mm426: Blast from the Past! No. 32: Go to war – play videogames

July 1, 2008

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about. It also marks the beginning of an occasional series in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, comprising 10 parts thus far, called “The changing face of military aviation.”

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

9

Go figure! Even our robot forces…

mm326

10

Help! Rescue that droning man!

mm369

lhc250x46_thumb2

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last summer, originally posted September 28, 2007, and originally titled “mm155: Go to war — Play videogames.”

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

Second of an occasional series

With no greater expertise than that of one fascinated with technology, its history, and its future, we embark on an exploration of the future of military aviation, as exemplified by the increasing numbers of remotely piloted aircraft, UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) and UCAVs (… Combat … …).

The impetus was this recent posting about the creative use of the Predator UAV by an enterprising officer, Greg Harbin, who has been lobbying the Pentagon for increased use of a tool that brings the output of surveillance performed by Predator directly to the front line without delay.

I’d been aware of the growing use of robot aircraft for some years. Not because I encounter them in my daily life! Because I have long had an “armchair” interest in aviation. Long years ago, I frequently read Flying magazine, dreaming of one day taking lessons and taking to the air.

Never happened, although my late brother-in-law apparently long harbored a similar dream, which in the years before cancer took him he was finally able to realize, together with his young son, who now is in his senior year in the Air Force ROTC program at a major university, having earned his pilot’s license, and qualified for combat training upon his graduation next spring.

But MUDGE has confined his interest to the armchair, telling himself that real life has superceded idle imagination.

I no longer read Flying, haven’t for decades, since its audience are the doctors and captains of industry who actually do fly themselves around. MUDGE is neither doctor nor captain, and just can’t relate.

Instead many years ago I found an intriguing publication out of England (home of the Economist, best magazine on the planet — what is it about the British?) called Air International.

AI covers the global aviation field, both military and civil, manufacturers and their air force and airline customers, and is sometimes complete to the point of obsession. Some fun, huh? Well MUDGE thinks so.

They’ve had some features through the years about the UAV/UCAV phenomenon, but, I’m thinking, as flyers themselves, the editors must share an ambivalence about the entire topic of robot flying with professional pilots, military especially, who may well believe that they represent the last generation of their kind.

So, I did some independent research, with the assistant of the globe’s favorite research assistant, Google.com.

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm415: Blast from the Past! No. 28

June 19, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

lhc250x46_thumb2

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last summer, originally posted September 15, 2007, and originally titled “U.S. Pilot helped clear the fog of war”.

MUDGE’S Musings

Got to tell you, like most of us, I have long since developed war fatigue. And I’m nowhere near the front. All I seem to be able to do is wring my hands and whimper, “Get our soldiers out of this!”

But, I have a soft spot for technology, and this is a technology story, about Iraq. But of course, wars are fought by women and men. And this is even more a story about a creative and determined man who took on as his mission to sell a particular technology to the command structure.

So we’ll take a look.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm369: Help! Rescue that droning man!

May 4, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

lockheedvulture

The changing face of military aviation

tenth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

9

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm326: Go figure! Even our robot forces are undermanned!

March 23, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© is always intrigued when one of its obsessions interests pops up as news.

Danger Room is a military affairs blog (part of Wired.com) we don’t check into sufficiently often, but today we were rewarded with a new Predator tale.

The changing face of military aviation

ninth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

predatorfromdangerroom

Read the rest of this entry »


mm288: Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling fusion

February 17, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Mark Benjamin, writing in Salon.com, opened our eyes this weekend with an exclusive look inside the U.S. Air Force’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the illuminating article allows this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© to return to an abiding interest, what’s going on up there in the sky?

The changing face of military aviation

eighth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

The videogame theme has struck yr (justifiably) humble svt before. Take a look.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm225: A shared obsession is a most satisfying thing

December 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

seventh in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

Many of the above links refer wholly or in part to UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles. So one might imagine that MUDGE is somewhat taken with the concept, and one would be correct.

But, this is not solely the byproduct of some feverish boyhood-hatched hobbyist daydreaming; this is mainstream, folks. The first link above referenced a fascinating story on UAVs at war that appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Mentioned during the Wright Brothers post that it had been my intention to use Orville and Wilbur as the jumping off point (as it were) for a large scale story we’ve been accumulating regarding this intriguing development — remote controlled aircraft at war. But, that post took off in another direction (aiw), and we hangared the UAV for another day.

Then, casting around this evening for tonight’s topic (last night’s wrote itself — one gets spoiled), I finally arrived at the best magazine on the planet, The Economist whose print edition I confess that I’ve fallen a bit behind in reading.

And there, in their Technology quarterly, a couple of intriguing aircraft stories, including a well written (of course) analysis of the most common UAV, Predator.

Unmanned and dangerous

Dec 6th 2007 | From The Economist print edition

Aviation: Unmanned aerial vehicles are a vital tool of modern warfare. Once-harmless drones are now deadly attack aircraft. Where did the technology come from, and where is it going?

 RNLA

DUSK falls over Baghdad and Kabul, and the Predators take their places in the skies overhead, ready for action. Western soldiers prefer to fight in the dark, when their night-vision gear gives them the advantage over insurgents. They know that with drone aircraft scanning the ground, with unblinking eyes able to see by day or night and radars that can see through cloud, they “own the night”.

For the Predators’ pilots, however, it is still bright daylight. Sitting in cramped metal containers in bases across America, they fly their machines by remote control from thousands of miles away, via satellite links. The video from the drones is gathered in a makeshift operations centre in the Nevada desert and distributed to leaders in the Pentagon and commanders on the ground. In the Predator operations centre, one screen monitors the weather around the Arabian Sea (Predators do not like rain or high winds), another shows the location of each aircraft on a map, and a third projects a mosaic of video images from each plane. One image shows a house under close observation in a palm grove in Iraq; another shows a road being scanned for hidden bombs. A laptop computer system known as Rover allows troops on the ground to watch the footage, and will soon let them mark out targets.

After a useful history of the development of UAVs that begins, of course, in Britain in the 1930s (much inventive military technology either originated or was perfected in England, including that oh-so-American entity the modern aircraft carrier, whose offset deck and steam catapults are English imports), we arrive at Israel in the 1980s.

Ultimately it was Israel, not America, that revived the use of drones in warfare. It had seen at first hand in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war the damage that modern air defences can cause. In the 1982 Lebanon war, the clever use of small Israeli-built UAVs (incorporating technology developed in America’s disappointing programmes) helped win a startling air campaign in which Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries in the Bekaa valley were destroyed and up to 100 Syrian jets shot down against no losses for Israel. In carefully choreographed moves, drones were used to spy on the Syrian defences, fool their radars and gather the electronic intelligence needed to destroy them.

Unlike America, which sought to operate large UAVs at long distances through hostile air space, Israel’s drones operated from its own defended territory, and real-time video was transmitted through short line-of-sight data links. Israeli UAV technology became all the rage in the Pentagon, especially after the American navy lost three aircraft over Lebanon in 1983. Predator is in fact derived from a design devised by a former Israel Aircraft Industries engineer.

Before providing you the link, need to share this wonderful diagram.

predatoreconomist

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

Unmanned and dangerous | Economist.com

As The Economist points out UAV technology is evolving rapidly beyond primitive (in technology terms) Predator, which is tricky to fly, greatly prefers good weather, and gulps down huge swaths of commercial satellite bandwidth.

Such aircraft as Reaper and Global Hawk are already flying, with improved size, payload, range and autonomy (Global Hawk famously flew non-stop US to Australia, and that’s just scratching the surface of its accomplishments — check this out!)

The Wright Brothers started flying kites; now pilots control their high flyers with invisible strings, or just with strings of program code. What an awesome circle this makes, in just over 100 years.

But, what are the flyguys going to do with all that surplus “right stuff” if callow 20 year olds in Nevada perched in front of consoles are doing all the flying and war-winning?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm155: Go to war — Play videogames

September 28, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

First of an occasional series

With no greater expertise than that of one fascinated with technology, its history, and its future, we embark on an exploration of the future of military aviation, as exemplified by the increasing numbers of remotely piloted aircraft, UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) and UCAVs (… Combat … …).

The impetus was this recent posting about the creative use of the Predator UAV by an enterprising officer, Greg Harbin, who has been lobbying the Pentagon for increased use of a tool that brings the output of surveillance performed by Predator directly to the front line without delay.

I’d been aware of the growing use of robot aircraft for some years. Not because I encounter them in my daily life! Because I have long had an “armchair” interest in aviation. Long years ago, I frequently read Flying magazine, dreaming of one day taking lessons and taking to the air.

Never happened, although my late brother-in-law apparently long harbored a similar dream, which in the years before cancer took him he was finally able to realize, together with his young son, who now is in his senior year in the Air Force ROTC program at a major university, having earned his pilot’s license, and qualified for combat training upon his graduation next spring.

But MUDGE has confined his interest to the armchair, telling himself that real life has superceded idle imagination.

I no longer read Flying, haven’t for decades, since its audience are the doctors and captains of industry who actually do fly themselves around. MUDGE is neither doctor nor captain, and just can’t relate.

Instead many years ago I found an intriguing publication out of England (home of the Economist, best magazine on the planet — what is it about the British?) called Air International.

AI covers the global aviation field, both military and civil, manufacturers and their air force and airline customers, and is sometimes complete to the point of obsession. Some fun, huh? Well MUDGE thinks so.

They’ve had some features through the years about the UAV/UCAV phenomenon, but, I’m thinking, as flyers themselves, the editors must share an ambivalence about the entire topic of robot flying with professional pilots, military especially, who may well believe that they represent the last generation of their kind.

So, I did some independent research, with the assistant of the globe’s favorite research assistant, Google.com.

So, let’s get started. Here’s the first Predator, Predator A:

predatora

In Jan 1994 an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) programme to develop a Tier II Medium Altitude Endurance UAV was awarded to General Atomics. General Atomics already had the GNAT-750 series of UAVs flying, and this version was developed to eventually become the Predator A. The Predator A has the same low-wing monoplane design, consisting of a high aspect ratio wing attached to a fairly narrow fuselage and a fully articulated inverted V tail – the vehicle is constructed from carbon-epoxy / Kevlar composites. The fuselage houses both the payload and all the fuel for the vehicle. At the rear of the fuselage is an 80hp four-cylinder Rotax 912UL fuel injected four-stroke engine, driving a 4ft 11in variable pitch pusher propeller. Subsequently, the 912UL engine was replaced by a 113hp Rotax 914 four cylinder four-stroke turbocharged engine. A fixed nose mounted colour TV camera is used for remote piloting and a GPS internal navigation system is also installed. The mission equipment consists of a Northrop Grumman AN/ZPQ-1 Tactical Endurance Synthetic Aperture Radar (TESAR), developed from a system planned for the cancelled A-12 strike aircraft and a Wescam Versatron 14TS Infra Red / Electro-Optical (IR/EO) sensor turret. Line of sight control and transfer of data is accomplished by C and Ku band datalinks. However, the biggest difference in the Predator from the GNAT-750 is the addition of a Ku-band SATCOM link, with the antenna housed in a bulge above the nose.

From the same article, here’s a view of the controllers’ module (one to fly, one to control the payload);

predatorcontrol

Predator B is the much more capable current model, the subject of the Greg Harbin story. Here’s some of what spyflight.co.uk, the source for this section, has to say about Predator B.

The next stage in the Predator development is the Predator B, a much larger and more capable machine. … The biggest difference, apart from the more conventional ‘upward’ V tail, that Predator B has over the Predator A is the increased payload from 450lbs to 475lbs and the ability to take this payload up to 50,000ft for 25hrs if necessary.

predatorb

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

General Atomics Predator

Think about it. Human pilots have life support requirements. An aircraft built to accommodate a pilot and weapons controller: with sufficient stores of oxygen, hydration and nutrition; built strong enough to handle 50,000ft altitude with the necessary pressurization equipment and protection; space to take a break (25-hour flights!) — more likely a second crew with space and stores for them; fuel to carry it all… now you’re talking a pretty big aircraft.

Take the mammals out of the equation, or at least out of the air, and the problem of extended flight at extended altitudes becomes resolvable with a much smaller (read: harder to see/kill) aircraft.

Have to wonder what happens to all the fighter jocks? Maybe they’ll find work, sooner than they thought, flying for the airlines

Pilots of remotely directed aircraft like Predator sit in comfortable chairs, flicking buttons, handling joysticks, watching screens, very much like those heroes of yesterday, and yes, today; those guys with the right stuff.

Except these new age pilots are ON THE GROUND. Often, thousands of miles away from their aircraft, insulated from all danger more immediate than carpal tunnel syndrome.

Anyone remember the movie, The Last Starfighter? Its kookie premise: alien military recruiters find likely candidates among expert shoot ’em up videogame (or the ’80s equivalent) players.

Wonder how the Air Force found the guys who fly Predators out of Nevada?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE