Drone Wars: China’s Rainbow Drone Unveiled

CH-4RainbowAs part of their ongoing efforts to become a world power, China has spared no investment when it comes to the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology. And after several successful missile tests, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is all set to receive the next-generation aerial drone. Known as the CH-4, the development of this UAV is just the latest in China’s attempt to catch up to western developers.

Although China’s drone technology may be several years behind top manufacturers in the US and Israel, the country’s UAV manufacturers are hoping that their mid-range prices and middling technology will lure potential customers from developing nations. During the unveiling, which took place at the beinnial Zhuhai Air Show in late August, officials from Kenya, Russia and other countries were on hand to witness this an other examples of China’s exportable UAVs.

CH-4Rainbow2 Representatives from China Aerospace Long-March International, a division of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), were on hand at the presentation and spoke with relative candor about the CH-4 and two other drones the company was showing for the first time. Guo Qian, a director at a division of CASC, when talking about the interest and marketability of the company’s military grade drones, had the following to say:

We’ve been contacting many countries, especially from Africa and Asia. They are quite interested in the intermediate and short-range UAVs because they are portable and low-cost.

Similarly, Li Pingkun , the head of the Rainbow 4 project at the aerospace corporation, told state television the drone could make a long-distance hit on a target with a margin of error of less than 1.5 metres. He said the system was very precise because it used several methods to guide missiles or smart bombs to their target. As he told ChinaNews, the drone is “well-positioned to carry out the subsequent missions.”

CH-4Rainbow1The unveiling of this drone comes at a time when the PLA is actively and publicly promoting the use of drones by its military personnel. During the show, the CASC also displayed a handful of smaller short range drones and set up a flashy ground-to-ceiling UAV attack simulation compete with a dozen technicians glued to computer screens in a the make-believe war room. As Guo explained:

Our company has set up a pretty aggressive sales target for UAVs, but the global market competition is quite fierce. There are many similar products in the global market and they are quite mature, so we haven’t had a big impact in the market. It will take some time for our products to be known and accepted.

The Rainbow 4 is the CASC’s latest creation, and is intended to act as the PLA’s answer to the MQ-9 Reaper – a hunter-killer drone mainly used by the US military for reconnaissance and high-precision air strikes. The CH-4 can carry a payload of 345 kg (760 lbs) of missiles of precision-guided bombs, can reach an altitude of 8 km (26000 feet), has a range of 3,500 kilometers, and fly for up to 30 hours depending on how heavy a payload it is carrying.

China_dronetestHowever, it remains much slower than the Reaper, which can fly at a top speed of 482 km/h compared to the Rainbow’s 235 km/h. In addition, the MQ-9 has a much higher payload of 1700 kg  (3800 lbs), which works out to six Hellfire missiles or precision-guided bombs. And while it has greater range – 3000 km vs. the MQ-9’s 1850 km – the Reaper has a service ceiling of up to 18,000 meters.

The PLA also has limited experience in using drones in combat zones; whereas for the USAF, drone use has become second nature. But above all, the most glaring aspect of the “drone gap” is the fact that this latest Chinese drone was not the result of indigenous design or innovation. Much like other aspects of China’s stealth and weapon’s development, it is the result of mimicry.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)Nevertheless, China’s plan to market the technology to other nations does mean that the use of UAVs is likely to become much more universal in the coming years. Beyond the US, NATO, Israel, Russia and China, middle powers like India, Pakistan, Brazil and various Sub-Saharan African nations are likely to have their own soon. In addition, certain “rogue states” – i.e. Iran, North Korea, Syria – are likely to have their own as well.

The term “Drone Wars” is likely to become very literal as a result!

Source: gizmodo.com, scmp.com, globalpost.com

Remembrance Day 2013

lest-we-forgetIt goes by many names the world over. In Canada, Britain and Australia, we call it Remembrance Day. In the United States, it’s called by Veteran’s Day. In New Zealand, France, Belgium and Serbia, it’s known as Armistice Day. And to the Polish, it’s Independence Day since the end of World War I was also the occasion when their country achieved statehood.

