The Rescue: A Revenger Mission Update

top_secretAtrum opened the laptop and spun it around in one fluid motion. The screen was now aimed at everyone standing in the small room, a map with a large, square configuration of buildings sitting in a large, green field in the middle of it. The overhead view provided few details, but the setting looked very similar to the one they had just left – a string of warehouses or an industrial park of some kind. Despite how confined they already felt, most felt the need to lean forward to get a better look.

“Thanks to the device the Captain handed off to us, I’ve been able to isolate the frequency of the tracker he had implanted on his person. Once I tuned my instruments to it, I was able to locate him.” He hit a button on the console, and a small, red blinking light appeared in the middle of the largest box-like structure. “This is the last reported location of the Captain. An abandoned truck park outside of Clarksville. This has to be a holding facility of some kind, or a transfer point for prisoners taken by the Intelligence services.”

“It looks weak,” said Pax, noting the frequency and intensity of the signal. “Which means he’s either barely in range or they’ve got him in some kind of hardened bunker.”

“Good eye,” replied Atrum. “I wish I knew more about the tracker he’s got, but the Captain never was one to share.”

“It’s not that far from here. If we move now, we could hit the place before they’re ready.” said Tsunami, drawing herself back up to her full height. Even with her shades on, the look on her face was plain for all to see. As was the fatigue, the poor woman had not slept since they had returned from their last outing. And she seemed destined not to until they made their next move.

“You got my vote,” said Judgement, his skin bristling with several new veins of gold.
Atrum raised his hand. “Now hold on, people. Like I said, this is a transfer point. And as Pax pointed out, its probably a hardened facility of some kind. We all remember what happened the last time we hit one of those. They were ready and waiting.”

“No shit, they were ready. They set us up!” Judgement growled.

From her spot at the outer edge of the circle, Erotica nodded. “And I seem to recall, we still managed to take out the better part of their defenders.”

“Yes, and what are the odds they’ll have so many surprises prepared for us this time around?”

It was Freedom saying this, and Atrum looked to her now. A current was flowing through the group and growing in intensity. He feared as much. After what had happened at the facility, everyone was in a hurry to rectify what they perceived as their own failure. But running headlong into a fight was likely to result in another. Conveying that though, that required some tact. There was a lot of anger in the room right now, and a lot of special powers…

“Look team… chances are, he’s going to be moved from that facility very soon. Our best bet is to try and get him while he’s in transit. The people holding him will be more vulnerable to an attack.”

“And how long will that be?” asked Panacea, her voice mild, but containing an unmistakably steely tone within.

“Before they try to move him? Shouldn’t be long. With prisoners like the Captain, they want to move them to a secure location as quickly as possible. Minimizes the chances that they might escape, or get rescued.”

Bonfire raised his voice next. “So they are anticipating that we might try to rescue him?”

Atrum shrugged. “Standard procedure really. Everything they’ve done thus far makes it look they are treating him like a high-valued enemy asset, lIke a terrorists mastermind. Always assume their followers will try to spring them.”

Judgment growled again. Everyone looked towards him just in time to see his fangs bared. “I don’t like where this conversation is going. And I don’t much like being compared to a terrorist.”

Pax raised his hands and intervened on Atrum’s behalf. “That’s not what he meant, people. Its just a question of procedures, not methods or motives. Right now, they are dealing with us as if we’re a domestic terrorist cell. But that doesn’t mean we are.”

“You’re damn right,” said Tsunami. “They started this fight. And if they want to see terror, they will shortly.”

“Terrorists,” said Panacea with a scoff. “Their methods are based in fear. They hope to paralyze us with terror and intimidate us into submission. They are cowards.”

The group began to raise their voices as one. The thought of striking fear in their enemy’s hearts, of paying back their terror with some terror of their own; it was a like lightning rod that was catching all their rage. Atrum looked to Panacea, and felt a sudden surge of trepidation himself. If even she was speaking of vengeance, then their situation was truly dire.

He raised his hands one more time and asked for calm. “Hold on, people! We need to be careful about going off half-cocked. If we try to rescue the Captain now, from this holding facility, we’re likely to hit them when they’re most prepared.”

“He’s right,” said Pax. “There’s no guarantee this isn’t an ambush too. For all we know, they’re waiting for us to make a move, to commit ourselves prematurely and run into another carefully laid trap.”

