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Robots Go To War 222

JKT writes: "According to The Times (of London): Predators, which can operate for 40 hours at a time ... can hover at up to 25,000ft, taking photographs in all types of weather, and at night with the use of infrared cameras ... For the first time in any operation, the Predators, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, are also armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles ... if a Predator spots a potential target, the ground operator can launch a Hellfire missile attack immediately." The article covers all the various pre-attack surveillance mechanisms, including special forces units of various countries. Interesting stuff, especially because it appears that one of those recon drones has already been shot down.
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Robots Go To War

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  • Doesn't it seem that people will be replaced by many robots commanded by a few people in a hidden bunker somewhere. That is where it's going.
    • I hope they robots never figure that one out.
    • In the case of the Predator a real human pilot and a sensor operator are required to fly and use the UAV so its really not a robot - The GlobalHawk on the other hand requires no human interaction (other than getting its data and putting fuel in it). You are right, of course, now if we can get a robotic factor to build the planes we'll be all set :-)
    • Yeah, I think I read that in some Isaac Asimov story about 50 years ago ;-)
    • I think it's even more interesting that some of them are autonomous. I think Lockheed's Darkstar takes care of itself, no one back home with a screen and a stick. I don't know if we should give it missles though. I expect we will see more autonomy in these battlefield robots as time goes on. Soon they will be able to do the whole war without us.
    • Doesn't it seem that people will be replaced by many robots commanded by a few people in a hidden bunker somewhere. That is where it's going.

      Just remember: in the future, wars will be fought be tiny robots. Your job will be to build and mantain those robots.
      • Actually, the Simpsons quote that applies is "The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots. Thank you."
  • by CrusadeR ( 555 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @01:52PM (#2334706) Homepage
    Two Predator UAV's were lost over Iraq in just the past month: sa_plane_dc_4.html [] 0-2001Aug27.html []

    FAS has some more info on the bird here [].

    • Saw conflicting info this morning on Ananova []:
      Downed craft was rebel helicopter, say Taliban

      The Taliban have said the aircraft they shot down was a helicopter belonging to Afghanistan rebels.

      At first officials said they had shot down a US pilotless spy drone in the north of the country Now they say it was a helicopter belonging to the Northern Alliance. They do not know how many people were in it.

  • I'm not an expert, but I don't think so. I think they require to be launched pretty nearby to what you want to look at. That's probably why we want to go through Pakistan - to put the facilities for maintaining and launching these things there. Or maybe my knowledge is outdated, and they can fly farther, perhaps from the United States directly, or can fit on a carrier. I had never heard they could fire missiles before, either.
    • By my calulations, they have a range of 3200 nautical miles. Just multiply the cruise speed by the time they can stay in the air. Seems long enough to spy almost anywhere in afghanistan from pakistan...
      • True, but the real power of this sort of platform is that it can stay 'on task' for long periods of time (24+ hours). In Bosnia one of the big uses (of the DarkStar system) was to follow armored vehicles back to their base, and only then call in the cavalry. Going there, snapping a picture, and then going home is better accomplished by maned reconasence vehicles, be they an F-15 with a reconasence pod or a SR-71.
  • I suppose this is where the technology is going - completely automated wars. However, this is against a poor nation - Afghanistan. We wouldn't need people on our side, but we'd be killing people on theirs. Is that right? Do we, as a developed nation, have the right to use that against those without much technology? And, if no one is killed (on our side) will we be more likely to head into wars, without consideration for the rest of the world? These questions need to be answered as the technology progresses.
    • Do you suggest that we have a handicap in fighting this war?

      I think we already do have one thing that should help them... we WON'T purposely target civilians. yes, some will be hurt and killed, but the difference between us and the terrorists is that we won't do it on purpose...

      18 people killed 6500+... why can't we keep our military out of the direct fire?

    • We wouldn't need people on our side, but we'd be killing people on theirs. Is that right? Do we, as a developed nation, have the right to use that against those without much technology?

      It seems to me that this reduces unnecessary casualties on the other side. A more humane thing to do. Go after the actual targets instead of just bombing everyone. Instead of large scale indiscriminate bombings, you get small focused attacks.

      If this becomes more common it seems to change the perception of "war". At least the aerial part of it. You still need ground troops. But perhaps, no longer in the traditional roles.