Interestingly enough, the war that it originally commemorates also goes by many names. To those who fought in it, it was the Great War, but also the “War to end all wars”, as no one who lived through it could fathom that any nation would ever go to war again. And to those who have went to war again just 27 years later, it would come to be known as World War I or the First World War.

remembrance-day-poemRegardless of the name, November 11 is a day when people the world over come together to mark one of the worst periods in our history, celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and reflect upon the terrible lessons that were learned. And while it is easy to look upon the world and imagine that we’ve learned nothing, I choose to believe otherwise.

When the world went to war in August of 1914, the news was greeted with general elation for those involved. In Berlin, Paris and London, crowds emerged to celebrate the fact that their nations were mobilizing against their enemies. In Canada, people readily volunteered to serve overseas and “fight the Hun”. The propaganda mills of every nation were running overtime, stoking the fervor of war, claiming rightness, and that God was on their side.

Royal_Irish_Rifles_ration_party_Somme_July_1916Four years later, few retained these romantic notions of war. Those who survived the carnage were known as “The Lost Generation”, and those born after the war entered into a world struggling to leave the memory behind and get back to normal. When war was once again declared in 1939, few were enthused, and the general attitude was one o fear.

In fact, part of the reason “Appeasement” – the strategy of giving in to Hitler’s demands, or accommodating Japanese and Italian expansion in Africa and East Asia – was permitted was because no one wanted a repeat of the last war. Even in the Axis nations of Germany, Japan, and Italy, the general public entered the war only reluctantly, convinced they had no choice and fearful for how it might turn out.

Berlin-1945_croppedSix years, 70 million lives, 1600 cities, and several attempted genocides later, the victorious nations of the world once again came together with the common goal of lasting world peace, human rights and economic development. This was embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group.

Despite the prevailing mood that a new “Cold War” was already brewing between east and west, the word’s “Never Again” were spoken by people on all sides. After two World Wars and the near total-destruction of many nations, it was understood that the world would not be able to endure a third. Somehow, and despite the arms race of the latter of the half of the 20th century, peace would endure.

Cuban-missile-crisis-photo-from-Oct-29-1962Lucky for all of us, the Cold War ended some two decades ago and the specter of World War III with it. While many wars took place during the intervening period and there were a few close calls (The Cuban Missile Crisis being foremost), a nuclear crisis was continually avoided because all sides understood that no one would emerge the victor.

Today, wars still rage in the underdeveloped regions of the world and even amongst the so-called “developed” nations – the rational ranging from fighting extremism to trying to foster nation building. Nevertheless, I can’t help but look back today and think that those who died and sacrificed so much taught us something invaluable and enduring.

nuclear1Sure, the Great War did not end all wars, nor did those that followed it. But with every mistake, with every new sacrifice, with every new conflict, surely we have learned something. Were it not for the UN and the spirit multilateralism the prevailed after the Second World War, World War III may have been unavoidable, and might still be a possibility.

And while there were still wars between proxy nations during the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam taught us the futility of political conflicts, a lesson which helped end the Iraq War sooner and with less loss of life than would have otherwise been possible. These sentiments have since been applied to the war in Afghanistan and the drone wars, two more unpopular campaigns that are sure to end in the near future as well.

holocaustWhat’s more, the genocide of the Jewish, Roma and Slavic peoples all across Europe taught us the evils of ethnic cleansing and man’s capacity for hate, lessons which have helped us confront and combat genocide in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, East Timor and elsewhere. They have also forced us to contemplate genocides which have taken place on our soil, in Australia, Canada, the US and Latin America.

To look at the state of the world today, it is easy to grow cynical and say that we’ve learned nothing. But when you consider that fact that we no longer live in a world where total war is seen as glorious, where two superpowers are aiming nuclear-tipped missiles at each other, and where aggression and genocide are actively ignored or accommodated, you begin to appreciate what we have and who made it possible.

Vimy RidgeBut most importantly of all, to say we’ve learned nothing is to disrespect those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not to mention those who came home forever changed and scarred. For these veterans, servicemen and women, and people who risked life and limb to ensure that war would bring peace, that people would remain free, and that greater evils would not be allowed to prevail, saying “it was all in vain” renders what they did for the rest of us meaningless.

With that in mind, I’m very happy to announce that next year, in April of 2014, my family and I will be visiting Europe to witness the Centennial of World War I. While we’re there, we will be visiting the grave sites of those who died overseas, several battlefield from the First and Second World War, and will bear witness to one of the greatest historic events in our lifetimes.

My father made the trip once before and remarked with awe how to people over there, the wars are not something that are commemorated once a year, but on a regular basis. But next year, it is expected to be especially poignant as people from all over the globe converge on Flanders to pay their respects. I expect it to be very eye-opening, and you can expect to be hearing about it the moment I get back!

A sober and reflective Remembrance Day to you all. Peace.

remembrance_day___poppy_day_by_daliscar

Drone Wars: New Revelations and Broken Promises

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????People concerned about the use of drones might remember fondly how President Obama, in a speech held late last month, promised that the “drone surge” was effectively at an end. As it turns out, it took the President and his administration only eight days to break that promise. In a new strike, which killed four people it has been made clear that the clandestine war continues.

In Obama’s speech, he contended that “Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al-Qaida and its associated forces, and even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained.” Among those constraints are the use of detainment instead of execution, and “respect for state sovereignty”. Perhaps most importantly, Obama underscored the drones will for now on only target “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people.”

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)To clarify this point, the White House even released a fact sheet clarifying whom it will and will not kill in the future. It stated that:

[T]he United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.

However, this latest strike, which took out Wali ur-Rehman – the second in command of the Pakistani Taliban – and three other members shows that this is anything but the case. Rehman and his ilk are not members of Al-Qaeda, nor do they represent a terrorist group that is targeting the US and its citizens. Most importantly, they are not operating inside Afghanistan.

talibanFact is, Rehman and his compatriots pose a threat to only Pakistan, which is involved in an ongoing war with fundamentalist factions in its western provinces. They are the enemies of the Pakistani state, which is a nominal ally in the war on terror and with the war in Afghanistan. This makes his execution at the hands of the US a matter of protecting political and strategic interests, not anti-terrorism.

What’s more, there are indications that this strike may have been counterproductive for Pakistan. Pakistani military sources told Reuters in December that Rehman was “a more pragmatic” leader than incumbent Hakimullah Mehsud, with whom Rehman was said to be feuding. While Rehman was said to pursue reconciliation with the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military officers speculated that his rise “might lead to more attacks across the border in Afghanistan” on U.S.-led forces.

drone_warSo any way you slice it, this latest drone strike was a clandestine operation made by a government that claimed to be finished with such things. Lucky for us, there may be a way to gleam the truth about the secret history of the drone war and their ongoing use as tools of government policy.

As it turns out, there are ways to hack and record drone video feeds to see what they see right before they unleash death and destruction. And in an ironic twist, much of the credit for this revelation may go to a group of Iraqi insurgents. In 2008, U.S. troops in Iraq declared that Shi’ite insurgents had figured out how to tap and record video feeds from overhead American drones.

Hackers-With-An-AgendaBuilding on this, Josh Begley, a 28-year-old NYU grad student, is creating a software application that will allow anyone with basic coding skills to organize, analyze and visualize drone-strike data from Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia dating back to 2002. Based on information collected by the U.K. Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Applicable Programing Interface (API) can be used to create interactive Websites that elaborate on the information and give it context.

The drone API, which is actually Begley’s master’s thesis, is not his first foray into capturing robot-attack data. His @dronestream Twitter feed documents all reported UAV attacks. Last year Begley created an iPhone app that tracks drone strikes, but Apple rejected it. Other developers have jumped on the bandwagon, too. London-based artist James Bridle runs a Tumblr blog that matches overhead satellite imagery to reports of drone attacks.

drone_target_1In an interview with Wired’s Danger Room, Begley explained that the purpose behind this software is the desire to bridge the “empathy gap” between Western audiences and drone-attack victims:

To Americans like me, what may have previously been blank spots on the map all of a sudden have complex stories, voices of their own. From 30,000 feet it might just be cars and buildings. But there are people in them. People who live under the drones we fly.

The public release of Begley’s API, which took five months to complete, is timed to coincide with the White House-promoted National Day of Civic Hacking on June 1. Hacking Day aims to “liberate government data for coders and entrepreneurs.” The ACLU, for one, is commemorating the event with an API linked to the group’s vast database of documents related to U.S.-sanctioned torture of terror suspects.

drone_map1After twelve years of drone strikes and promises that don’t appear to be being honored, the arrival of this app might just be what the public needs. And even though software giants like Apple may not be interested in developing it further, there are no shortages of talented individuals, professional hackers and hobby labs that will take up the cause.