“Yeah, and while we’re waiting, what happens to the Captain?” asked Styka. She was joined by Freedom and Tsunami, both of whom began to voice their concern for his well being in Pax’s direction.

“For all we know, they’re torturing to death. He doesn’t have the ability to heal like you do.”

“And he can’t exactly just will himself out of that place. He’s stuck there until we free him. Helpless and alone.”

“No way!” said Judgement. “He’s not alone! He’s always been there for us, and we’re going to be there for him, dammit. Come hell or high water.”

Many began to voice their assent. Others began to avert their eyes, no doubt because they were having a hard time keeping their emotions in check. Anger wasn’t the only thing running the group like a current. One didn’t have to be a telepath to sense that their was a terrible amount of guilt and grief in the room as well.

“Okay,” said Atrum finally. “We’re going to be there for the Captain. But we need to do it in such a way that won’t put his life in danger. And won’t run the risk of failure. That’s not what the Captain would want. He’d be the first to tell us to play this smart.”

A short, tense silence followed. When someone did speak again, it was Angel, and Atrum could sense what she was going to say before he said it.

“I can’t help but notice that since the Captain’s departure, you’ve been stepping in to fill his shoes.” She looked to Pax next. “The two of you in fact have been acting like you’re giving the orders now. Am I the only one who notices this?”

Several more people exhibited the same combination of sudden anger, anger which they were directing at him and Pax now. It was predictable, so much emotion looking for an outlet. And since he was telling them to sit on it and wait, it was inevitable it would be directed at him. Out of desperation, he reached out to Styka and Tsunami ,using their shared telepathic link.

[I’m losing them here. I could use some help.]

Tsunami didn’t even respond. Her thoughts had become a wall, her emotions as cold and impenetrable as the look on her face. Styka answered him, but was not much more receptive.

[Don’t try to avoid them. It’s disrespectful.]

[Please. They’re not listening to reason.]

[Who’s reason? I don’t agree with your plan as it is. Don’t ask me to speak for it.]

[Fine. We can certainly disagree as to how to proceed. But the last thing we need is people turning on each other.]

Styka emitted an audible sigh. In real-time, people were beginning to shout at each other, most in Atrum’s or Pax’s direction. Few seemed to be coming to their defense, but it didn’t really matter. Even those who were in agreement seemed to be attacking each other with their words now.

Atrum reached out to Tsunami again. [Please, you can see they are on the verge of cracking. Help me restore some calm so we can sort this out.]

To his surprise, Tsunami did answer, though not quite as expected. At the far end of the room, the door blew open and a cold gust of wind thundered through. Not a soul was undisturbed by it and everyone was fast looking in Tsunami’s direction. Of all the people present, only she maintained her steady, forward-looking glare until the wind died down and the door slammed shut again.

Waiting for total quiet to return, she finally spoke. “The last thing the Captain said to me was ‘they’ll be another time’. He also told me that Atrum here would know what to do. If he has a plan… then let’s hear him out.”

Atrum was a little surprised.She said the words, but he could feel something menacing not far behind them. Though he could tell she was sincere, he wasn’t sure if what she’d said had been a vote of confidence, or a warning not to screw things up. Either way, he took his cue and continued.

“Like I said, our best bet is to hit these feds when they try to transfer the Captain. They’ll try to do it either by convoy, or by air. Either way, they will be most vulernable at this time. An convoy, even if its stacked with armored vehicles, won’t be unstoppable.”

“Yeah, we proved that much to them last time,” said Angel, looking to those who had been intrinsic in that regard. Standing not far away, Bonfire smiled while Judgment bristled happily.

“And an air lift would be useless. We’ve got several people who could take out escort choppers, and then land on board the one carrying the Captain and whisk him away before anyone could stop them. Either way, we’d have them.”

“What about aerial drones?” asked Freedom, remembering the last one and how it had ruined their day.

On that, Atrum smiled. Reaching to his laptop, he punched a few keys and brought up a new display. In the center, a large green reticule sat, with what looked like a picture of a radio wave bouncing around inside it. “Don’t worry. They caught us with our pants down last time. This time around, we’ll be ready…”

“What is that?” Erotica asked at last.

“That…” Pax interjected, “is the frequency that last drone was using. Next one we see one, we’ll be able to hack it.”

Atrum’s smile broadened, to the point where he was beaming at everyone in the room. “We all saw what just one of those things could do with its big old arsenal of missiles and bombs. Just imagine what kind of hell we could raise with that kind of firepower.”

Again, one did not need telepathy to know that the mood had suddenly changed in the room. What had been anger and grief was slowly morphing into anger and elation. Everyone was beginning to see just how good a plan they had before them, and how much it would hurt the bastards who had put them here…

Panacea was the one to say it, putting all that raw emotion into words.

“When we came together, we took the name of revenge for ourselves,” she said. “Let’s show these men what revenge looks like.”

The Future is Here: The Pilotless Fighter Jet

QF-16sGoogle may be developing driverless robot cars, but Boeing already has a small fleet a fighter jets that do not require a human pilot. These retired and refurbished QF-16s were turned into special drone craft for use by the US Air Force. But before anyone gets nervous, it should be noted that these specialized drones are strictly flying targets that are meant to assist with aerial combat training.

The test flight of one of the QF-16s took place last week and included an auto-take off and landing as well as an array of aerial maneuvers. The highlights of this test flight were a barrel roll while pulling 7 G’s, climbing to an altitude of 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) and accelerating to a speed of Mach 1.47. All the while, the plane was controlled by two Air Force test pilots on the ground.

drone-strikeIncorporating the latest in unmanned controls, these fighter jets will act as more realistic targets than the older generation of QF-4 unmanned aircraft – which are refurbished F-4 Phantoms. Whereas these Vietnam-era fighter craft are incapable of keeping up with modern designs, F-16s are capable of supersonic speeds and 9-G performance, which should help hone pilots for real-world combat missions.

While this is in many ways is just an upgrade on existing methods, it also represents a big step forward in terms of automation and drone warfare. With greater refinements in the technology and a more effective range, it may be possible to remotely pilot any and all combat aircraft in the not-too-distant future. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) may come to mean all aircraft, and not just Reapers and Predators (pictured above).

And of course, Boeing has produced a video of the QF-16s test flight. Enjoy!


Source: news.cnet.com

The Dénouement: A Revengers Mission Update

LAV_firing

The convoy rolled along, the radio operators barking as the line went dead. The gunners kept their eyes peeled, focusing on the far horizon where the flashes of muzzle fire had suddenly ceased. They moved at a quickened pace, the Humvees and escorting LAVs rolling along on the ridge. After several failed attempts, the CO got on the line with the rest of the platoon and issued new orders.

“Keep your eyes peeled. We’re entering the ballpark. Our orders are to dispatch all-“

The communique barely got out when the convoy came to a sudden halt. The lead LAV that led the way suddenly ceased to be there, and fireballs engulfed two of the Humvees seconds later. Those that remained began to bring their guns about, seeking out whatever enemy they could. From the front convoy, troops jumped from their burning vehicles and began rolling on the ground, trying to suppress the flames that were catching on their uniforms.

Those who managed to get out and bring their weapons to bear weren’t standing long, as a black streak flew through them and knocked them clear into the trees. The grunts in the rear deployed from their vehicles as well and began searching the skies. Whatever had hit them had to have come from above.

“What the hell was that?” asked the squad leader.

No one answered. Whatever hit them seemed to be beyond the realm of their experience…

*                    *                    *

“First pass, a success!”

Angel looked at Judgement’s beaming face and his bared teeth. Taking out armored vehicles clearly agreed with him. A quick look at Bonfire told her that he was having fun too. Already, a second volley of flames was forming in his palms, slowly trickling up his forearms.

“Any plans for a second pass?” she asked.

“Can’t leave their friends there unattended,” replied Judgement. “Same as before? I charge the LAV, you guys take out those grunts?”

“I’ll handle the grunts,” said Angel. “After our pyrotechnic friend here sets the vehicles ablaze.”

Bonfire nodded. It seemed they had a consensus. Even if they had walked into a trap, this aspect of the operation was going well at least. The Captain had paired them well, letting the three of them hold up the rear. Who knew they’d be of the most use back here?

“Alright,” she said. “We’re a go. On three…”

Everyone dug their heels in and made ready to pounce. She counted them off.

