mm369: Help! Rescue that droning man!

MUDGE’s Musings


The changing face of military aviation

tenth in an occasional series

The series so far…





U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war



Go to war — Play videogames



Osprey: A Flying Shame



Abolish the Air Force



Proxy killers — Can you live with that?



A Maginot Line for the 21st Century



A shared obsession is a satisfying thing



Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling



Go figure! Even our robot forces… mm326

Two of our most useful military news links in our blogroll are Danger Room and Early Warning. After all, we’re at war.

Faithful reader of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© will recall that the subject of UAVs, Unmanned Air Vehicles or drones, is one of those topics that has consistently intrigued us. Look no further than the linklist above.

Robot aircraft of all sizes and scales hit the military commentariat several times on April 30, and reminded us of a related story (see no. 1a below) we had been waiting for the right opportunity to surface.

1. Future: Tiny

First, for all of the paranoid among us (and today, who isn’t?), comes truly the stuff of science fiction.



Army: Make Us a Mini-Drone Swarm (Updated)

By Noah Shachtman | April 30, 2008 | 6:53:00 PM

Usually, our dystopian nightmares of robot domination involve big, substantive machines – man-sized, or better. But many academics and military futurists believe the real power of ‘bots won’t be realized there swarms of tiny mechanical critters. (Think the spiders of Minority Report, instead of the Schwarzeneggers of Terminator.)…

“The idea is that a variety of crawling or flying mini-droids will be produced, able to go into situations where human troops might fear to tread – caves, bunkers, mountains, hostile urban areas etc. The robo-bug army would then spy out targets and intel for human commanders to act upon,” our pal Lew Page notes over at the Register.

The short entry contains fascinating links to related stories.

One just has to shudder.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Danger Room – Wired Blogs

1a. Future: Tiny, and they fly!

Apparently today’s subtext is insectoid.


Unmanned aircraft

The fly’s a spy

Nov 1st 2007 | From The Economist print edition

A new type of flying machine is watching you


JUST below a half-opened garage door a tiny device can be seen at the feet of someone lurking in the shadows. It looks like a blue dragonfly. Then its miniature wings begin to flap as it slips under the door and darts along the street. After rising through the air it stops to hover outside the window of a building several storeys high. There is an opening on the roof, and it slips inside. As it flits from room to room its video-camera “eye” transmits pictures to a screen on a remote-control unit strapped to the wrist of its clandestine operator.

The Onera shown in an artist’s conception above has a six-inch wingspan: a pretty large insect; a very tiny aircraft.

The smallest UAVS are the most intriguing because they will be able to fly in places where it was never thought aircraft could venture. Just how small might these machines be? The REMANTA bug has a total wingspan of less than 15cm (six inches). It flies by flapping its wings a bit like an insect. This means it needs less power than helicopter-type rotors and should be better able to withstand being blown off-course by wind, says Agnès Luc-Bouhali, a member of the project team.

Such a device can fly and be controlled remotely, but it could not yet conduct a mission like that portrayed in Onera’s video. “Today, that is a dream,” admits Ms Luc-Bouhali. But the team is working on it. Miniaturising power sources and sensors, and fitting REMANTA with systems to operate semi-autonomously in order to avoid obstacles such as walls are the main areas of future research and development.

The Economist‘s article is quite extensive, touching on safety issues (air traffic control for flying robots?) and privacy issues (how about a spy craft the size of a real fly?).

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Unmanned aircraft | The fly’s a spy |

Spiders and dragonflies. Frightening, but strangely intriguing also. Yet another instance of science fiction rapidly becoming science fact.

2. Future: Immense

Another entry that day goes to the opposite extreme of the world of military robots.


Video: ‘Forever Drone’ Contest Heats Up

By Sharon Weinberger | April 30, 2008 | 2:58:00 PM

Which company will end up building a drone that can stay aloft for five years? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Aurora for the second phase of its ambitious Vulture program.

Lockheed’s artist’s rendition of their proposed “forever drone” appears at the top of today’s post. These are very large, solar powered aircraft that would be more directly positionable than today’s spy satellites,

The short entry is worth checking out to watch the two videos embedded there. One animates Vulture in a rather generalized way; the other is a promotional tool for Aurora, an interesting variant by BAE and its partners (BAE is the lead vendor behind our arachnid above), showing how such a vehicle would be launched in three sections, the better to maneuver through the thick atmosphere nearest the ground. The modular approach would permit a section to peel off for repair/replacement.

Satellites stay in orbit (and not permanently, entropy causes orbits to gradually decay and give them a finite life, as we are sometimes reminded) usually without much intervention. After all, they are coasting, as it were, although I missed that day in high school Physics that explains why they stay up there as long as they do.

The thought of an aircraft, remotely piloted or not, with its solar fueled electric engines powering it, constantly adjusting to winds aloft and the direction of its solar power source, not to speak of flying over whatever target has been selected that day, and staying aloft in military readiness for five years, is astonishing. What machines of any kind today, much less aviation machines, much less military issue built by the lowest bidder (or so we’re assured) are capable of such sustained performance? The Aurora team may have the right idea with its modular approach.

But, wow!

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Danger Room – Wired Blogs

3. Today: Right sized, but the right thing to do?

The use of today’s arsenal (and make no mistake, they are in daily 24×7 use — consult the link table above) of UAVs and UCAVs (‘C’ for combat, as in, not just spying, but bombing and/or shooting) has a moral component, as William Arkin of the Washington Post reminds us.


Unmanned and Dangerous: The Future U.S. Military?

By William M. Arkin | April 30, 2008; 6:00 AM ET

The controversy over the availability of unmanned reconnaissance and strike drones in Iraq and Afghanistan has become one of those quintessential Washington dramas that plays while Rome burns. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is pushing for more drones to support the troops, while the self-interested Air Force is resisting. The false solution, as I have written, is as simple as more equipment and more money.

Arkin points out that when we send Predators and Global Hawks to do our dirty work while we safely and comfortably sit in hangars in Nevada, we are both prosecuting a war as best we know how, as well as showing the world that we increasingly are unwilling to place at risk our own human capital to do so.

So overall, while drones may saves lives (ours and civilian’s) in the short term, and may be less expensive than other means and may even be a better means to destroy a given target, they carry a long-term risk: If our military future is to be a push button video-game style of warfare, others may see us as heartless automatons bombing the world. The desire to get back at us could increase; the desire to get at the root of the technological system perpetrating the war against them would be paramount.

It is useful to be reminded that the technological advances of remotely controlled military hardware that some of us are so dazzled by, have as their ultimate goal the maiming or outright destruction of a flesh and blood enemy.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Early Warning

This really is not a new issue. Robotic military equipment has been utilized by many countries for many years.

For what are the decidedly low-tech land mines that armies of every level of sophistication (first, second and third world) have so profligately scattered over the years but robotic military hardware?

These mines, produced cheaply and deployed in the millions, have randomly plagued civilian farmers and their children for years after whatever war sparked their use. If the activists on the subject are to be believed, nearly every day someone steps wrong, and someone gets blown up. And no, the U.S. hasn’t signed that convention banning land mine use, either. Ugly.

I suppose that what’s new with this new generation of robotic war materiel is the extreme selectivity to identify targets available with today’s sensors.

Does that make us better than the minelayers?

Maybe just better warriors. Since the end of World War II, morality and war have become ever more contradictory, so that may not be enough.

And the Bush administration has done much to grease that slippery slope.

Perhaps a new administration will take some time to consider the implications of our increasing use of robotics in war. Not to speak of war itself.

Can’t wait.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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6 Responses to mm369: Help! Rescue that droning man!

  1. […] most of our robotic forces are air forces these days, but we keep learning about “spiders” and the like that are meant to assist ground […]

  2. […] is not to say that all military procurement programs are worthless. We continue to be intrigued with UAVs and UCAVs, the unmanned (combat) air vehicles that for a cost of an order of magnitude or two less than a […]

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