It wouldn’t be too farfetched to think that a plethora of websites will begin to emerge that can track, monitor, and record all drone strikes, perhaps even as they happen. And combined with recent revelations about state-run data mining operations and software that is being designed to combat it, private citizens may be able to truly fight back against clandestine operations and government surveillance.

Sources: Wired.com, (2)

Drone Wars!

X-47BThat’s the crux of Timothy Chung’s research, an assistant professor in the Systems Engineering department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. For the most part, he and the Advanced Robotics Systems Engineering Lab (ARSENL) have been working on a way to construct a series of low-cost, lightweight autonomous flying vehicles known as Aerial Battle Bots that will give the US and the western allies an advantage should a full-scale conflict involving UAV’s happen.

The aspect of cost is especially important, seeing as how drones cost on the order of several million dollars apiece. By supplementing reconnaissance and hunter-killers with dogfighting drones, the army and navy of the future will have a lost cost-option for keeping their big-budget fliers safe. What’s more, it’s extremely important that the drones work in tandem, since it’s highly likely other nations will be developing similar swarms of drones in the future too.

Chung_droneWith the help of a DARPA research grant, Chung and his associates have completed a small fleet of about a dozen drones. Each is a essentially a commodity radio-controlled flying machine, called Unicorn, that has been retrofitted with an onboard computer and other gear in order to take their places in the larger group. He hopes that by this August, he and his team will be able to get the vehicles flying and be able to start experimenting with getting them working together, as well as facing off!

In other news, questions relating to drone dogfights and the issue of autonomous drones were raised once again at the White House. Back around Thanksgiving, the mounting concerns from the human rights community led Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to sign a series of instructions that were designed to ensure that human oversight would always be a factor where drone strikes and UAV’s were concerned.

john-brennanThese concerns have since mounted with the recent announcement that John Brennan, the White House’s counter-terrorism adviser and the man known as the “Drone Godfather”, was nominated to become the next head of the CIA. For years now, he has been the man in charge of the US antiterrorism efforts in Central Asia, many of which have involved the controversial use of Predator and Reaper strikes.

These concerns were voiced in a recent letter from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), a member of the Senate intelligence committee. In it, he asked Brennan pointedly when and under what conditions the president would be able to target American citizens using drones:

“How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed? Does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them?”

Naturally, the questions were quite specific when it came to the authorization of lethal force and when such authorization would be given to target people within the US’s borders. But there were also many questions that highlighted concerns over how this same process of authorization has taken place in other countries, and how little oversight has taken place.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)In short, Wyden used the occasion to express “surprise and dismay” that the intelligence agencies haven’t provided the Senate intelligence committee with a complete list of countries in which they’ve killed people in the war on terrorism, a move which he says “reflects poorly on the Obama administration’s commitment to cooperation with congressional oversight.” And given the mounting criticism at home that using killer drones against unspecified targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan has earned, not to mention the blowback happening overseas, he is not alone in thinking this.

Like it or not, it’s a new age where “umanning” the front lines is having an effect, albeit not the desired one. At one time, the predominant thinking in military and intelligence communities was that using automated aerial, land and sea vehicles, war could be fought cleanly, effectively, and without the loss of life – at least on OUR side. However, this thinking is coming under increasing scrutiny as it comes closer and closer to realization. And at the center of it all, the philosophical and existential questions are numerous and impossible to ignore.

For starters, war is and always will be a human endeavor. Just because you are not risking the lives of your own people doesn’t mean the fight is any more sanitary or bloodless. Second, even though none of your own citizens will be mourning the death of their loved ones doesn’t mean there won’t be mounting civilian opposition as conflicts go on. In a global community, people are able to witness and empathize with the plight of others. And finally, the increased use of machinery, be it autonomous or remote controlled, will inevitably lead to fears of what will happen if that same technology would ever be turned against its own people. No weapon is so safe and no government so trustworthy that people won’t fear the possibility of it being turned on them as well.

Source: news.cnet.com, wired.com