February 27, 2012
Heads up: Drones are going mainstream.
Unmanned military aircraft have tracked and killed terrorists in the Middle East and Asia. Their civilian cousins are now in demand by police departments, border patrols, power companies, news organizations and others wanting a bird’s-eye view that’s too impractical or dangerous for conventional planes or helicopters to get.
Along with the enthusiasm, there are qualms.
Drones overhead could invade people’s privacy. The government worries they could collide with passenger planes or come crashing down to the ground.
Despite that, pressure is building to give drones the same access as manned aircraft to the sky at home.
The Federal Aviation Administration must write rules allowing civilian and military drones to fly in civilian airspace by September 2015.
January 27, 2012
CBS New York
They’re used in war zones for surveillance and military strikes.
But are there plans to deploy drones in the Big Apple to keep an eye on New Yorkers?
More and more people believe it’s inevitable, reports CBS 2’s Don Dahler.
Drones are unmanned aircraft that can fly at low altitudes and shoot live video — or shoot live missiles.
Surveillance cameras already dot the city’s streets, but is the NYPD exploring the use of even more eyes in the skies, in the form of drones? Some evidence points to yes.
A website named Gay City News posted an e-mail it says it acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. It’s purportedly from a detective in the NYPD counterterrorism division, asking the Federal Aviation Administration about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles as a law enforcement tool.
And the following is part of a recent interview with Commission Ray Kelly that raised more questions than it answered.
“In an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane,” Kelly told “60 Minutes.”
Drones are already being used by law enforcement in other cities. CBS 2 has obtained footage of a huge protest in Poland a few months ago, shot by a small drone that could fly a few dozen feet right over the heads of the crowd and the police. High-resolution cameras can capture every detail, including faces and license plate numbers. In this country, Miami and several cities in Texas are experimenting with such aircraft.
January 11, 2012
By Jillian Rayfield
A secret air show in Houston. An unmanned blimp in Utah. A sovereign citizen arrested in North Dakota.
Each of these is just one small part of the bigger story of the proliferation of unmanned aircraft use within the U.S., and each is likely to become smaller still if the FAA goes through with plans to loosen regulations governing domestic use of drones.
News reports about Predator attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are common if not always complete, but what’s gotten much less attention is the increase in unarmed drones that are buzzing around within the U.S. itself. Primarily, unarmed Predator B drones are only used by government agents to patrol the borders for illegal immigrants, but there are a (very large) handful of other agencies and companies that use smaller, unarmed drones for a slew of other purposes. And that number is only expected to grow.
The FAA says that as of September 13, 2011, there were 285 active Certificates of Authorization (COA) for 85 different users, covering 82 different unmanned unarmed aircraft types.
Though the exact breakdown of the organizations who have authorization is unclear — and the FAA would not elaborate for “privacy” and “security” reasons — in January the Washington Post reported that as of December 1, 2010, 35% of the permissions were held by the Department of Defense, 11% by NASA, and 5% by the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI and law enforcement agencies also hold some, as do manufacturers and even academic institutions.
Between pressure from trade groups (like the drone manufacturers group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), proposed legislation from Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to expand the number of drone testing sites in the U.S., and petitioning from states like Oklahoma for an approved 80-mile air corridor reserved exclusively for drone development and testing, there is great potential for drone use to expand within the U.S. in the next few years.
January 11, 2012
By Greg Miller
The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential.
In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.
The emergence of hunter-killer and surveillance drones as revolutionary new weapons in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in counterterrorism operations in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, has spawned a multibillion-dollar industry.
Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.
The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.
In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.
With a year to go in President Obama’s first term, his administration can point to undeniable results: Osama bin Laden is dead, the core al-Qaeda network is near defeat, and members of its regional affiliates scan the sky for metallic glints.
February 1, 2010
By Daniel Dombey and Jeremy Lemer
The US will take on a broader range of military responsibilities, including defending space and cyberspace, in spite of growing pressure on budgets, a long-awaited administration report is set to conclude on Monday.
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, is due to unveil the Obama administration’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which shifts emphasis from the post-cold war doctrine that the US is able to fight two “major regional conflicts” at one time.
According to a December draft, the US military will restructure its forces to “prevail in today’s wars” and buy more of the helicopters and unmanned drones that have proved their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the draft also highlights “a multiplicity of threats”, including cyberattacks and anti-satellite weapons, as well as terrorist groups and the prospect of more nuclear weapon states.
“It is no longer appropriate to speak of ‘major regional conflicts’ as the sole or even the primary template for sizing, shaping and evaluating US forces,” the draft says. “Rather, US forces must be prepared to conduct a wide variety of missions under a range of different circumstances.”
In an apparent nod to Iran, it says that within the next decade the US’s adversaries could include “regional powers armed with modest numbers of nuclear weapons, as well as larger more powerful states”. Despite President Barack Obama’s emphasis on beginning a drawdown in Afghanistan in July 2011, the draft also envisages 75,000 US troops will remain in the country for the “near and mid-term future”.
The prospect of increased demands on the military comes as the administration releases its 2011 budget proposals on Monday, which analysts expect will underline growing strains on defence spending.
While Mr Obama has exempted national security spending from his freeze on discretionary spending, many experts forecast modest real-term increases in the core budget next year before spending flattens out in the medium term.
In practice that means substantially less money for equipment and research.
Some Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, have called for the spending freeze to apply to the overall defence budget, which totals more than $660bn (€476bn, £413bn) for 2010, because of the burgeoning US budget deficit.
“It seems to me inevitable there will be a reduced defence budget, whether it is in two years from now or four years from now,” said Martin Indyk, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank. “The writing is on the wall.”
In mid-January the Defense Business Board, which advises the Pentagon on industrial issues, said declining budgets could lead to a substantial reorganisation of the US industrial base. A report by the Congressional Budget Office released last week suggested that the Pentagon’s spending plans were already underfunded. “The force remains small, it is going to get smaller, the age of weapons systems is going to increase and new weapons systems are going to be brought in more slowly than under previous plans,” said Thomas Donnelly at the American Enterprise Institute.
Mr Gates has pushed to rebalance spending and cut expensive cold war weapons systems in favour of kit designed for current operations – something that the QDR is set to continue.