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US army seeks new technology to replace GPS

US army seeks new technology to replace GPS

US army seeks new technology to replace GPS


The US army is working to limit its dependence on GPS by developing the next generation of navigation technology, including a tiny autonomous chip, the director of the Pentagon’s research agency said Wednesday.

DARPA, the research group behind a range of spy tech and which helped invent the Internet, was also the driving force behind the creation of the Global Positioning System, director Arati Prabhakar said at a press conference.

“In the 1980s, when GPS satellites started to become widely deployed… it meant carrying an enormous box around on your vehicle,” she said.

“Now it’s got to the point where it’s embedded not just in all our platforms but in many of our weapons,” as well as in many civilian devices, she said.

But “sometimes a capability is so powerful that our reliance on it, in itself, becomes a vulnerability,” she added.

“I think that’s where we are today with GPS.”

Among the fears: the GPS signal could be scrambled by an adversary, as happened recently in South Korea.

Starting in 2010, DARPA has been working on a variety of programs aimed at developing new navigation and positioning technology — at first with the goal of extending their reach to places where satellites don’t work, such as underwater.

But now, amid fears of over-reliance on — and possible vulnerabilities with — global positioning satellites, experts are looking to create not just a companion, but an alternative to GPS.

To that end, researchers at DARPA and the University of Michigan have created a new system that works without satellites to determine position, time and direction, all contained within a eight-cubic-millimeter chip.

The tiny chip holds three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and an atomic clock, which, together, work as an autonomous navigation system.

DARPA envisages using this technology to replace GPS in some contexts, especially in small-caliber ammunition or for monitoring people.

Another approach would use existing signals, such as those generated by broadcast antennas, radios, telephone towers and even lightning to temporarily replace GPS.

Prabhakar emphasized there “will not be a monolithic new solution, it will be a series of technologies to track and fix time and position from external sources.”


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US Sea Radar Tracking N. Korean Threat


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Blue Marlin carrying sea-based x-band radar. T...

Blue Marlin carrying sea-based x-band radar. The heavy lift vessel MV Blue Marlin with its deck cargo of the Sea-Based X-Band Radar enters Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after completing a 15,000-mile journey from Corpus Christi, Texas, on January 9, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


With North Korea’s launch of a mid-range Musudan missile believed to be imminent, a U.S. official confirms that the SBX radar has been deployed to the Pacific to assist with tracking the missile if it is launched.  That tracking could help bring a missile down if needed.

The Sea-Based X-Band Radar looks like a giant golf ball placed atop a platform that resembles a floating oil rig.

It contains a precise long-range radar that is part of the integrated missile-defense system and helps track launched missiles so they can be brought down by missile interceptors.

With North Korea threatening to launch missiles against the United States, the Pentagon reportedly sent the radar system out to sea April 1 from its home port of Pearl Harbor to assist with tracking a potential missile launch.

The next day, Pentagon spokesman George Little denied that was the case, underscoring that the radar had gone to sea as part of previously scheduled sea trials.  ”They’re undergoing semiannual system checks,” Little said. “Decisions about further deployments have not been made to this point.”

A U.S. official now says the SBX is no longer undergoing sea trials and “has been deployed to the Pacific for an operational missile-defense mission.”

“It’s up and running and active,” the official said.

U.S. officials believe that at least one Musudan missile transported to North Korea’s eastern coast last week is ready for launch and has been fueled.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Wednesday that the United States “is fully prepared to deal with any contingency, any action that North Korea may take or any provocation that they may instigate.”

He said the international community has been very clear that North Korea “with its bellicose rhetoric, with its actions, have been skating very close to a dangerous line.”  He said their actions and words “have not helped defuse a combustible situation.”

He urged North Korea to turn down the rhetoric.

U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Sam Locklear told a Senate panel Tuesday that the United States has the capability to intercept a Musudan missile, but that he would not recommend shooting it down if its trajectory did not pose a threat to the United States or its allies in the region.

With a range of more than 2,000 miles, the Musudan cannot reach Hawaii or the U.S. mainland, although it could reach U.S. bases in Okinawa and Guam.

