US Air Force Zaps Drones in Laser Test

air-force-zaps-drones-in-laser-test
In a recent series of tests at the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, Calif., a trailer-mounted laser was able to knock five unmanned aircraft out of the sky.

The demo, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, was a test of the Mobile Active Targeting Resource for Integrated eXperiments (MATRIX), an experimental system developed by Boeing Directed Energy Systems. According to a company news release, the test showed the ability to take down a hostile unmanned aircraft with a “relatively low laser power” weapon. According to AFRL, MATRIX uses a two and a half kilowatt-class high energy laser.

While ballistic missile defense may get all of the press, some homeland-security experts worry about a more low-tech threat: drone technology. Bill Baker, chief scientist of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate, said in a statement that the shootdowns “validate the use of directed energy to negate potential hostile threats against the homeland.”

It’s not clear, exactly, how the lasers shot down the drones: Whether they disrupted the aircraft controls, or burned a big hole in them. (An AFRL news release said the drones were “acquired, tracked and negated at significant ranges” but offered few additional details.)

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Boeing: We zapped a UAV with a laser


There’s still a lot of blue sky in Boeing’s plans for directed-energy weapons like the Laser Avenger. (Credit: Boeing)

Updated 2:40 p.m. with details on how the laser damaged the UAV and on the Laser Avenger’s targeting system.

Boeing is seeing a glimmer of progress in its work toward fielding laser weapons.

The defense industry giant on Monday said tests of its Laser Avenger system in December marked “the first time a combat vehicle has used a laser to shoot down a UAV,” or unmanned aerial vehicle. In the testing, the Humvee-mounted Laser Avenger located and tracked three small UAVs in flight over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and knocked one of the drone aircraft out of the sky.

Boeing didn’t go into much detail about the shoot-down. In response to a query by CNET News, it did say this much about the strike by the the kilowatt-class laser: “A hole was burned in a critical flight control element of the UAV, rendering the aircraft unflyable.”

While decades of Hollywood imagery may conjure up a vision of a target disintegrating in a sparkle of light, the actual workings of the laser beam are probably more prosaic. For instance, the beam from Boeing’s much, much larger Airborne Laser, which is intended to disable long-range missiles in flight, uses heat to create a weak spot on the skin of the missile, causing it to rupture in flight. Boeing hopes to conduct the first aerial shoot-down test with the much-delayed 747-based Airborne Laser later this year.

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Video: Air Force’s Killer Bugbots Attack

The U.S. military has been working for a while on tiny, buglike drones – to serve as miniature flying spies, Defense Department robot-makers say.

But this video, from the Air Force Research Laboratory, shows that the military is also interested in turning these “Micro Air Vehicles,” or MAVs, into biomorphic weapons that can lie in secret for weeks at a time – and then strike an adversary with lethal accuracy.

“Individual MAVs may perform direct-attack missions,” says the video’s gravelly voiced narrator. “They can be equipped with incapacitation chemicals, combustible payloads or even explosives for precision-targeting capability.”

“Individual MAVs may perform direct-attack missions,” says the video’s gravelly voiced narrator. “They can be equipped with incapacitation chemicals, combustible payloads or even explosives for precision-targeting capability.”

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Pentagon hires British scientist to help build robot soldiers that ‘won’t commit war crimes’

“It sends a cold shiver down my spine. I have worked in artificial intelligence for decades, and the idea of a robot making decisions about human termination is terrifying.”
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The American military is planning to build robot soldiers that will not be able to commit war crimes like their human comrades in arms.


The Pentagon aims to develop ‘ethical’ robot soldiers, unlike the indiscriminate T-800 killers from the Terminator films

The US Army and Navy have both hired experts in the ethics of building machines to prevent the creation of an amoral Terminator-style killing machine that murders indiscriminately.

By 2010 the US will have invested $4 billion in a research programme into “autonomous systems”, the military jargon for robots, on the basis that they would not succumb to fear or the desire for vengeance that afflicts frontline soldiers.

A British robotics expert has been recruited by the US Navy to advise them on building robots that do not violate the Geneva Conventions.

Colin Allen, a scientific philosopher at Indiana University’s has just published a book summarising his views entitled Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “The question they want answered is whether we can build automated weapons that would conform to the laws of war. Can we use ethical theory to help design these machines?”

