The Blackjack (RQ-21A) was deployed last year. For the Navy and Marine Corps, it fulfills a requirement for a small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS) to follow-on to the ScanEagle. And it is the first military drone that is open architecture, that is, based upon a non-proprietary operating system, allowing it to integrate almost any payload, as long as it complies with the 25 pound limit and the power capacity (called size, weight, and power or SWaP).
Who even knew that Puma was an acronym—Pointer Upgrade Mission Ability— or that it has become the standard small drone of special operations forces? It provides capabilities never before available in small craft, and is significantly different than Raven. All of these small drones have some crucial difference that add range and flexibility, but only as costs increase with newness and then decline as serial production commences.
Little heralded or known, in the actual revolution that brought small drones into virtually every combat unit of all four military services, Pointer was a pioneer. Developed first for the Marine Corps in 1986, Pointer was the first hand-held drone—45 pounds and transportable in a backpack. They were used in Desert Storm in 1990 and ended up being the first drones on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11, later serving in Iraq.
A flight of 80 hours and almost three minutes. More than three days. That’s the world record the Orion drone set last December, more than doubling the previous record set by a Global Hawk in 2001. It’s got a ridiculously long wing, 135 feet long, more than the height of a 12 story building. That and two turbo-diesel engines make Orion soar, sleek cousin to Phantom Eye and another pretender to the throne of... being another drone.
Just because something works, we don’t necessarily need it. Such is the case with Fire Scout, a Navy unmanned helicopter that operates from small ships, though it can fly 115 miles or so from its mother ship. But is there any reason to have an unmanned helicopter that operates at sea? One that, in the era of a fully networked global intelligence system, is redundant. One that would be highly vulnerable in a real war with a peer adversary. Is it just because we can? That unmanned everything is now within reach? There’s nothing wrong with Fire Scout per se, but in its story is an interesting parable: That just because something isn’t attracting Washington enemies bellowing about cost or “fraud, waste and abuse,” doesn’t mean we should keep using it.
Phantom Eye (or something like it) will someday be the bloated centerpiece of defending the United States (and its allies) from Russian or Chinese nuclear attack. Carrying what’s called a directed energy weapon, it will lurk at high altitude, ready to disable or fry an incoming missile. It is the dream of an airtight Star Wars strategic defense from which technological Cold Warriors never awoke.
The Army announced last week that budget cuts would necessitate the reduction of the regular army from 490,000 to 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2018. An additional 17,000 civilian positions will be cut during the same time period. Citing “strategic factors, to include readiness impacts, mission command and cost,” the Army already has a vocal legion of lawmakers lined up ready to call foul. But this position shouldn’t fool anyone. Through their continued investments in unmanned aerial vehicles, automated weapons, and a host of other technological advancements, the Army is doing exactly what it has strategically planned to do all along—take the human component out of warfare.
No one who was watching television news last week missed the Independence Day threat alert from the FBI and homeland security: ISIS was coming; it was our hallowed holiday; it was the one-year anniversary of the declaration of the Caliphate; it was the end of Ramadan; we’d just passed through the Garland, Texas shooting. This one was bad: “Not business as usual,” former Secretary Tom Ridge said on Fox. We got our hands on the original June 26 warning and you can read for yourself—but believe us, it’s lame.
At four inches by one inch and weighing half of an ounce (16 grams), Black Hornet is more Pixar character than fighting drone. And like a Pixar character, one gets the sense that though it is now in the secret agent arsenal of at least three countries—the United States, Britain and Israel—it could easily be swatted away, with the use of a powerful fan as an effective countermeasure.
That Cold War is so hot right now. A couple of days ago, the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah James, cited Russia as “the biggest threat” to the United States. Today a New York Times headline blares: “Joint Chiefs Nominee Warns of Threat of Russian Aggression”—referring to Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So why all the sudden admissions when we’ve been playing two-hand touch instead of tackle so far?
Why is the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force picking a fight with Vladimir Putin? We all know that the Russian leader is a massive pain and a dictator with the biggest nuclear arsenal outside of the United States. He’s a cheerleader for a nation of wannabes hoping to return to some former glorious status, a throwback political bouncer at the global dive bar, a bigot and big shot.
Gone, but it shouldn’t be forgotten. Pioneer has the distinction of being the only U.S. military drone that has flown in every major conflict from 1991’s Desert Storm to the 2003 Operation Return for Another Try. Officially retired in 2010 after its “successful” use by the Marines in al Anbar province in western Iraq, Pioneer has flown. And flown. And flown.
Join us at the screening of The Manchurian Candidate (the original, obviously) on July 14, 7:30 pm, at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, for the third installment in our It’s A Conspiracy series. We’re thrilled that Malcolm Nance, aka Kinja user kingpindaddyhoho (really), will be joining us for the panel following the movie. We plan on having alcoholic root beer floats and tater tots.