The U.S. Navy has deployed two Aegis destroyers to the region that are equipped with SM-3 missile interceptors that could bring down a North Korean missile.  Both South Korea and Japan have each deployed two similar Aegis destroyers to the waters off the Korean peninsula to provide missile defense.


Boeing unveils updated F/A-XX sixth-gen fighter concept

Sure that the Chinese have all the Boeing designs before hand for their “peaceful” rise.

Boeing unveils updated F/A-XX sixth-gen fighte...

Boeing unveils updated F/A-XX sixth-gen fighter concept (Photo credit: Asitimes)

The Boeing concept also features canards, which is somewhat of a surprise because the motion of those forward mounted control surfaces is generally assumed to compromise a stealth aircraft’s frontal radar cross-section. But the lack of vertical tail surfaces suggests the aircraft would be optimized for all-aspect broadband stealth, which would be needed for operations in the most challenging anti-access/area denial environments.

Also of note in the manned version of the company’s F/A-XX concept is the placement of the cockpit-rearward visibility appears to be restricted without the aid of a sensor apparatus similar to the F-35’s distributed aperture system of six infrared cameras.

The Boeing F/A-XX concept is a response to a USN request for information (RFI) from April 2012 soliciting data for a replacement for the service’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler fleets in the 2030s. The Super Hornet fleet is expected to start reaching the end of the jet’s 9000h useful lifespan during that time period.

“The intent of this research is to solicit industry inputs on candidate solutions for CVN [nuclear-powered aircraft carrier] based aircraft to provide air supremacy with a multi-role strike capability in an anti-access/area denied (A2AD) operational environment,” the navy RFI stated. “Primary missions include, but are not limited to, air warfare (AW), strike warfare (STW), surface warfare (SUW), and close air support (CAS).”

Navy leaders had said at the time that they expect any new F/A-XX design to have greatly increased range and offer far superior kinematic performance compared to existing tactical aircraf


By Sanindu Fonseka

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North Korea puts rockets on standby for US strike


North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on Friday ordered missile units to prepare to strike US mainland and military bases, vowing to “settle accounts” after US stealth bombers flew over South Korea.

The order came after US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, with tensions soaring on the Korean peninsula, said Washington would not be cowed by Pyongyang’s bellicose threats and stood ready to respond to “any eventuality”.

Kim directed his rocket units on standby at an overnight emergency meeting with top army commanders, hours after nuclear-capable US B-2 stealth bombers were deployed in ongoing US joint military drills with South Korea.

In the event of any “reckless” US provocation, North Korean forces should “mercilessly strike the US mainland… military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea”, he was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

While North Korea has no proven ability to conduct such strikes, Kim said: “The time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists.”

The youthful leader argued that the stealth bomber flights went beyond a simple demonstration of force and amounted to a US “ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost”.

Both China and Russia asked for all sides to cooperate to prevent the situation worsening on Friday.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally and biggest trading partner, appealed for calm and said “joint efforts” were needed from all parties to prevent the situation deteriorating further.

Russia urged all sides involved in the standoff to refrain from muscle-flexing, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warning that the flare-up could spiral.

“We can simply see the situation getting out of control, it would spiral down into a vicious circle,” he told reporters at a news conference.

“We believe it is necessary for all not to build up military muscle and not to use the current situation as an excuse to solve certain geopolitical tasks in the region through military means,” he said, calling on all sides to create conditions for the resumption of talks.

A South Korean military official quoted by Yonhap news agency said a “sharp increase” in personnel and vehicle movement had been detected at the North’s mid- and long-range missile sites.

The defence ministry declined to confirm the report, saying only that all strategic sites in the North were under intense South Korean and US surveillance.

The B-2 flights, which followed training runs by B-52 bombers, were part of annual drills between the United States and South Korea, which North Korea each year denounces as rehearsals for war.

Pyongyang has been particularly vocal this time, angered by UN sanctions imposed after its long-range rocket launch in December and the third nuclear test it carried out last month.

Kim’s order formalised steps already taken by the Korean People’s Army (KPA), which put its strategic rocket units at combat-ready status on Tuesday. The following day it cut the last remaining military hotline with South Korea.

Tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers and civilians held a huge rally and march in Pyongyang on Friday, in support of a possible military strike against the United States.

The bulk of the threats emanating from Pyongyang have been dismissed as bluster. North Korea has no confirmed missile capability to reach the US mainland — or indeed Guam or Hawaii in the Pacific.

But Washington has opted to match the threats with its own muscle-flexing.

“We will be prepared — we have to be prepared — to deal with any eventuality,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.

US military intelligence has noted that the North’s warlike rhetoric has not, so far, been matched by any overtly provocative troop build-up.

Analysts warned against reading too much into what is the latest in a long series of incremental rhetorical upgrades

By Sanindu Fonseka

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Balachandran on Sale ?

Another Market Gimmick by Channel 4

A death of a child, no doubt is a reason to mourn. The disturbing image of a bullet-ridden body of a boy and the pictures of him, said to have been taken a few hours before he had fallen dead; the latest pictures extracted from the controversial Channel 4 video “No Fire Zone” to be released has caused much pain to many.

In this document a picture of a 12-year-old boy with bullet holes in his chest can be seen and the director claims that the boy is Balachandran Prabhakaran, the youngest son of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The director is Callum Macrae, a former reporter at Channel 4, now turned director. It is to be noted that the some of this pictures were largely circulated in the internet and most of them have appeared in the previous Channel 4 documentaries.

For many, who have viewed Channel 4’s previous videos, this is heart-rending as a body of a teenage boy is shown. It is good to highlight the killing of a child in a video, but hasn’t ‘Channel 4’ have a ‘reputation’ of releasing fictitious videos?. What are the motives ? What are its interests ? who funds them ? Why at this time? are the questions that begets an answer.

Indian Union External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had said he had seen the pictures and the report on the alleged coldblooded killing of LTTE chief V. Prabakaran’s minor son by the Sri Lankan Army but could not vouch for their authenticity. Mr. Khurshid was asked about the government’s response to the op-ed in The Hindu’s Tuesday edition based on a British documentary featuring the pictures of the killing of Prabakaran’s 12-year-old son, Balachandran. Sri Lanka has dismissed the report as “lies, half-truths and numerous forms of speculation” and suggested such reports make a comeback around this time of the year when Sri Lanka’s human rights situation comes up for appraisal before a United Nation’s committee.

Sri Lankan High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam too responding to the allegations had stated to the media that the photographs had no ‘credibility ‘ and said the photos in the documentary are “morphed” and ‘diabolical’ and deemed that it seems to be motivated for a particular purpose of influencing the debate in the Human Right’s council in the Sri Lanka situation. He added the documentary was the propaganda of LTTE backers and that the Sri Lankan military did not kill Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son. “Prabhakaran’s son could have been killed in crossfire while he was in a little bunker.

Has the Channel 4 team well and truly missed incidents where thousands of little children including new-born babies were killed in cold blood? The video clearly shows that the so-called investigators of Channel 4 have not done their homework and pretend they were not aware of the ground realities in the North working to a hidden agenda. The history of the ruthless LTTE is full of such gruesome killings where children, despite their ethnicity were chopped, smashed and bombed.

Whilst this is not an attempt to justify the purported death of the of the boy shown in the video, but to remind Channel 4 that thousands of Sri Lankan children, who perished even before theyblossomed into their teens, are waiting for justice from Channel 4 to air similar videos of their stories which also need to be heard.

The LTTE massacre of innocent Sinhala villagers to ethnically cleanse the Northcommenced way back in 1984, with the attack on the two farming villages of Kent and Dollar Farms in Mullaitivu.

LTTE terrorists made a killing field of these two villages and armed LTTE terrorists chopped, gunned down and decimated the village killing 33 villagers, majority of whom were women and children at these two farms.

It the LTTE’s second attack on the Sinhala village – Kent Farm, they killed 29 civilians, including women and children.

On August 3, 1990, the LTTE killed over 147 Muslim men and boys of a crowd of over 300 worshippers who were prostrating for ‘Isha’ prayers in the Meer Jumma, Husseinia, Majid-Jul-Noor and Fowzie Mosques in Kattankudi, a Muslim town 140 miles east of Colombo, in Batticaloa where they continuously fired at the worshippers for over 15 minutes.

In June 15, 2006 the LTTE killed 64 innocent civilians including 15 children in twin claymore mine bus attack on a fully packed bus consisting of the sick enroute to the Kebithigollewa hospital.


The Aranthalawa Massacre on June 2, 1987, where 33 Buddhist Monks: 30 of them young novice monks below 15 years, were gunned down and is considered one of the most gruesome and barbaric killings committed by the LTTE. The monks were on a pilgrimage to a temple in the South when the terrorists stopped and ordered the driver to divert the bus into the nearby Aranthalawa jungle. Thereafter the LTTE cadres went on a rampage, attacking the monks with machetes and swords in a macabre and gory manner.

The Anuradhapura massacre in 1985 was the largest massacre; first the LTTE cadres opened fire indiscriminately with automatic weapons killing and wounding many civilians who were waiting for public transport. Thereafter LTTE cadres drove to the Sacred Sri Maha Bodhi Shrine venerated by Buddhist and gunned down nuns, monks and civilians as they prayed inside the Buddhist shrine.

Whilst withdrawing, the LTTE strike force entered the national park of Wilpattu killed another 18 Sinhalese in the forest reserve, and at day’s end 146 innocent Sinhalese men, women and children in Anuradhapura ended being massacred by the LTTE cadres.

LTTE terrorists stormed into village at around 7.30 pm and killed nine Sinhalese including a one-and-a-half-year-old infant and a 11-year-old boy on April 12 2009 just prior to the Sinhalese new year.

In ” Ruthless” – a video released by the Government eye-witness provide accounts of atrocities committed by the ruthless LTTE which indeed are crimes against humanity.

The two badly damaged buses lay between Vellamullivaikkal and Wadduvakkal, in which forcibly conscripted children: wounded and injured were gunned down by the LTTE in May, 2009, to prevent them being witnesses to the plight the LTTE forced them to be as child soldiers, a grim reminder of the of the brutality the LTTE forced on the children in their final battle before their fall.

An eye witness states “The LTTE brought a bus full of wounded boys, girls and elders who had been forcibly thrown into battlefronts. Two days before the LTTE’s annihilation in the waters of the Nandikadal Lagoon, the LTTE leader instructed his subordinates to destroy their battle casualties, who had been ill-trained and conscripted to fight the advancing military might. Ruthless LTTE cadres loaded disabled and wounded cadres into a bus from the makeshift hospital and exploded the buses, not leaving a trace!

Three victims of child conscription narrate the incident of forced abduction from a Catholic church where they sought refuge. “fearing my abduction, my father sent me to the church and he said the LTTE would not abduct children from the church. But I was there only a day, the LTTE stormed the place and abducted the children. Girls and boys ran hither and thither inside the church while the LTTE started shooting us. The LTTE left only one door open and they pulled out the children – one by one. A woman was shot at as she was obstructing the LTTE from taking her child away.

Vignesh “I hid myself and later heard that the LTTE had taken all the children away. When I went to the church later, I only saw women crying and cursing the LTTE for abducting their children”.

Bala was another child who was snatched away by the LTTE while he was at the church along with many other children. “The LTTE took me to Mullivaikkal to fight”.

It is now the responsibility for Channel 4 which brought up the issue of a death of the 12-year-old boy: as a responsible media – to produce a video to show the gruesome killings of thousands of innocent children who too are ‘Balachandran’s’ for whom they seem not cry nor shed tears. Are they children of a lesser God?

How can Channel 4, which boasts of engaging in responsible journalism, miss the heinous crimes committed by the LTTE? What excuse could Channel- 4 give for those innocent Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim children who were executed by the LTTE for over three decades?

Are they aware of the anger and hatreds of Northern civilians, who fought against the forced conscription of their innocent children, by the LTTE and its leadership? Did not the LTTE leaders hide their children from the public as civilians protested against them for safeguarding their children while the LTTE leaders ordering to conscripted other innocent children to fight their cause?

Is not one such child protected with care, Balachandran – Prabhakaran’s son. This is evident even in the Channel 4 documentary where it is shown that the boy was killed with five of the LTTE bodyguards.

Not only civilians even LTTE cadres vehemently criticised the LTTE leaders as their siblings were conscripted during the final months of the end battle.

“Many families in my village lost their small children”, said the ex-LTTE cadre Raju “they assaulted and killed one LTTE policeman who helped civilians, whom they kept as hostages to flee the government controlled areas.civilians whose lives were reduced to zero came to Government controlled areas and cursed Prabhakaran and his family for destroying their lives”.

Channel 4 and the pro-LTTE fronts are still trying to give a fresh breathe of life to the defunct LTTE. Did not the Security Forces save the family members of their leaders – Soosai and Thamilselvan and other prominent LTTE.

What could preclude civilians and ordinary LTTE cadres venting their anger against and even killing the family of the LTTE leader, who destroyed their future with bloodletting for over 30 long years?

Though the spotlight is forced on this 12-year-old boy, how many boys and girls of his age were killed on the orders of Prabhakaran. Did he and his LTTE leaders not send a schoolgirl blow herself to prevent civilians fleeing from LTTE control? There may be numerous such incidents where the LTTE used the innocent children to commit murder and killing for them.

How ethical is it for Channel 4 to allege the killing of Balachandran on government forces who indulged in a humanitarian operation in rescuing over 300,000 Tamils from the terror of the LTTE? Is it not because of the LTTE’s intransigence that the civilians had to undergo such trauma and hardship till they were rescued by the armed forces, did they listen to the voice and pleas of the international community?

If the soldiers intended to kill family members of the LTTE hierarchy, why did they bring the wife and children of Sea Tiger leader Soosai and leader of its Political Wing S.P. Thamilselvan safely to Colombo and then the Government has even taken steps to secure their future. How has Channel 4 slipped up on this positive story in their videos?

It is strange as to how Channel 4 identified the boy in the picture as Prabhakaran’s son and came into a conclusion that he was killed by the Security Forces.

Has Channel 4 marketed ‘Balachandran’ at the behest of others who wish to achieve their ulterior motives, or aroused by pro-LTTE fronts in order to attack the Government at the UN Human Rights Sessions.

Unfortunately, Channel 4 has missed out on this sadness and the plight and the stories of the sons anddaughters of Sirisena or Murugesu or Hakeem, who as ordinary civilians had many dreams for their children. Are they less important? Perhaps thosee innocent children are not marketable like Prabhakaran’s son?

An innocent child, whose killers yet unknown, is on ‘sale’ once again in Channel 4’s latest endeavour ‘No War Zone – the killing fields of Sri Lanka’. The Channel 4 team waits enthusiastically vulture like each year till the UNHRC sessions to release such controversial video to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka.

Human Rights activists will now clamour for action against their allegation in the video, but their silence and duplicity will also be questioned over the many incidents where innocent Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim children were butchered to death. Ironically the question that begets an answer is where was the conscience of these so called independent media when Sri Lanka was under the throes of a war for 30 years.

Now they have suddenly developed a conscience to a few incidents they say happened during the final stages of the war and developed an amnesia to the suffering the civilians underwent over 2 decades due to the tyranny of a despot. The conscience of the so called free media awakens every year only at a given time, and which only tends to open a healing wound. Do they wish for reconcilation? Or is it that they wish to assist the LTTE sympathisers to achieve their goals in a devious manner which they failed to achieve to militarily? Anyway some organisations will market even a dead horse to survive.

By: W M Rajakaruna

From : Defense Ministry of Srilanka

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Whither The Hunter-Killers? USAF Ponders Post-Afghan Glut of Reapers, Predators

English: An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraf...

English: An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft sits in a shelter Oct. 15 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, before a mission. Larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper can carry up to 3,750 pounds of laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A handful of unarmed MQ-1 Predators are flying from a new base in Niamey, Niger. They’re part of the effort to help France tamp down civil war in Mali, but the deployment also says a lot about the future of the U.S. Air Force’s huge and still growing fleet of medium-sized unmanned aircraft.

On the one hand, the work in Mali shows that the signature weapon of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is outlasting that conflict. On the other, the detachment is a tiny fraction of the Predator/Reaper fleet — and just where are the rest of them going to go? It’s a question that has been buzzing around the Pentagon and across the Air Force.

