Obama’s visit to the Pentagon Monday, his first in three years, is admittedly savvy political maneuvering by a president intent on securing his legacy before campaign season begins in earnest. Making a show of force before heading off on vacation, Obama ascended Olympus not as a supplicant, but rather Zeus overlooking his many, many ongoing operations abroad. The grandstanding, however, fell flat.
If there is a future in unmanned commercial aviation, it is currently being explored by NASA in the form of the Lockheed Martin X-56A. Its adaptive structures and modular wing and tail surfaces are meant to be the cutting edge for designing future surveillance drones and transport aircraft. A little less than two years ago, the Air Force Research Laboratory flew the X-56A for the first time at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (now named Armstrong Flight Research Center) in California. After the Air Force-sponsored tests, the X-56A was transferred to NASA where it flew its inaugural flight on July 26 last year. It’s currently being flown in “NASA’s Advanced Air Transport Technology (AATT) project’s Higher Aspect Ratio Wing subproject, Performance Adaptive Aeroelastic Wing element.” A very fancy name for a project that supports low-emission, high efficiency aircraft with less aerodynamic drag.
Behold the propaganda leaflets that the United States and its coalition partners are producing in the battle against ISIS. They have been circulating since December on social media, aimed to dissuade foreign fighters or just plain Muslims from joining the ranks. The message, and the imagery, are pathetic. But there is also a huge trap in critiquing them.
Sputnik International is a Russian state-owned “news” site run by Rossiya Segodnya. It’s not that hard for the average citizen to figure it out given some basic Google skills. But to the aimless, bored, and uncurious scouring the internet for information about the impending war of worlds, this propaganda machine run by Russian Intelligence just seems like, well, any other independent site worried about the sad state of international security. Its top-billed inclusion on my RSS feed and in Google news searches is both impressive and misleading. And that calculated simplicity is what makes it some of the most brilliantly orchestrated and yet, subtle, psychological warfare in recent years.
Here’s an oddity in the world of drones: The S-100 Camcopter, manufactured by the Austrian company Schiebel, is operated by both the super-secret SEAL Team 6 and the Chinese Navy. Both the Pakistani and Indian armed forces fly it (the video above is courtesy of the Brazilian Navy). One has mysteriously crashed in Somalia (clue, it wasn’t Chinese). The drone has been secretly procured by the Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to hunt for roadside bombs in places like Iraq.
Ancient by information age standards, Hunter is an Army drone that’s been in use since the Kosovo War in 1999. At 2,000 pounds, it’s neither sleek nor personal, more of a family car that’s hardy enough to have abundant cup holders than a hot rod. But with a heavy fuel internal combustion engine that allows it to operate from unimproved airstrips, Hunter can fly for over 18 hours, giving it the endurance and range necessary to support ground operations out to some distance.
It’s been a year since ISIS announced its “caliphate” over an area straddling Iraq and Syria, accelerating its reign of terror and persisting in expanding its reach into the so-called civilized world. The brutality of the rampagers is now a given–the extreme acts of killing, genocide, and systematic rape all featured on social media and intended to be a bullet aimed straight at western sensibilities; offensive clickbait that demands a response, any response.
Today we begin a new series: 60 Days of Drones. For the next two months, we’ll try to cover the full gamut of drones used by the U.S. government—letting you know what you should about the unmanned aircraft patrolling the skies on behalf of the United States. In the end, we’ll have a full card deck of the drones of today and the future. Stay tuned.
The slaughter of 28 people in the Tunisian tourist city of Sousse has yet to be directly attributed to ISIS, but given the extremist organization’s call for its followers to escalate their attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, it seems likely. Of course the response to Tunisia will be we must do more and where’s the Marines?, but lost in all of this might be accountability for what the United States is already up to. It is all over the continent—U.S. intelligence, diplomats and military personnel are scurrying and turning Africa into the latest theater of war. Whatever they are doing, it clearly didn’t prevent today’s attack, maybe because our African mission seems to be as concerned with ordering stationery and writing regulations as fighting terrorists directly or protecting civilians.
Buried in the transcripts of a congressional hearing that took place yesterday is fleeting mention of the federal government’s latest and perhaps most outrageous assault on privacy. If you take an inbound flight from overseas, and a suspected terrorist or supporter is flagged by automated name-check systems as being on the same flight—even if (and particularly if) that someone was denied boarding because they were on some no-fly list—the government regards you as connected with that terrorist, and runs a check on you and everyone else on the plane.
Project Atom, the newly released report on America’s future nuclear posture from Washington wonks par exellence the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reads almost like a Strangelovian parody, chock full of recommendations so politically outrageous that it seems as though their intention is to self-undermine. Here is the study’s Big Idea: The United States should build a new generation of usable mini-nukes, and spread them around the globe. Our current problem, the authors believe, is that our nuclear palette is too narrow, so we need to develop “a robust set of discriminate nuclear options and forward-deployable nuclear weapons” to have on hand when the desire for a strike strikes.
Judith Miller is a journalist and author specializing in terrorism, the Middle East and other national security issues. She won the Pulitzer Prize while working for New York Times from 1977 to 2005, and was its first female bureau chief in the Arab World. She reported on the first Iraq war and then became famous—some would say infamous—for her reporting on weapons of mass destruction leading up to the second Iraq War. In 2005, she spent 85 days in jail to protect a confidential source, receiving a First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. She is author of four books, most recently The Story: A Reporter’s Journey. Judy blogs at www.judithmiller.com and can be seen as a regular commentator for Fox News. She will be here it 1 p.m. to answer your questions under the Kinja user name @jmfreespeech.
Yesterday on Phase Zero, Bill Arkin wrote a post about the Charleston murders and why they shouldn’t be called terrorism. I think he’s wrong. Wrong about making this horrible crime into an argument about semantics. Wrong about disenfranchising the black community yet again by claiming that it isn’t terrorism to intimidate a community of minorities through the specter of ever-present violence. But mostly wrong because I think words are powerful and important (and I know Arkin does as well).