      It seems to me that as remote drones take photographs, they also send back their exact GPS coordinates. By piecing together the pictures into a much larger map, combined with coordinates, you can interpolate and come up with the exact GPS coordinates of the window or chimney of any building, or the mouth of a cave. Also along the lines of a technology war, you send in people who can blend into the background. They walk aruond areas, and push a button on a miniature GPS device that takes a "snapshot" of the coordinates of this bridge, or building. By getting coordinates of, say, a building, and interviewing the people who took the coordinates (were you standing on the curb, or the sidewalk, show me on this satellite photo exactly where you stood when you pushed the GPS capture button) you can interpolate the coordinate of precise features (i.e. chimneys) of buildings.
      • Go after the actual targets instead of just bombing everyone. Instead of large scale indiscriminate bombings, you get small focused attacks.

        Exactly, and it's easy to tell who the Taliban are - they're the only people they allow to be armed. So, if you see a group with AK47s or pickup trucks mounted with ZSU23s, they're Taliban. It will also be easy to take out most of the Taliban artillary in the North - theirs are the guns facing North.

        Without an antiair capability, they'll be at a great disadvantage - and they won't be getting Stinger missiles from the US, funneled through Pakistan. Russia and China certainly won't be helping them either, nor will Iran.

    • It's against al Qaeda, whose leader inherited 300 million dollars, and who prefers to spend it on weapons and training instead of luxury. The Taliban has also received significant backing from Pakistan, almost certainly, since they conquered almost all the country within ten years of their formation...

    • I can see your point in that using high-tech weapons and sensors goes against the uniquely (and quaint) Western notion of fair play on the field of battle. I suggest to you that this notion has always been a myth, an ideal to which some wish to strive but ultimately set aside when the lead begins to fly. It's noble, it's naive, and it's wrong.

      If a nation asks its young men and women to put their lives at risk for a just cause (and wiping out Al Queda falls into that category), that nation owes it to their soliders to put every technological advantage at their disposal.

      Would you feel better if we stabbed them all to death using pikes, or clubbed them to a pulp from an arms' length?
  • The one the Taleban claimed to shoot down, wasn't shot down. Probably there will not be Predator aircraft in Afganistan until after other aircraft protect the airspace. It's rather trivial to shoot something like this down with a MiG. It's a powerful tool, because we have the power to keep other planes out of the sky.

    After first claiming it was an American plane like the Iraqis shot down, they also claimed that it was an opposition plane. Was there anything shot down at all?

    • The Russians do have some UAVs, and there's a chance it was one of theirs.
    • Yeah, they keep reporting different things. First it was an unmanned airplane, then it was a Northern Alliance helicopter, then it was an "unidentified airplane", now it's back to unmanned airplane. The US isn't going to confirm or deny anything, and it's becoming clear the Taliban can't keep its story straight. It may be a while before we really know anything about what, if anything, happened. (Not that this will keep anyone here from speculating wildly.)
    • It may also be our plan to get them to shoot it down. By getting them to shoot it down, a number of things are revealed. Where the shots come from. If radar was used, and from where. Get them to expend limited unreplaceable ammo on unmaned (possibly cheapo decoy) targets.

      If you wanted to assemble large numbers of cheapo decoys, how cheap could each one be. Low tens of thousands? These are just big hobbiest RC vehicles. And even cheap decoys could have some capabilities, such as a camera and GPS. More capable unmanned aircraft might be indistinguishable from cheapo decoys.
      • Why would they even have to be RC if you where using them as decoys? Start them off in the right direction and just let them go. Give them a maximum range so that they would drop out of the sky before they got somewhere that we cared about possibly causing harm to.

        Thousands of these could be made for very little money.
    • It's rather trivial to shoot something like this down with a MiG.

      I don't know if the Afghanis have much air power. Besides, I'd rather have the MiG use it's payload on a UAV rather than a manned aircraft.
  • More info (Score:4, Informative)

    by bihoy ( 100694 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @02:06PM (#2334757)
    Actually the range of the predator is limited more by the 1998 INF treaty than by their actual range.
    The treaty limits them to 5000 Km. I have not seen any info on their actually range which is no dount classified information.

    There is a nice write up (and picture) on this rather funky looking bird in this article [].

  • A hellfire missile on what is basically an expensive radio controlled toy. Anyone seeing a problem with giving something that is controlled by radio/infrared/laser/string something as lethal as a anti-tank missile? Sure, it probably has encryption and secure communications, but these things are never perfect.

    Say one of these things are launched from a ship, and shortly afterwards its taken over by the enemy, and wham, the ship has a big gaping hole in it.

    I'm sure the likelihood of this happening are slim, but why give these things the power to do that in the first place? Assuming they are launched from a ship, they could simply launch a missile to that target, no?
    • Say one of these things are launched from a ship, and shortly afterwards its taken over by the enemy, and wham, the ship has a big gaping hole in it.

      Sorry even if it was remotley possible for this to happen antitank missles don't leave big gaping holes they leave little holes and spew hot metal all over the inside of what they hit.