Some 16 months ago, as the U.S. surge in Afghanistan was in full swing, the Air Force was ordered to get to 65 drone combat air patrols. Each CAP represents a UAV on station 24/7 and requires about four aircraft to make happen. Currently, the Air Force has 258 Predators and Reapers staffing 60 CAPs. There are almost 300 Reapers still on order, largely to replace the Predators.

Now the U.S. is drawing its forces down. For many conventional units, the end of war means a return home. F-16s will go back to Aviano or Eglin or Edwards. Infantry units will return to their homes at Fort Drum, Campbell or Bragg. But most of the Air Force’s midsize UAVs have no home bases. They’ve always been deployed.

Could the UAVs be stored in places like Creech, Cannon or Holloman Air Force bases in the U.S., where their pilots operate? That would be tough, experts say. U.S. airspace is mostly closed to large UAVs below 60,000 feet, and Predators and Reapers can’t get that high.

Might Reapers soon be found prowling over Colombia’s jungles or overflying riverine drug routes in Honduras? Or could they go to Pacific Command for the “Pacific Pivot”? Northern Command for Mexican operations? Africa Command? Some say the slow-moving, easily detectable UAVs will be of little use for post-Afghanistan missions. Some say many of the aircraft could even end up at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the land of misfit toys in the Arizona desert called the Boneyard.

Money is another problem. The operation of these CAPs have been funded almost entirely by the overseas contingency operations, the funding pot formerly known as the emergency supplemental. That spending is withering like a drying prune: $159 billion in 2011, $115 billion in 2012 and $88 billion planned for 2013.

And it’s not cheap to fly a Reaper. An hour of air time costs about $8,000, according to a 2012 audit by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Compare that to the $6,000-per-hour tab for an MC-12 Project Liberty, a twin-engine King Air plane flown by a pilot and a co-pilot with a technician and analyst in the back.

Col. Bill Tart, who heads the Air Force’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities Division, says the unmanned aircraft will find both funding and a home.

“If this asset comes out of CENTCOM,” Tart said, “I already have six more combatant commanders that want it.”

Drones are hardly the only ISR assets that have been largely monopolized by Central Command and the Afghan operation. Other combatant command chiefs are eagerly awaiting the drawdown’s “ISR dividend” — their chance to use a roster of U.S. spy planes: the MC-12s, RC-12s, Constant Hawks, even the P-3 variants. But the unmanned fleet is a special case. There are opportunities, but also obstacles — political, financial and technological — at every step.

The Predator and Reaper have done well in Afghanistan, where the U.S. rules the skies. Flying from crowded and strained airfields like Kandahar and Bagram, the Air Force fleet of MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers are each operated by two sets of controllers. The first crew, sitting in trailers right near the airfield, launches the aircraft via line-of-sight antennas. Then, once the unmanned plane is in flight, officers in cubicles back at Creech in Nevada or other bases take over the mission via a satellite link. One officer, the pilot, controls the flight, and the other controller operates “the ball” — running the sensors and aiming laser designator at targets.

But under the Pacific pivot ordered by the Obama administration in 2011, ISR gurus grapple with surveillance in places where the U.S. does not control the skies. The acronym du jour is A2/AD, for anti-access/area denial: the use of advanced weapons to keep U.S. aircraft and warships at bay.

Take North Korea.

“If we fly a Predator over their territory, they may see it as an act of war and they’ll take it down,” said Joe Detrani, a former envoy for talks with Pyongyang, and who oversaw intelligence collection over North Korea when he was at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

U.S. commanders are acutely aware of this.

“We are now shifting to a theater where there’s an adversary out there who’s going to have a vote on whether I have that staring eye over the battlefield 24/7/365,” Gen. Mike Hostage, who leads the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, told a think tank audience last year. “And I’m pretty certain they’re not going to allow that to happen.”

Hostage said in the speech that he has more UAVs than he needs.

“The fleet I’ve built up — and I’m still being prodded to build up to — is not relevant in that new theater,” he said.

A pilot himself, the general told the audience about an incident in which he was tracking a wanted man from the left seat of an MC-12.

“So we’re orbiting this village for about two hours waiting for this one dirtbag we’d been following to emerge,” when he saw an American convoy moving through his area, he said. The convoy was being protected by a helicopter, which spotted the man’s SUV. So we call the helicopter team, tell them to do an orbit. You know, stop, abort their attack.”

He says that prevented a major problem. A UAV, he said, wouldn’t have gotten the job done. Officials with General Atomics, which makes the Predator and Reaper, say they want to ensure that the aircraft can contribute in such areas.

“We are very interested in making sure the MQ-9 stays relevant for the strategic environment, particularly in the Pacific region. Part of that is survivability,” said Chris Pehrson, who directs strategic development for the company. “Making sure it can operate in an A2/AD environment.”

One command that’s been hungry for more ISR assets is Southern Command, which wants more eyes on the drug trade, FARC rebels, Venezuela, Cuba and more.

Retired Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, former SOUTHCOM commander, said the Predators and the Reapers could be used in some places, but in other areas it would be difficult. “Sovereignty in the Latin American countries is a very big issue,” he said. “I think there is the opportunity. It has to be worked on a case-by-case, country-by-country basis.”

Johanna Mendelsohn Forman, scholar in residence at American University, says there’s been considerable interest in unmanned technology in Latin America. She pointed out that at a recent forum of the Union of South American Nations, defense ministers resolved to pursue domestic production of UAVs.

But some experts are skeptical that the U.S. could easily persuade any nations in Latin America to allow overflights by the politically notorious drones returning from Afghanistan.

“It’s hard to imagine a lot of countries where this would fly in Latin America,” said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a progressive think tank. “Certainly the optics of it for the population would be terrible. … Every leftist politician would include it in their speeches.”

The U.S. has already deployed small ScanEagle drones in Colombia. But that led to a small embarrassment in 2009, when FARC guerrillas triumphantly claimed to have shot one down.

Reapers and Predators are in another class entirely because in the psyche of modern times, they are the heart of the targeted killing program. “People think about drone strikes when they think about drones,” Isacson said.

“Big grey drones show up in other people’s countries,” said Capt. Bill Ipock, a Navy officer in SOUTHCOM’s Counterdrug Program, “there’s political aspects to that that you have to take a look at.”

Potentially, the biggest beneficiary of the UAVs’ departure from CENTCOM will be AFRICOM. There have drone operations out of Djibouti, after all, for years, and there have been drone strikes in Somalia. UAVs have also launched out of Seychelles and Ethiopia. In the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress approved $50 million in classified ISR for Operation Observant Compass, the hunt for Joseph Kony of the cultlike Lord’s Resistance Army.

But still, this is all part of a vast continent. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is 3,300 miles away from the action in Mali, which is to say it is of no more use than a base in Italy. Africa’s vast space requires a network of landing strips, and basing issues there are a hornet’s nest. The Trans-Sahel is ringed by Algeria, Morocco, Niger, Chad, Mauritania and Mali — all in a perpetual state of competition.

Still, the command has held its ISR beggar’s bowl out for quite a while.

“AFRICOM receives only about 7 percent of its total intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements,” Gen. David Rodriguez, the new AFRICOM commander, wrote in February remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“AFRICOM has a significantly underserviced ISR requirement,” Tart said.

But he said the basing concerns haven’t been addressed. “There’s not sufficient discussion about basing,” he said. “No one in my office or in many of the area Air Force offices understands that piece yet. So we’ve got some questions into AFRICOM: ‘Tell me what you need and what the requirement is.’ We’ve also asked AFRICOM and SOCOM: ‘What do you see the future of AFRICOM being? Is it one or two large locations? Or is it a number of smaller locations because the distances are so dramatic?’”

For now, the Predators flying from the small airbase in Niamey have a vast area to service. And there is nowhere near the basing required to absorb the hundreds of Reapers coming online.

So far, no Predators or Reapers have showed up at the AMARG, or the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group near Tucson, Ariz.

“I find the concept that they would go to the Boneyard,” Tart said, “as totally unrealistic because of requirements.”


By Sanindu Fonseka