that involved the manufacture of 10 aircraft, surveillance equipment and ground control stations, with Turkish firms providing sub-systems and services. Under a 1996 military cooperation deal, Turkish-Israeli ties have flourished greatly until last year when the two countries fell out about Ankara's almost daily criticism of the Jewish state over the Gaza war.
Unveiling the ‘Beast of Kandahar’
Secret plane? What secret plane? Oh, that secret plane. If you passed through Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan and thought you saw a plane that looked something like a miniature version of the stealth B-2 Spirit bomber, you weren’t seeing things. The Air Force now acknowledges it has flown a stealthy remote-controlled aircraft called the RQ-170 Sentinel out of Kandahar. For two years, the RQ-170 has been the Air Force’s Bigfoot. Photos and drawings of the stealthy UAV, also called the “Beast of Kandahar,” have surfaced, producing shrugs and no-comments from service officials. In early December, a clear photograph of the jet’s left side appeared on aviation Web sites, perhaps prompting the Air Force to ’fess up. Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program — better known as Skunk Works in Palmdale, Calif. — built the RQ-170. Like the Air Force, Lockheed refused to discuss details about the plane’s performance and capacities. The “RQ” designation indicates the Sentinel is unarmed and unmanned, like the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The “170” is anyone’s guess. Airmen in the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron operate the RQ-170. The 30th is based deep in Air Force’s restricted Nevada training range at Tonopah Test Range Airfield, once the secret home of the Air Force’s MiG squadron and the F-117 Nighthawk. The 30th is part of the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. Many aviation experts question why the Air Force needs a stealth unmanned aerial vehicle inside Afghanistan to fight the Taliban — an enemy with no air force or radar. Experts such as Phil Finnegan, a UAV analyst at the Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm, suggest the stealth capabilities are being used to fly in nearby countries. Neighboring Iran has an air force and air defense system that would require stealth technology to penetrate.
Inside the Drone War: On the Ground and in the Virtual Cockpit With America's New Lethal Spy
Far from the mountains of Afghanistan, an American Air Force base sits in California. It is here where unmanned Predator drones are flown by remote control. They're America's newest lethal spy, hovering 3 miles above the ground in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq. Forty are in the air at any single moment, thousands of miles away from their desk-bound pilots. The use of unmanned drones has become a popular strategy in Afghanistan. ABC News was given exclusive access to the ground control station at the California base, one of six bases in the country where the planes are flown. Each drone is controlled by a two-man team, seated in front of a video screen clutching a joystick. On the screens, the men see live video from the drones in Afghanistan, picking out armed enemies on the ground who have no idea they're being watched. The pilot can launch a missile simply by pulling a trigger. The drones send back images in the blink of an eye -- it takes just 1.7 seconds for the imagery to travel through 12 time zones. The video travels from the drone to a satellite and then down to a classified location in Europe. From there, it flows through a fiber optic nerve across the Atlantic Ocean to reach the California base. But it's not finished -- the signal then branches out to other bases, the Pentagon, and right back to the ground commander in Afghanistan. The drones are armed with a 500-pound bomb that destroys with percussive force or an equally powerful Hellfire missile that leaves a crater 15 feet wide and two feet deep. We watched as a pilot monitored insurgents planting an IED in northern Afghanistan. It made a good target, and with the punch of a button, a Hellfire missile launched, taking the insurgents out. The missiles are fired only 15 percent of the time a potential target is identified, and only if a ground team can make a positive identification of the target. According to Col. Randall Ball of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, the decision to fire a weapon "is no different from an F-15 pilot -- he has the same adrenaline rush and goes through those procedures and does things as he's trained." Some might wonder if there's a fear of making mistakes when you're so far removed from the battlefield, but to that, Ball says, "Is there a possibility that something could go wrong? Always. But that's not our mindset. I don't think the way we are prosecuting the war could be done without the drones."
UAV GCS (Ground Control Station) Operations Training Exercise
Video at the GCS (Ground Control Station) of typical UAV military operations showing the 2 person UAV team (Pilot and Sensor Operator) executing a countdown to an enemy target kill. UAVs are launched at actual combat locations but flight control, and weapons operations are done by a mix of military and contract personnel sitting in the USA, often in communication and coordination with on-the-ground units. Control is fully electronic "real time" via satellite uplink/downlink, including computer controlled loiter mode. Missions may be reconnaissance, search/rescue, employing sensors, psychological ops, and/or target identification and/or destruction. Currently only UAVs such as the Predators RQ/MQ-1 and MQ-9 Reapers are used by our military in overseas battle theaters to destroy enemy targets, while new exotic UAVs including gliders, and very small hovering units are operational and being developed and designed with unique functions for the future battlefield.