    • Assuming they are launched from a ship, they could simply launch a missile to that target, no?

      Well for larger targets (i.e. buildings) but for smaller mobile targets or tent camps targeting needs to be WYSIWYG and obsticles that can only be avoided from certain line of sight. A million dollar missile could aquire it but, Hellfires are dirt cheap by price-per-kill comparison.
    • Hellfire missiles appear to be of the laser-guided variety -- IOW, something has to "paint" the target with a targeting laser, until it impacts. Perhaps these armed Predators have targeting lasers themselves, in order to not require assistance such as spec-ops folks in the area.

      You can launch Tomahawks from a ship, but it wouldn't surprise me if they're a bit less accurate than following a laser. In addition, that adds significantly to travel time -- meaning that if you're trying to hit, say, a convoy of suspected terrorists in trucks, well... you've got one heck of a problem.
    • Ever heard of cruise missles? Have we had a problem with them? There are failsafes, and a hellfire missle isn't going to sink a Destroyer. They can just turn on their Phalanx anti-missle gun.

    • ...and shortly afterwards its taken over by the enemy...

      "Arrrgh, ye mateys! It be a Hellfire missile off the port quarter! Let us board it and turn it on our enemies, the better to smite them, says I to you! Arrrgh!"


    • With all due respect to the l33t hacking community on slashdot, this isn't an IIS server you're talking about.

      The Predators are probably controlled by 25 simultaneous spread-spectrum encrypted channels with failsafes and backups. There's probably not a web page with a "launch" button available to anyone with the ROT-13 password. At best, you could take control of the craft but have no control of the weapons, or get the video feed but not the craft, or get the targetting laser but not the launch control.

      heck, the military GPS satellites have been TRANSMITTING their encrypted broadcasts all over the planet for more than a decade and no one has managed to decode it. How long is the control signal available to snoop on with a Predator? 40 hours at a time? How long are the launch signals available? 100 nanoseconds?
      • Information about being able to decrypt gps, military communications or maybe atm/visa-card pin-numbers is a lot more valuable when you do not disclose that capability! Who knows what capabilities exist but have not been disclosed. Who could imagine for instance something like tempest..

        As an example... If someone was able to figure out a way to discover a visa cards pin number from the magnetic strip they certainly would not rush online to publish this information. Blackmail comes to my mind first..

        However, you do have a point. Devising a way to assume control of these flying drones midair is practically impossible without inside information or capture and extensive reverse engineering..

        btw. By having a transmitter at a fixed known location and using this information in conjunction with the gps signal you will be able to figure out your location extremely specifically. And didn't they recently release the more detailed gps signal to public use anyway..
      • Interestingly, unsubtantiated reports [] claim that "The terrorists had obtained the White House code and a whole set of top-secret signals". Sounds a bit far-fetched to me... but if they have a mole who can give them that...

  • In Iraq, for instance,, as well as the Balkans.

    Apparently, the RQ-1 Predator is made by General Atomics []. They claim that it can remain airborne for 40 hours at a stretch, and it can carry a payload of 204 kg. The weight of a Hellfire seems to be on the order of 47 kg, give or take a few depending on model.

    According to a 1998 article by the FAS [], it also includes a satellite link, meaning that it's providing recon up to the point where it is shot down (if and when that happens). Operating range is listed as 926 kilometers, and at 10-25 thousand feet; FWIW, the General Atomics site mentioned work on a newer version that would have a significantly greater endurance.

    For those that own Hellfire missiles, the FAS site also includes a handy-dandy user's guide [PDF] [] of sorts.

  • Remote attrition (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @02:20PM (#2334811) Journal
    This bring up an interesting potential strategy that could negate some significant advantages the terrorists have on their home turf. These things were probably expensive to build, but I bet they're relatively cheap to build.

    The terrorists, on the other hand, no matter how well equipped they are, have a finite supply of anti-aircraft capability. Keep launching these things over their territory, float at a good height, and let them launch anti-aircraft missiles at them to their heart's content. (They have to try to shoot them down, the intel the unmanned aircraft gather are too valuable to their enemy to just ignore them.) Equip those things with a chaff dispenser in place of a missle or two, and you've got a great robotic attrition tool.

    One of the worst things about guerilla warfare is your inability to wear down the enemy without taking vastly larger losses yourself. This stuff puts an interesting spin on that... bin Laden may have picked the wrong time to become a guerilla.

  • The terrifying thing is that robots can replace many of the tasks of ground troops, more and more. This means that there will be troops, but those troops may not be in the contexts where they can observe for themselves what they are doing and form their own conclusions about it.

    More and more, troops fall into technical roles, controlling machines on great aircraft carriers and evaluating machine gathered data.

    This contrasts with the role of the "grunt" in Vietnam. The infantrymen returning from that battlefield came back and relayed their stories to civilians, who used this information to form their (generally negative) opinion on the war.

    Robots are under the control of commanders, who are indoctrinated differently than are ground troops and may be less inclined to feel sympathy or mercy when they push the button of destruction.

    An enemy soldier, or a civilian, cannot plead mercy or beg for life to a robot; the commander controlling the 'bot may not even know a person is surrendering or begging for mercy.

    I oppose anything that would distance us from the blood on our hands, including roboticization of war. You can read many science fiction novels that address these issues.

    • I oppose anything that would distance us from the blood on our hands, including roboticization of war. You can read many science fiction novels that address these issues.

      so do you oppose planes, missles, bullets? all of these things distance us from the blood on our hands. are you suggesting that we drop our soldiers off naked, in the middle of a battle, with only a rock to use to defend themselves? hell accourding to what you said they shouldn't even get a rock. they should be forced to tear the enemy apart with their bare hands.... while the enemy is shooting, stabbing, running them over, etc. i personally think we should use any advantage we have over the enemy. they will surely do the same when engaging us.
  • Has anyone ever thought of cloning dinosaurs??? They could eat and digest victims, taking away the need for burial. There will sure as hell be little or no caualties, as dinosaurs would probably "kill" rather than "hurt". Whatever country grows the biggest and baddest dinosaurs wins!!! Plus you could make that a nice TV show... place Survivor contestents on the same island that you keep the dinosaurs on.

    I'll shutup now ;-)
  • This kind of unmanned plane seems a rather unreliable way of delivering weapons on the battlefield.

    Firstly, since the Predator has only a rear propellor, it certainly can't "hover" the way the Apache does for accuracy, concealment and timing purposes.

    Secondly, if the plane's major role is in surveillance then it will necessarily maintain a high altitude - meaning 10 or 20 thousand feet. This poses problems if, as this link [] suggests, the Hellfire is unreliable or unusable over about 2,000 ft.

    Since the first tests were only done in February, what is the chance that these problems have been satisfactorily solved?

    Futhermore, a remotely piloted plane has reduced situational awareness. I don't think the manufacturers (General Atomics Aeronautical Systems) would be particularly pleased if friendly-fire casualties in Afghanistan were put down to the inaccuracy of their "robot" planes.

    • Friendly fire was the first thing I thought of -- it's finally possible for a pilot to take himself out with an air-to-ground weapon.

      "Look, Bert, two guys hunched over a card table! Let's shoot 'em..."

      "Hey, Ernie, what's that whooshing noise?"

    • Actually, the Hunter UAV is a reliable Hellfire system. /i dr010817_2_n.shtml

      "More recently, the US Army has carried out similar evaluations. In 1997, a Hunter UAV carrying a laser designator illuminated targets for attack by Paveway guided bombs and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles released from other platforms. All three of the former and nine of the latter struck their targets."

  • Does this mean nerds adept at playing video games and computer flight simulators will be operating the fighter jets from remote controls in the future, instead of the kinds of brave, tough men who fought conventional wars in the past?
    • Ever read "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card?
      If not.. do it!

    • Does this mean nerds adept at playing video games and computer flight simulators will be operating the fighter jets from remote controls in the future, instead of the kinds of brave, tough men who fought conventional wars in the past?

      During the 80s there was a Black Helicopter Theory claiming that the US Gov't were specifically supporting aspects of the arcade industry. The intent was to raise a generation able (training hand/eye coordination, etc) and willing to fight tommrows battles. This was particularly needed due to previous generation's docile, pacifist nature.

      The US Army being involved with a special edition [] of the ground-breaking arcade game Battlezone probably just added to the story.

      I think its a rediculous idea. Sure, having generations comfortable and able to instinctively absorb technology would provide the raw material to train soldiers adept with new weapons systems. But being able to defeat the Boss on Level 32 of Super Mario Bros, or even surviving some period of time in Battlezone, doesn't make a soldier.

      • Nah, but playing Jane's Longbow/Longbow2, F-15, 688 Hunter/Killer will. And Fleet Action is a wonderful primer on fleet tactics....

        • Nah, but playing Jane's Longbow/Longbow2, F-15, 688 Hunter/Killer will. And Fleet Action is a wonderful primer on fleet tactics....

          Let's call this the Iron Eagle [] theory. Its the theory that given enough training on a simulator, an individual is ready for the real thing.