“One… two… “

She scarcely got it out before they were off again. Moving as fast as his telekinesis enhanced legs could, Judgement slammed into the remaining LAV, sending it rolling sideways onto the side of the hill. The grunts before it turned to open fire, only to find themselves engulfed in flames as their vehicles gas tanks went up. Their torment was shortlived though, as an unseen force reached down and plucked them out of the fireball, hurling them up into the air and bringing them down hard on the dirt. Their flames extinguished, but bodies smashed, they simply lay there and cried out in pain.

Bonfire, Judgement and Angel landed together a few meters away, looking up their handiwork. Two armored vehicles, four Humvees, and about two dozen armed soldiers. All neutralized, and without a single death…

“The Captain would be proud of us!” said Bonfire. Angel smiled, but quickly stopped as a new sound took to the skies. Aside from her, there was nothing in this sector that ought to be flying about the heavens. And the noise wasn’t exactly coming from the direction of the warehouse either.

“Oh dear…” she said. To the east, a telltale profile was visible, a flying dorito that at the very edge of visibility.

*                    *                    *

X-47B_over_coastline

Smackdown eyed the door tightened his grip on his weapon. He could feel the handles getting slick from sweat, and his legs were beginning to cramp up from standing poised for so long. He placed his finger to his ear and contacted Atrum again.

“How long?”

Atrum was a second in replying. The panel he was tending to had become a mess of tangled wires, every circuit exposed and rerouted one way or another.

“I’m almost there,” he said, breathing heavily. “Just a few more connections.”

Smackdown grunted and looked back at Tsunami. Aside from Styka, who had stayed behind to watch Atrum’s back, everyone was assembled in the facilities main chamber and waiting for the final security door to open. Of all of them, she seemed to be the least interested to see what was on the other end. At least that was the impression he was getting from her. Her face was stony and still, her body still fluid and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

It didn’t make sense to him. He could feel his heart racing and his feet itching at the mere thought of what lay beyond them. Every second that passed made his nerves that much more raw and frayed. How was it she was enduring this with such apparent calm?

Or was that merely what she was projecting, he wondered. Everyone suspected she would be the most interested party in their group. Perhaps she sought to prove them wrong. Perhaps she simply didn’t want them to see how much it was effecting her. Then again, Smackdown wondered if he was simply projecting all that onto her because he was sick and tired of waiting…

“Atrum!”

A loud clank answered his call and the door began to slide open. Smackdown breathed a sigh of relief just as Atrum’s delayed reply came through.

“It’s done, Captain! The last of the security seals is down. The doors should be opening.”

“They are…” he said happily. “Standby!”

He waited as long as he could. As soon as the large steel doors slid open wide enough, he moved forward and squeezed himself through. On the other side, a wide atrium sat, a small set of steps leading to a narrow corridor that went on for what looked like an indefinite distance. Smackdown could tell from the way the warehouse hugged the earth that this tunnel led deep underground. No one could say from this vantage point just how deep it went…

He was followed close behind by the rest of the team. Erotica, Pax, Freedom, Panacea, and of course, Tsunami. Moving fast, she maintained a certain fluid grace as she poured through the doorway and kept close behind. He glanced at her only once as they made their way deeper to the interior, the long, dimly-lit corridor stretching on even farther into the earth. Forced to move in a single line, they pushed forward, following the tunnel onward and onward…

“Captain…” his earpiece buzzed. “Captain… are you there?”

Smackdown put his finger to his ear. He stopped in his tracks and motioned for the team to stop. The interference was already quite extreme.

“Atrum, is that you? What’s wrong?”

“…barely hear you, Captain… I think we got trouble… I’m sensing something… something bad…”

The link cut out shortly thereafter. Smackdown removed his finger from his ear and frowned. He tapped at the earpiece several times, hoping that might somehow correct the signal. He repeated Atrum’s name several times over, releasing his hold so as not to tie up the line in case a reply came through. When he heard Atrum’s voice again, he sounded far more urgent, and far more garbled.

“…Angel’s contacting… Enemy’s… incoming… we have to …!”

“Atrum?” he asked, as soon as the line went dead. He waited for several more seconds, but to no avail. “Atrum?!” He released his hold on the link. Given their current position, the interference was just too great. But he didn’t need to hear the message in its entirety to know that something was wrong. He took another look down the corridor, and then back the way the way they had come.

“Trouble…” he muttered

“What’s that, Captain?”

Smackdown looked to Panacea. “Something’s wrong up above. I want you, Erotica, and Pax to head back. The rest of us will press on.”

Panacea nodded and looked to the others he had ordered back. A single nod passed between them, and they began doubling back with a purpose. Alone, Smackdown looked to the one team member that remained. Tsunami was still unreadable. He chanced to ask her one last time.

“You okay with this, stormy lady?”

She took a deep breath, but her expression didn’t change. “You’re call, Captain. I can go on alone if you want. You don’t have to be down here. It’s not like the answer to your origins that might be down that way.”

Smackdown frowned. He couldn’t help but feel that there was a trace of mockery in her tone. Thus far, he had given her a wide birth, but at this juncture, he just wasn’t in the mood.

“What the hell is going on with you, Tsunami? We’re could be on the verge of finding out what happened to you. Nobody else in this group has ever had that opportunity. Are you telling me you have no feelings on the subject?”

Her face twisted to form something new, something angry and borderline menacing. Smackdown’s fingers tightened around his weapon, the feeling that he might have something to fear from her suddenly occurring to him. Her words did little to lessen that suspicion.

“What difference does it make, Captain? Whether we find that artifact or not, my father is still just as dead. And you, you can’t know what that’s like. You take away that armor, that gun, and your strange sense of purpose, and you’re no different from the rest of humanity. So don’t pretend like you know what it’s like to be me.”

Smackdown’s fear passed. She had slighted him, but not in any physical way. Her assault struck him nevertheless, and hurt him on a much deeper level.

“You’re not the only one who’s lost someone, Hawa. I may not know what it is to be different, like you. But I know what its like to see someone you love die and not be able to do a damn thing about it. That kind of thing changes you. Whether or not it gives you special powers, you’re transformed all the same. And I know that if I had the chance to understand why that happened, I would snatch it up in a heartbeat.”

Tsunami’s face changed again. This time around, it seemed to soften a little; she even looked her expression might crack. But of course, no tears followed. It was clear she had stopped shedding those long ago…

“Fine, Captain. Maybe you do understand something of what I’m feeling right now. But I’m sick of people asking me about it, bugging me like they expect me to show them something. What I feel, that’s for me to know. What I want to learn, that’s for me too. Nobody else needs to worry about that.”

Smackdown waited for her to continue, eventually nodded and realized this was all he could expect from her right now.

“Alright, fine. You keep your mind on the mission, and I guess we’ll have no problem. You just be sure to let me know if you’re feeling yourself slip. I know how that is too…”

“I don’t have that problem,” she replied. “Let’s move on.”

*                     *                    *

She came upon the warehouse at last. Judgement and Bonfire were still a ways behind, but she expected them to catch up quickly. Even if they didn’t possess the gift of flight, fear and urgency was giving them all wings.

She spotted the open door around the top level, the bodies of Atrum and Styka filing out to wave her down. She descended quickly and came in for a landing a few meters away. Her boots landed hard on the concrete surface, cracking the surface and sending chips in all directions.

“How far is it?” asked Atrum. Angel looked up at the sky. The drone was almost directly overhead, its profile passing in front of the sun and becoming a tiny, blackened dot.

“Who can tell?” she said. “It’s so high up, it’d take me forever to reach it. Judgement doesn’t think he can do anything about it unless it fires on us.”

Atrum put his hand over his eyes and tried to get a glimpse of the thing. He shook his head and grunted.

“That’s not like any UAV I’ve ever seen. Who knows what kind of range it has? But I think it’s fair to say they’ve got us targeted.”

“We have to get the Captain out,” said Styka, decisively. “There’s nothing inside there. This whole op was one big trap.”

Atrum and Angel were about to voice their agreement, but another noise arose to interrupt them. All at once, their comms became active with the noise of new chatter. And while everyone else was busy tending to their earpieces, Atrum was receiving a message of a different kind.

[It’s me. What’s going on up there?]

[We’ve got company] Atrum shot back. [A high-altitude UAV. And it’s got us in it’s sights.]

“Where’s the Captain?” asked Angel through her comm. “Inside? What are they still doing in there?” She released her hold on the comm and looked at Atrum and Styka with bewilderment. “What the hell are we supposed to do?”

Atrum concluded his psychic conversation with Pax and came back to them. “They’re out of comm range. We have to go back in there and pull them out before -“

A loud noise cracked overhead, followed by several more. They all looked up, and spotted the plumes of smoke which were descending towards them. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the drone was well within striking distance, and was firing on them with everything it had.

“Oh shit,” said Angel. She did a quick count of the plumes and looked out at the treeline. Judgement and Bonfire were still well away, and the only other people with the ability to take to the air were still deep inside. She looked back to Atrum and Styka. “Anybody want to tell me how the hell are we going to stop twelve missiles?”

No answer. But then again, she hadn’t been expecting one…

hellfire2

The Future is Here: MMI Electronic Tattoos!

patchIt’s known as Mind-Machine-Interface, the ability to interface and control machines using only your mind. And thanks to a number of dedicated researchers in various fields, it’s no longer the stuff of science fiction. With mind-controlled prosthetics, bionic limbs, and the growing field of machine-enabled telepathy, the day may soon come when people can interface, access and control machinery with just a few thoughts.

But of course, that raises all kinds of concerns about invasive procedures, whether surgery will be needed in order to implant devices into the human brain that can translate brainwaves into commands. Alternately, where non-invasive means are involved, it can take some time to calibrate the machinery to respond to the user’s nerve impulses. As those awful infomercials say, “there has be a better way!”

patch_headAs it turns out, electrical engineer Todd Coleman and his team at the University of California at San Diego has been working on a way to use wireless flexible electronics that one can apply on the forehead just like temporary tattoos. Building on the emerging field of biomedical electronics, these tattoos will be able to read brainwaves and allow a person to control electronic devices without the need for surgery or permanent implants.

The devices are less than 100 microns thick, the average diameter of a human hair, and consist of circuitry embedded in a layer or rubbery polyester that allow them to stretch, bend and wrinkle. The devices can detect electrical signals linked with brain waves and incorporate solar cells for power and antennas that allow them to communicate wirelessly or receive energy.

patch_breakdownOf course, other elements can be added as well, like thermal sensors to monitor skin temperature and light detectors to analyze blood oxygen levels, making it both a health monitoring patch and a fully-integrated control device. Combined with health patches that are being developed for use internally, an entire health network can be created that allows for every aspect of a patients health to monitored in real-time, anticipating and predicting health problems before they flare up.

Currently, Coleman and his colleagues are pursuing the application of using these patches to monitor premature babies to detect the onset of seizures that can lead to epilepsy or brain development problems. The devices are also being commercialized for use as consumer, digital health, and medical device. But the potential for their use is staggering, even alarming.

droneFor example, these devices can also be put on other parts of the body, such as the throat. When people think about talking, their throat muscles move even if they do not speak, a phenomenon known as subvocalization. Electronic tattoos placed on the throat could therefore behave as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently and wirelessly to each other.

However, a more alarming application is in the industrial and defense field, which is being pursued by the startup MC10 in Cambridge, Mass. In the course of their research, Coleman and his colleagues found that individuals who were hooked up to a computer through large caps studded with electrodes were able to remotely control airplanes and a UAV over cornfields in Illinois. Such is not possible with these tattoos at present, but Coleman admits that he and his colleagues are “working on it”.

telepathyBut even more alarming than this is the long term implications of what this could mean for us as a species, which is that electronics could one-day enable wireless peer-to-peer brain communication – aka. machine-enabled telepathy. With devices that can read and transmit brainwaves and vocal information, it would no longer be necessary for people to use radios, phones, email, or any other means of communication to talk to one another.

Simply tune in, subvocalize or think what you want to convey – and boom! instant messaging and perfected! Lord knows the art of diplomacy might suffer, and we can forget about sarcasm, tact, or shades of meaning. Society may very well breakdown or people will just have to grow thicker skin as everyone is forced to communicate what they really think to each other!

Source: txchnologist.com

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

How to Hack a Drone

What is the best way to test your security systems when you work in computers and/or software? Simple, ask the experts to hack it for you! That’s what IT firms have been doing for years now, and recently, the Department of Homeland Security decided to adopt the same tactic. Using a team from the University of Texas at Austin, the DHS asked them to test security on one of their infamous drones.

The team, led by professor Todd Humphreys, was offered $1,000 if they could successfully hack into a drone and order it to fly off course. Using this money, they invested in some simple off-the-shelf electronics and got to work. In the end, they were successful and were able to “spoof” the GPS on the Drone and send it into a dive, forcing it to level out shortly before crashing.

Naturally, this raised some obvious concerns. If a few specialists with $1,000 worth of equipment could hack the navigation system of a security drone, then foreign armies could do the same to military drones could likely do it with ease. What’s more, earlier this year, Congress ordered the FAA to draft laws and regulations for the commercial and government use of the drones in American airspace.

Airmail is another option, where companies like FedEx would use drones to deliver parcels all across the country. And of course, domestic surveillance drones are something that are being widely adapted for use. With this mind, Humphreys and the DHS are wondering how hard it might be to turn a domestic UAV into a terrorist weapon, much as US planes were on 9/11.

Scary stuff! But then again, this is why these exercises are conducted. By paying others to find the holes, its that much easier to patch them and ensure no one else ever can. As such, I think we all sleep a little safer knowing that drones are just spying on us, and not trying to kill us… yet!

The Future is Here: Predator Drones and UAV’s!


There’s been quite a bit of talk and controversy lately with regard to a new piece of military technology. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAV’s, have been taking to the air in the last few years and assisting with military operations in a number of theaters. As a result, people have been both condemning and hailing the new technology, citing the details of its limited service record to make their point. To some, its all part of the larger effort to “unman the front lines” as a way to save lives. To others, its an attempt to impose military force on others without having to risk the lives of our own soldiers.

I thought it was high time I weigh in on this issue since I’ve been doing some research on it lately. In order to write decent fiction about high-tech surveillance, and to understand the paranoia (justified or not) surrounding these vehicles, some not-so-light reading seemed in order.

To break it down succinctly, the Predator UAV (or drone), the one which has been generating all the headlines, is a turboprop aircraft (not a jet) that is unmanned and controlled remotely.This can be done from a military base several kilometers away, or in the field by a controller using a remote box similar to a large laptop. Pretty sci-fi!

A typical MQ-9 is capable of monitoring a 360 area beneath it using its Lynx synthetic aperture radar and mobile Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera. Using these, operators are able to spot enemy troops and vehicles and then deploy the drones’ ordinance, which usually consists of up to 14 Hellfire missiles. These missiles made their big debut in the Gulf War where they popularized for their use in destroy Iraqi tanks, usually by Apache attack choppers.

But of course, there are UAV’s beyond the MQ-9 Predator that are rarely talked about. For instance, there are unarmed military craft that are used strictly for surveillance and aerial reconnaissance.

Within the private sector, there are aerial drones who’s job it is to explore for deposits of oil, gas and minerals over large areas of terrain. Government and private agencies also used them to monitor livestock, keep track of wildfires, conduct scientific research, as well as for road surveillance and anti-piracy coastal patrols.

In these cases, smaller and less intimidating craft are used, most of which are about the size of a full-grown terrier. In other cases, they can be about the size of a remote controlled helicopter, and often involve the exact same technology!

Love it or hate it, UAV technology appears to be the way of the future for the modern armed forces, as intrinsic to the air force as Future Soldier is to the infantry. Designed to tackle missions that fall into the category of the 3D’s – dirty, dull, or dangerous – and provide close air support, the militarized version is really no different than any other piece of military hardware. It’s purpose is to give its side an edge and prevent the loss of friendly lives. Anything else is just window dressing!

Hellfire missile

Some people naturally fear this, because if history has taught us anything it’s that the Pentagon means business when it comes to public support. The experiences of Vietnam and the Gulf War were both instructive experiences which taught them much about the role of the media. By the time of Afghanistan and the Iraq War, they had their strategy worked out with embedded reporters.

However, this did not prevent Iraq – and slowly, Afghanistan – from becoming unpopular when the hoped-for results didn’t come, mistakes piled up and the crisis kept deepening. As a result, the same tactics that were taken in Vietnam – stepped-up recruitment, glossing over civilian deaths, and scare campaigns – were used to try to keep people on side.

Seen in this light, these attempts to “unman” the front lines are merely more of the same from an institution that wants to make war palatable to the masses so they can go on fighting them. On the one hand, this might seem like an obvious goal since no military can do its job without popular support. On the other, it can be seen as an agenda by the US military-industrial complex to ensure it can keep protecting its interests without being hampered by conscientious objections or outrage.

I guess in the end we all have to decide for ourselves what we think of all this. In the meantime, I urge everyone to learn more about UAV technology and its various uses. And while you’re at it, check out this video clip form a few years back. It’s quite good.