Pentagon chiefs are concerned by studies of combat stress in Iraq that show high proportions of frontline troops supporting torture and retribution against enemy combatants.

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Pakistan army practises shooting drone aircraft

Pakistani soldiers practised shooting at pilotless “drone” aircraft on Friday, the military said a day after the government lodged a protest with the U.S. ambassador over drone missile strikes in Pakistani territory.

Anti-aircraft guns and short-range surface-to-air missiles were used during the exercise conducted at a desert range near the city of Muzaffargarh in the central Pubjab province.

“The elements of Army Air Defence demonstrated their shooting skills by targeting the drones flying at different altitudes,” the military said in a statement.

Air defence commander Lieutenant-General Ashraf Saleem praised the “precision and agility” of the gunners.

Pakistan is bristling over a series of missile strikes by U.S. drones targeting al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the lawless tribal regions along the Afghan border in recent weeks.

The U.S. forces have carried out more than 20 such drone attacks in the last three months, reflecting U.S. impatience over militants from Pakistan fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and fears that al Qaeda fighters in northwest Pakistan could plan attacks in the West.

A U.S. commando raid on September 3 led to a diplomatic storm, and there has not been any subsequent incursion by ground troops.

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The Rise Of The Droids

August 11, 2008: The U.S. Air Force is, for the first time, converting a fighter wing from manned (F-16) combat aircraft, to unmanned ones (the MQ-9 Reaper.) The conversion, for the 174th Fighter Wing, has been in the works for three years, and the last combat sorties in manned aircraft were flown last week, by members of the 174th serving in Iraq.
The air force has already converted several combat wings to fly Predators which, while armed (with two 107 pound Hellfire missiles), are considered reconnaissance aircraft. The Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, optimized for seeking out and destroying ground targets. Jet powered combat UAVs are in development. It’s only a matter of time before UAVs take over air superiority, strategic bombing and suppression of enemy air defenses duties as well.

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Game Controllers Driving Drones, Nukes

War really is getting more like a video game, as hardware and software from the gaming industry is increasingly being adopted for military use. The latest sign of this appeared at the Farnborough air show this week, where arms-maker Raytheon showed off its new Universal Control System for robotic aicraft. It’s based on the same technology that drives Halo and Splinter Cell:

“Gaming companies have spent millions to develop user-friendly graphic interfaces, so why not put them to work on UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]?” says Mark Bigham, business development director for Raytheon’s tactical intelligence systems. “The video-game industry always will outspend the military on improving human-computer interaction.”

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Armchair pilots striking Afghanistan by remote control


The Air Force’s new unmanned bomber, the “Reaper,” commutes from Nevada to Afghanistan.

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada (CNN)From a desert outpost northwest of Las Vegas, elite fighter pilots journey to a war zone in Afghanistan, some 7,500 miles away.

It might be the world’s longest commute, except that these armchair pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada never leave the air-conditioned comfort of their command center.

Air Force pilots are employing remotely controlled fighter-bomber aircraft — known in military parlance as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs — to fly combat missions over Afghanistan, hunting for insurgents bent on undermining Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s fragile government.

This is the future of aerial combat.

Sitting in a virtual cockpit is not as exciting as flying a fighter jet, but unmanned attack-plane pilots can enjoy a normal workday schedule — more or less.

“Seeing bad guys on the screen and watching them possibly get dispatched, and then going down to the Taco Bell for lunch, it’s kind of surreal,” says Captain Matt Dean.

The original drone was the “Predator,” armed with a pair of Hellfire missiles. It was followed by its bigger and far more lethal cousin, “the Reaper,” which carries four times as much firepower. The Reaper can carry the same bomb load as an F-16 fighter plane, but its pilots are not put in harm’s way.

The Air Force once employed jerry-rigged missiles strapped to unmanned spy planes. Now military commanders see remotely piloted aircraft as the model for the way future wars will be fought.

For over a year, Reapers have been flying two separate round-the-clock patrols over eastern Afghanistan, controlled from the Creech AFB command center, which has been strictly off-limits to the media until now.

Reaper pilots so far this year have launched 64 missiles and dropped seven 500-pound bombs in Afghanistan.

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