          First off, we're giving these simulation games a lot more credit that I believe they deserve. Computer simulations are amazing - and pack quite a bit of detail. But having worked on some of the systems portrayed in these games (and scammed quite a bit of time in real training simulators) - they tend to lack distinct details from the real thing. That's not to say these games aren't very cool. But they're not a perfect simulation either.

          But even if they were exact simulations, they'd still only provide one aspect of the training required. First off, there's nothing like the real thing. The US Military understands this, which explains why soldiers still train in the field with MILES gear and airmen fly training sorties instead of spending time in a simulator cockpit. And even then, the systems pale in comparison to real combat experience.

          And even once one is intimately familiar with the weapons system assigned, there is another level to being a member of the Armed Services. We've just touched on it with field training and combat experience - knowing how situations feel and being familiar enough with them to act. Being able to interact with other service members effectively (even if you've barely met). The ability to handle pressure. Knowing what makes up a lawful order and when one is bound to disobey an unlawful order. Knowing the common heritage, traditions, and symbols that bind all this (and more) togeather.

          Technology changes the face of the battlefield and the weapons deployed on it. It might require shifts in tactics, training, and specific skills. But there is still a requirement for the kind of grit that made up WWII heros. Don't expect to see that replaced by twitch-gamers anytime soon.

          • Of COURSE they don't provide you with everything you need to know. Of COURSE they won't just throw you in the cockpit and you fly off. But first, lets look at some historical precident. At the beginning of WW2, a pilot needed an extensive education, flight school training, lots of hours on the stick. Oh, and older than a teenager. By the end of WW2, youngsters were going through eight weeks(!) of flight school, and being sent to the front lines. Now take an Iowa farmboy who signed up because he never wants to look at wheat again, then take a look at a San Fran boy, who grew up on flight sims and what not. Which one, do you think, is going to take much more readily to the concept of flight physics? And I'll point out that live training like MILES gear and such is as much to conidition soldiers against combat reluctance than anything else. :-)
  • I find this concept very troubling. If we train robots to be killing machines, how can we expect them to become responsible members of society? _f uture.html
  • My uncle worked on the development and testing of the Predators at the Point Mugu NAS in California, and I was able to do a video report on some of the more public aspects of the technology used. That was in 1995, when they were first deployed in August of that year over Albania and other nations in the Adriatic to survey military targets. It can see a license plate from 10k feet. As of the time I made my report (I was in 8th grade at the time), the Predator flew over 50 missions over Bosnia and all 3 craft that were used were lost. Its not like the military really has anything to worry about, since the technology has already been compromised.
  • "Protection" by Robert Shekley, anyone?
  • The UAVs could well prove the difference between success and failure. The Soviets had little info before they went into the country, where as we (if we go in) will have much info due to these UAVs. Go ahead, shoot them down, their cost is trivial compared to a spy plane. We can loft 100 of them into the air, and track all military movements, even at night. We don't need a massive ground troop invasion, just track their movements and drop in deltas, seals, hell even rangers into the area around their bunkers.

    Game over.
  • If you check the CNN article, it seems that Reuters is confirming that it was a helicopter belonging to the local opposition... /2 2/ret.afghan.plane/
  • I don't think these things are going to become super commonplace soon, and I don't especially don't see us waging war / keeping peace (whatever...) using things that hold one missile. I'm guessing the one hellfire is for a command apc somewhere, not to be taking out _____.
    • First off, the current design holds 2 missiles. Secondly, it's not intended as a major battlefield weapon. This is intended to allow the UAVs to attack small targets of opportunity, which would otherwise disappear before attack forces could be called in. If you have more than a couple tanks in one place, you call in the big guns (or in this case, the AH-64s and F-15s). Chances are that a large group of tanks would have a hard time finding a hiding place before the attack force gets there (hiding one tank is hard enough, let alone 10 of 'em). However, you can bet that in 10 years or so there will be a UAV designed specifically for significant-sized attacks.

      What puzzles me about the whole thing is how the military plans to apply it to Afghanistan. They don't have any tanks to speak of; their entire military is infantry. They probably have a few captured Russian tanks and APCs, but they're practically useless in that kind of terrain anyway. Using a laser-guided anti-tank missile to kill one guy with a 40 year old rifle seems an inadvisable way to conduct an attack. Oh well, I guess the military just wants to play with their new toys.

      • My guess is that the Predators will regularly fly over the mountains of Afghanistan for recon, and if they happen to come across an opportunistic target (i.e. tent camp, marching fighters, convoy of vehicles, horses, etc.) they can take a few targets out before they scatter and run into the caves.
      • Maybe they are expecting a certain type of target of opportunity. Like a certain armoured car owned by a certain terrorist leader. I really don't believe he only travels by camel as the pictures would suggest :-)
      • First off, the current design holds 2 missiles. Secondly, it's not intended as a major battlefield weapon.
        First, the 3 tests only carried 1 missile each. Second, it's not intended to be used on battlefields at all.
        What puzzles me about the whole thing is how the military plans to apply it to Afghanistan.
        They don't, the article is total BS. See my previous comment []

  • I can't seem to get the article. Has the site been slashdotted or did one of these drones get a bit off-target?
  • There's alot of interest in these RPVs in the US and NATO.

    Israel started to use them in the late 70s and 80s for Counter Battery imaging of Syrian and Hezbollah artillery. Then the US started a really horrible project called Aquila in the 80s that failed. By the Gulf War the Navy was using Israeli drones for real time imaging of targets for the 8 and 16 inch guns. m tm

    Global Hawk is really neat wk .htm
    It can launch from Nevada, fly to Australia and then loiter for a spell before refueling. And it can transmit images to other aircraft or sats at 50-275 megabits per second. Australia is looking at the Global Hawk for recon on the north. c/ globalhawk010427_1_n.shtml

    Recently the USAF and Army are testing RPVs for firing Sidewinder, Stinger and Hellfire missiles at a range of airborne and ground targets. /i dr010817_2_n.shtml

    "IAI recently teamed with Raytheon Missile Systems to promote Cutlass (Combat UAV Target Locate and Strike System), which mates the Harpy air vehicle with a guidance system based on the US company's seekers for the AIM-9X and ASRAAM air-to-air missiles coupled with an automatic target-recognition and classification system. Other similar defense-suppression drones include the ARW-10 Lark developed by Kentron in South Africa."

    Interesting stuff no doubt.
  • Drones have been used for reconnaissance for quite some time. During the conflicts in Southeast Asia during the early 70s, drones would be launched from DC-130s, fly a mission over Vietnam, then recoverred by a CH-3 helecoptor. See here [] for some history.

    They had two or three confirmed "kills," where they were able to force a MiG into a mountain.

    The most interesting implementation was using the drones to drop propaganda leaflets. I understand they were called "bullsh*t bombers" for this mission. A book I saw has the caption, "Can bombs be far behind." Thirty years later, they're getting there.

  • ... can hover at up to 25,000ft
    Since it's basically a standard plane (and not some helicopter, autogyro or something else) it's not going to hover like a helicopter. And it's very unlikely to have enough power/thrust to `hang on the prop' like many overpowered stunt planes can (or many R/C planes :)

    .. Unless it gets a head wind that's higher than it's stall speed (54 knots -- pretty slow) in which case it could appear to hover.

    Of course, when you're 25000 feet (about 5 miles) away/up, 54 knots is pretty close to standing still.

  • Do the drones carry any onboard defence capabilities? AI in the code to take over when there is an oncomming missile? Defensive manouvers or flares?
    • Nope. The two primary abilities of the drones are these: 1) Unmanned air reconnaisance. 2) Cheap, low-tech, "losable" technology.

      Due to the combination of 1) and especially 2), there is no reason for defensive capabilities. The army could really care less if they get shot down, since losing tons of the things is cheaper than losing 1 or 2 manned warplanes.
      • Isnt there a risk of giving another country access to technologies if they capture the drone?

        Cant they just reverse engineer it?
        • Yes, but that's why they specifically use "low tech", which can be lost to the enemy. If they need to place "high tech" parts on the plane that they do not wish to lose to the enemy, they will surely use auto-destruct techniques over any defensive capabilities, since there is no human life at stake, and auto-destruct is significantly cheaper.
        • Yeah, but then they'd have to manufacture it. And set up a satellite communication system to support it. And have enough control of the airspace to give them useful service lifetimes. And have a large enough military to do something with the information from it. Any country with all of those already has the technology necessary to build one.

          Besides, I don't think there's really a hell of a lot of ultra-modern technology in one of them. The reason they weren't developed earlier is just the military's sluggish adoption of anything new that isn't fast, shiny, and really fscking expensive.

    • Their primary defense is their small size, low signature and height of flight.

      For something that flies as slow as a Predator, the idea of defencive capabilities is kind of laughable.
  • "... if a Predator spots a potential target, the ground operator can launch a Hellfire missile attack immediately."

    Wasn't this method of combat disproved by Wile E. Coyote?
  • U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet : Un manned_Aerial.html

  • Biological warfare is using an organism that can be distantiated from yourself to do the killing for you. Does this then constitute some form of artificial biological warfare?
  • :)

    They don't understand Missiles, they don't care they're still gonna try to shoot it down... if you wanna fight terrorists with such a sweet device, you have to THINK like one and then translate this into a weapon to which they'll fear.

    Let me explain: How do terrorists commit their acts? They have bombs, they strap their body with bombs and go kamikaze, same with hijaacks. So what do they understand? "if we have something that can destroy them all, they won't touch us", put that into practice and put a nuclear detonator on the device :), you shoot? Blam! wrong move.

    Hmm this started as a joke, but the more I think of it, heh, the more I'd almost laugh seeing their face taken in pictures by a spy plane of all their camps and them looking at it without daring shooting it down in case it might release something nasty over them. That way you gather all the intelligence needed without killing to many soldiers, of course some are totally stupid and will shoot it down and get blown up to bits (so less troubles for the millitary to close down the camps).

    This might almost work ;) and besides, it's their own evil conceptual creation.

  • especially because it appears that one of those recon drones has already been shot down.

    As far as anything the Taliban claims, I'll believe it when I see it with my own eyes..

    • Actually, its very likely it was shot down. First, the Taliban probably still has Stinger missiles we gave the Mujaheddin during their war with the Soviets. Second, the Predator is a pretty easy target: unstealthy, slow, and sounds like a giant mosquito when lower than 10,000 feet.
  • Tools (Score:2, Insightful)

    by motherhead ( 344331 )
    It's a tool. And the concept is pretty brilliant.

    You have one of these puppies orbiting around an area that is a potential battle site. If they soak it with stealth graphite/carcinogenic/wonderpaste and deploy it at night or in bad weather it can go on unnoticed just watching. When it picks up something interesting, wham, a nice wing of F-15Es swoops down and ruins everyone's day and then splits at mach 3. Talk about terror...

    We have had "robots" like this for a while we call them satellites though unless we have one in geosynch over Afghanistan, they can only be tasked for a part of any given day. And even if one or two were, you could launch dozens of Predators to monitor dozens of battlefield situations.

    As for the idea hanging Hellfires off of them? Weird, that presumes there is no air assets available to follow up on surveillance. Unless these birds are considered disposable, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for them to break cover and open themselves up like that. Perhaps they are...

    Anyways, I am pretty sure these particular tools are not going to facilitate "skynet" planning the overthrow of humankind anytime soon.
  • I don't think so... (Score:3, Informative)

    by krystal_blade ( 188089 ) on Sunday September 23, 2001 @04:55AM (#2337088)
    I have a feeling this is just a media blitz.

    The Predator UAV is a very light self powered sailplane that saw it's first extensive use over Bosnia/Herzegovina. The aircraft, without any major modifications, usually stayed aloft for around 8 hours at a time.

    The camera package installed with the package is top of the line, capable of multiple different uses. It is also very heavy though.

    Two things really point against this being viable. 1 is the weight of a weapons rack, and missiles versus the aircrafts dimensions/capabilities. Given the Predator was built for a heavier load than it already has, it may be possible to add more items (AKA a heavier camera.) But, to add a complete new system, wiring, pylons, weapons... Call it a hunch, but it's going to severely hamper the planes abilities, duration, and Durability. (Have you seen the 6 foot landing gear on the plane? Imagine landing something like that with even MORE weight attatched.

    The second thing is the planes construction. It was designed to be replaceable, but not as a suicide bomber. It's small size is great for security... you can't shoot at what you can't see... And it's construction minimalized the use of metal so as to provide a very small radar cross section. Adding large hunks of metal on an airplane will force it to fly slower, and lower, making it 1. Audible. 2. Visible. and 3. Picked out on Radar.


  • The USAF's Predator page [] gives basics on the system.

    There aren't many of these things. As of 1998, there were five units, each with four aircraft. A unit (ground equipment, 4 UAVs, and 55-person crew) costs $40 million, the USAF says. And it supposedly needs a 5000' paved runway, which seems excessive for something smaller than most light aircraft. It's not a robot; there's a pilot on the ground directly controlling the craft.

    Here's the press release [] for the "Hellfire on a Predator" test. Probably hasn't been deployed yet.

    Israel Aircraft Industries [] makes the most useful military UAVs. Theirs are smaller, with less range (which makes sense; their enemies are nearby), and are typically launched off a rail on a truck-mounted launcher, like a missile, then landed by parachute. The Israeli UAVs tend to be more autonomous; they assume they'll have serious jamming opposition and won't be able to maintain communications continuously. USAF UAVs are flown by a pilot with a joystick; Israeli UAVs tend to be controlled with a keyboard, carrying out a preplanned mission if they can't communicate

  • Take this article with a (very large) grain of salt.

    Predators do NOT carry Hellfire missiles in actual operation.
    For the first time in any operation, the Predators, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, are also armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles, after successful trials this year.
    First of all, the "trials" weren't meant to develop the Predator into a weapons system. Only Phase I of the testing is completed. Before Phase II, they have to re-engineer the Hellfire, since it was designed to be fired by low-flying helicopters. After Phase II, "This will complete the demonstration of the objectives we set down at the beginning of this process, to demo the technology, and prove its operational feasibility." The tests they did this year were in ideal conditions, fired at a stationary target.

    I spent 2 weeks at Nellis AFB, NV this summer, where the 11th & 15th Reconnaissance Squadrons are the only units that fly the Predator. I saw them flying, up-close, the trailer they control them from, and footage from previous flights. I even talked to one of the pilots that flew one of the Hellfire test flights.
    the US Air Force's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment
    It doesn't take much to verify facts online nowadays. Like the fact that the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is in the Army, not the Air Force. The US Air Force has NO regiments, they do have a variety of special operations assets though.
    Despite the close normally work closely together. It would not be normal procedure, for example, for the SAS and Delta Force or Rangers, to run a joint patrol. Their methods and communications systems are different and their concept of operations do not easily merge.
    Besides the obvious grammatical/editorial error in the first sentence, the SAS & American special ops troops work closely quite often. They're constantly deploying all over the world for training or operations.

    I don't know how this kind of stuff gets printed by (supposedly) respected newspapers. The author (who's not just a reporter, but their defence editor) & source for this article are clueless.

    Here is the official Air Force factsheet on the RQ-1 Predator []

    Here is the AF News article [] about the Hellfire tests
  • I tend to wonder why major robitic systems haven't been deployed, but I am certain there are good reasons.

    I know of one system that was developed a while back (for the DOD, I believe) that involved a targetable mortar mounted on a remote controlled (it may have even been autonomous to a point) 4 wheel ATV. I saw some test videos of this on various shows, and even found some small articles about it in Popular Mechanics.

    Odetics, Inc [], in Anaheim, CA produced at one time (at least some finished prototypes) a six-legged robotics system called the Odex-1 [] - the picture of the Odex-1 getting into/out of a pickup isn't staged - there was video taken of it broadcast on national TV through shows like "That's Incredible" and "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" - which I have also seen. It was set to be a defence robotics platform, with weapons mounted on it. Whatever happened to this machine is a mystery - I haven't been able to find any information on it...

    Anyhow, a friend of mine described a software system he developed, which I have no doubts about him doing, as I have other code he worked on for an earlier, more benign system.

    Basically, it was a GA/AE system, in which he created a "tank" simulation. Each tank in the simulation had sensors and outputs. The sensors could sense such things as the location of the other units in the simulation, as well as turret position of the other units. The outputs controlled the firing of the cannon, and moving the tank.

    Each tank was "driven" by a custom bit of code. Each tank was given a bit of semi-random code to execute, and the simulation was ran. After so many rounds of simultation, those tanks that had done the best were replicated and "bred" - exchanging bits of code (ala DNA/genes) - to fight in the next run of simulation.

    Note that this sim wasn't run real-time with graphics - he said he ran it "in-memory" to attain the fastest speed, and had a logging playback system to slow it down for human consumption and study.

    None of this is new or unique (well, other than the fact that he was playing around with this back in 1992 or so, as a senior in high school), but the results he related to me were suprising:

    The tanks, after so many runs, started displaying curious behavior. First, a communications of sorts was "discovered", that involved "turret-waggling" and "bee-dancing" behavior. Soon after that, flock and group strategies for eliminating opponents (essentially, learning to operate as teams) came about. He said late in the runs, the tanks learned to exploit a bug in his VM for the scripts each tank used, a buffer overrun that allowed the tanks to "teleport" behind their enemies to close in for the "kill".

    He told me he stopped the sim at that point - uncertain about continuing it.

    He since lost the code, but I doubt it would take much to replicate it. Like I said, I have other code he worked on which was more benign, and involved the same sort of system, except this time with "bugs" competing against each other, and an environment (that both grows good "grass", and bad "poison grass"), as well as breeding and dying - a very fascinating simulation in and of itself. I have no reason to doubt that he went the next step.

    What I wonder is whether such stuff has been developed for use on a real battlefield - matching the ATV mortars with such software, bred inside the "dismounted soldier" training system the DOD uses for training, etc - could such a system be used for real warfare? Anyone care to comment on effectiveness, problems, ways the enemy could use it against the aggressor?

    Finally - I tend to wonder if such a system could be applied to a Battlebot/Robot War competition...

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle