Monday, June 20, 2011

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Bug! No...It's a DRONE!

The way the world is fighting wars and collecting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance has entered into a new era of sophistication. The drone, the unmanned aircraft, is making it happen.

But what is impacting the new drone technology is size. Because size matters. And when it comes to the drone world, the smaller the size…the better.

And drones are getting smaller and smaller, changing the way governments can spy and kill. Drones the size of birds and insects are on the move. Well…up in the air …is a better way to say it.

Drone prototypes are being designed to replicate the flight of the mechanics of a moth, hawk and other natural beasts of the air are in government labs. These killing and spying machines are designed to camouflage into the background. They are able to “hide in plain sight.”

Some drones just spy. Others are programmed to spy and kill. More airforce personnel are being trained as joysticks and computer pilots now compared to traditional pilots. The Pentagon is estimated to have 7000 aerial drones currently. Congress has been asked for $5 billion for drone research and development for next year.

Currently spy balloons that hover 15,000 feet above can transmit video 20 miles away.

The smallest drone currently in use is a 3 foot long Raven “which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill.” There are 4,800 Ravens in operation, but some are getting lost and marked as AWOL.  This has implemented some serious search and rescue missions to find lost drones, some without success.

Lately, the Raven drone is getting some serious competition in the lab. Recreating flight that mimics insect's “flapping wing” technology is now the hot item in drone research and development. Smaller drones, the size of moths and hummingbirds are in development. These small inventions will be big advancements in the world of stealth and spying.

But the data interpretation from drones still lags behind. Currently the Air Force must process almost 1, 500 hours of video per day which requires round-the-clock techno analysis command. It takes about 19 analysts per drone to interpret the current data stream.

More sophisticated video photography capturing wider footage is estimated to take 2000 analysts to process the data feeds from a drone.

The next time you see a hummingbird, dragonfly, moth or raven, take a closer look. It just might be a drone on a mission or one that has gone AWOL.

War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs
NYT June 19, 2011

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