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Almost 1 In 3 US Warplanes Is a Drone 328

Posted by samzenpus
from the skynet-approved dept.
parallel_prankster writes "A recent Congressional Research Service report, titled U.S. Unmanned Aerial Systems, looks at the more-prominent role being played by drones. In 2005, drones made up just 5 percent of the military's aircraft. Today one in three American military aircraft is a drone. The upsides of drones are that they are cheaper and safer — the military spent 92% of the aircraft procurement money on manned aircraft. The downside — they're bandwidth hogs: a single Global Hawk drone requires 500 megabytes per second worth of bandwidth, the report finds, which is 500 percent of the total bandwidth of the entire U.S. military used during the 1991 Gulf War."
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Almost 1 In 3 US Warplanes Is a Drone

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:33AM (#38650496)

    Is this a legitimate comparison?

    I mean, Lego is reportedly [businessweek.com] the world's #1 tire manufacturer, just based on the number of tires it produces, but it's not exactly an automotive powerhouse.

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:38AM (#38650558)

      I'd say it's only a legitimate comparison if drones and manned aircraft were used in comparable roles. Can a single drone take the place of a single manned plane for a given mission? In some cases yes, in other cases you may need 3 drones to take the place of a single fighter jet - especially in combat conditions.

      Sort of like with Legos... how many Lego tires would you need to replace a single Goodyear on a car? Adjust for that and you get a more useful comparison.

      • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:39AM (#38651396)

        I am not sure that any amount of Lego tires would fit onto a full-sized car. People, do not replace your spare with a trunk full of Lego ones.

      • by FhnuZoag (875558) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:42AM (#38651428)
        This is a good point, but then again, you can imagine that in some cases you might need three manned planes to take the place of a drone - for example, in long period monitoring missions where crews would need to take time off to rest.
      • by JSBiff (87824) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @11:04AM (#38651754) Journal

        Actually, the more important question is capability. I mean, I don't really care if it takes 3 drones to do the job of 1 manned aircraft if they can do the same job, and the drones cost less than 1/3 the cost of a manned aircraft. If you have cheap, "disposable" drones, you don't care if they get destroyed by the enemy - no pilot, no casualties.

        The bigger concern is capture - like what happened in Iran. What would be particularly scary is if an enemy can take control of the drone, and either launch weapons at us or our allies, or at a civilian population - could you imagine if a Syria or Iran managed to take control of a U.S. drone and use it to attack protesters? Or a mosque, or a school? They could claim it was the U.S. doing the attack, and further incite hostilities amongst their people and cement their hold on power.

        • by BlueStrat (756137) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @12:18PM (#38652774)

          Actually, the more important question is capability. I mean, I don't really care if it takes 3 drones to do the job of 1 manned aircraft if they can do the same job, and the drones cost less than 1/3 the cost of a manned aircraft. If you have cheap, "disposable" drones, you don't care if they get destroyed by the enemy - no pilot, no casualties.

          Where a drone is of particular usefulness is in situations where your pilots might rebel and refuse to carry out your orders. Like launching a Hellfire or dropping some napalm into a crowd of your own nation's domestic civilian protesters.

          Drones don't refuse to carry out orders or object on moral, humanitarian, or legal grounds. They don't leak mission details to reporters or investigators/prosecutors, even years later. What dictator or ruling elite wouldn't cream themselves over the idea of having a tame "Skynet" do most of the "heavy-lifting" of the suppression, enforcement, and punishment work of controlling a captive population under tyranny?

          Drones (unarmed...for now) are already being used domestically. There are already calls from some in civilian law enforcement for armed drones for use against violent suspects. This is scary stuff. I can imagine only too easily how "mission creep" and incremental expansions in the laws could see widespread domestic civilian LE use of armed military drones in the relatively near future.

          For that matter, seeing what the US government will already do and what lengths they will already go to openly, I would be shocked if there weren't already armed drones being used domestically by the military and/or one of the alphabet agencies, or a "we don't exist" special department that handles the tracking and elimination of "domestic civilian enemies of the state".

          Strat

      • by couchslug (175151) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @11:20AM (#38651958)

        Given their loiter time, drones replace multiple jets and allow using fresh aircrew while keeping one machine on-station.

        They also do NOT require expensive combat search and rescue resources because when they go down their crew aren't IN them.

    • by dwillden (521345)
      Agreed. In fact why don't we talk about a comparison of processor speeds between 1991 and today?
      From some random tech site giving a history of processors:

      June 1991 Intel 486 introduced Clock speed: 50 MHz Number of transistors: 1,200,000

      vs

      Take your pick of quad or eigjt-core processors running at around 3.3 GHz.

      What other useless comparisons can we use?

    • That's surprising. Tires only come in a minority of LEGO kits and pretty much never wear out.

      • by idontgno (624372)

        They do, however, get lost. In profusion. Down air conditioning floor vents, outside in dirt, in the bellies of hungry stupid little doggies, down sink and tub drains, God only knows where.

        I speak from experience, having raised three avid Lego fans to adulthood and in the process of raising three more.... and most of the axles or hubs from any Lego set older than 1 year old are missing the wheels or tires. If you were to build any wheeled vehicle from any of Legos in our house, you'd have to put it up on li

    • by El Torico (732160)
      I've wondered who made tires for the Smart Car.
    • by Pope (17780)

      I mean, Lego is reportedly [businessweek.com] the world's #1 tire manufacturer, just based on the number of tires it produces, but it's not exactly an automotive powerhouse.

      Maybe, all I know is that they're the only ones making Ferraris I can afford! (or were)

  • It needs what??? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DeathToBill (601486) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:34AM (#38650518) Journal

    500MB/s? I just... wow. How? How do you get 1/2 GB/s per drone from the other side of the world? Presumably they don't care about latency!

    • by Spritzer (950539) *
      I'm thinking someone got confused by the 600MHz bandwidth of the SAR/GMTI sensor package.
      • Re:It needs what??? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Spritzer (950539) * on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:50AM (#38650728) Journal
        Some quick searching found this.
        From THIS [irconnect.com] article:

        To demonstrate the concept, Northrop Grumman's test team developed and installed on Global Hawk a new 1.4 terabyte (1500 gigabyte) computer server capable of storing all of the imagery and sensor data recorded during a complete Global Hawk mission.

        With a 42 hour mission time that computes to just under 10MB/s or approximately 80Mb/s bandwidth. That sounds more reasonable.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
      It doesn't get to the other side of the world. Drones are controlled from reasonably close by, and I would suspect they're fairly autonomous during flight. That drone brought down near the Iraq border was downed by spoofing GPS coordinates, telling it it was back at base and should land. Besides, the Global Hawk is a surveillance drone, so I would suspect 500MB/s is downstream.

      Plus, you're forgetting that the military always get the cool toys first. 500MB/s to the user will come to us regular Joe's eventua
      • by arcite (661011)
        There has been no proof that the drone that Iran 'acquired' was brought down by spoofing...
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Besides, the Global Hawk is a surveillance drone, so I would suspect 500MB/s is downstream.

        Most of it is indeed downstream. If you figure one standard definition camera on board, and you want to minimize compression artifacts but use one of the required NATO-approved codecs, you're looking at 12kb to 60kb per frame. When you consider that you need to record full frame rate, again, let us assume 30fps per NTSC (or ATSC's 480p) then you're looking at (1s)(30f)(12kb)=360kbps to (1s)(30f)(60kb)(1800kbps). Now,

      • by afidel (530433)
        No, no they are not. All the USAF drones are controlled from Nevada.
      • by Dan East (318230)

        Drones are controlled from reasonably close by, and I would suspect they're fairly autonomous during flight.

        That's not correct. While there are some types of small autonomous aircraft used directly by troops, most of the drones are piloted from locations in the continental US, like Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

        These remotely controlled planes can hover in the air 24 hours at a time, collecting intelligence or carrying out a strike in Afghanistan.

        But the pilots are thousands of miles away, sitting in front of a bank of computer screens. And that distance, which is the strength of the program, has also created unique challenges.

        http://www.npr.org/2011/11/29/142858358/drone-pilots-the-future-of-aerial-warfare [npr.org]

        • When you say "pilot" you don't mean that in the "control the aircraft directly" sense of the word as, say, a fighter pilot would control a jet. I envision a guy with a laptop typing in commands at a prompt to instruct the aircraft to fly itself to a specific location and perform a specific action autonomously, and report back with the data.
          • by Sockatume (732728)

            Actually, he does mean "control the aircraft directly". UAVs are piloted in real time on a system that wouldn't look particularly alient to a flight sim nut.

          • by JoeRobe (207552)

            I've seen lots of video (here [youtube.com], for example) where it looks like the "pilots" have multiple control sticks and many-paneled displays showing video feed from a UAV. So these "pilots" may have more feedback from the aircraft than an in-plane pilot would.

            Also, people were commenting about the bandwidth - Reaper [wikipedia.org] drones have Raytheon multispectral targeting systems [raytheon.com] that must require a good bit of bandwidth (multiple video feeds at different wavelengths). Also I would imagine that the drone is sending back tons

      • downed by spoofing GPS coordinates

        I doubt that, more likely it simply malfunctioned, if they were that smart, why not just EMP the drone? Or do they did just that?
        • Maybe those DARPA guys have a directional EMP device in the basement somewhere. However, I can't help but think that anything powerful enough to down a craft several thousand feet in the air would cause significant collateral damage, as well as pull the fillings out of the operator's jaw.
      • by sgt scrub (869860)

        Plus, you're forgetting that the military always get the cool toys first. 500MB/s to the user will come to us regular Joe's eventually.

        From whom? Surely not one of the existing ISP's in my area. Oh wait. You probably mean a 500MB cap will come to us regular Joe's. /snark

      • Re:It needs what??? (Score:5, Informative)

        by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:37AM (#38651350)
        Mod my parent post down, please. It's pretty much all factually inaccurate and corrected in responses (which should be modded up). To summarise, USAF drones are controlled from Nevada and not close by, Wikipedia states sensor packages report back 50Mb/s of data to local ground forces, or the operator by satellite, and there is no evidence of the UAV aquired by IraN being downed by GPS spoofing.

        Thanks to those posting corrections.
      • Re:It needs what??? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:49AM (#38651542) Homepage Journal

        Actually only for take off and landings. It is the latency issue that causes them to have local pilots for take off and landings.
        it is funny but I was talking to a friend of mine that worked on drones about two years ago and he told me the same thing.
        Bandwidth is and will be an issue for a long time to come. You only have X amount of spectrum in which to transmit data. That is why AEW aircraft take controllers with them instead of beaming the data back to some command center.
        Bandwidth gets tricky when you get past LOS range and satellites introduce real latency issues.
        Also their is not proof that Iran brought down that drone by spoofing GPS. It is actually very unlikely that they did. Drones use encrypted GPS and it is not very likely that Iran broke the encryption keys. It is far more likely that the drone had a problem and came down.

    • Re:It needs what??? (Score:5, Informative)

      by neyla (2455118) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:48AM (#38650692)

      It's utter bullshit offcourse. Some journalist probably mistook frequency-used for data-transmitted or something along those lines.

      Flight-data (speed, position, velocity, status) is a tiny trickle of data, the only data that are significant is when transmitting live-video, which not all drones do 100% of the time. And even when they do, it's not 500MB/s. Full-HD-video from a blueray-player is on the order of 35 megabit/second, thus 500 MB/s would be the equivalent of streaming around 100 HD-cameras in blueray-quality-video.

      That's not what's happening. The number is bullshit.

      • From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] "The digital sensor data can be transmitted at up to 50 Mbit/s to a ground station in real time, either directly or through a communications satellite link."

        Wish I'd read that before posting my other comment.
      • by Baloroth (2370816)
        The Global Hawk is capable of carrying a 2,000 pound sensor suite. IR, SA radar with moving target indicator, optical, SIGINT, ELINT, and who knows what else. 500MB/s is not unbelievable when you account for all of that.
        • No that's still completely batshit crazy. People in this thread who have done the research are saying it's actually 50mbit which is sensible and believable.

          • by Baloroth (2370816)
            500Mbps [globalsecurity.org] seems to be the original source. However, this source [google.com], which seems considerably more reliable, being written by an expert in the field, states it could be up to 500 megabytes, and points out how a high-res camera can use 75 megabytes to stream. Speculative, but by far the best source I've seen. 50mbit/s is far too low. Even a single truly highres camera (keep in mind these are probably more than HD cameras) can use more than that.
    • by asylumx (881307)
      OP is incorrect, he paraphrased from here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/systems/bandwidth.htm [globalsecurity.org]

      However, he translated 500Mbps (megaBITS per second) to megabytes per second. 500Mbps is actually closer to 62.5MB/s -- still a lot compared to residential bandwidth in the US, but not half a terabyte every second.

      I couldn't tell you why OP didn't copy/paste, he's only a few words off from the original anyway.
      • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @12:00PM (#38652496) Homepage

        However, he translated 500Mbps (megaBITS per second) to megabytes per second. 500Mbps is actually closer to 62.5MB/s -- still a lot compared to residential bandwidth in the US, but not half a terabyte every second.

        So he doesn't know bits from bytes and you don't know giga from tera, but together you're dynamite ;)

  • are bandwidth-hogging drones. Eat your heart out US military.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:42AM (#38650606)
    They ran a piece [pbs.org] last summer tracking down a 1940s drone. It had a new-fangled invention called a TV camera that weighed 100 pounds at that time. The operator had to be in line-of-sight.
  • Video streaming (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This accounts for most of the bandwidth.

    The number in the article is indeed way high... not to say Global Hawk does not have some serious data output.

    I work on NASA"s Global Hawk program, and used to work on many DOD ISR programs.

  • How the hell can the manage 500MB/s? That is an insane amount. We can stream 720p with 5.1 audio over a 5mb/s connection. So what the hell are they using all that bandwidth for?

    Clearly the military needs to invest some money in compression and/or greater automation in these things. 500MB/s should be enough for a wing of UAVs.

    • Re:Bandwidth (Score:4, Insightful)

      by skovnymfe (1671822) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:53AM (#38650764)

      I'm not sure where the submitter gets his 500MB/s from, but as others suggest it's probably 500Mb/s.

      However, you might say 500Mb/s is still a tad much, however I have a good idea why it might be that high.

      First, a drone typically doesn't have just a single camera. It'd be a bit of a waste to get cheap there really, when you can put three or four cameras per drone.

      Second, I can imagine military regulations dictate that judging kill orders based on compressed live images from a shaky drone isn't good enough. Has to be a raw data stream to ensure the best possible information is available.

      These are of course just my thoughts and I don't have any experience or insider knowledge to back them up with.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Breaking News! Modern technology uses more bandwidth than available 20 years ago! Film at 11.

    They're comparing it to the time when 14.4 kbps modems were considered blazingly fast.

  • by Haileri$ (672536) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:44AM (#38650642)
    1. Convert your country to some un-American religion (try not worshipping money or something) 2. Pretend you have $hitloads of oil 3. Run around a lot in the wilderness wearing nothing but Gucci handbags so when they inevitably invade they have to chase you Benny Hill style with drones 4. Once your entire country has been upgraded to a 200 GB/second cloud to handle all the drones flying around fess up that the oil was a myth. 5. Download-pr0n heaven
    • I see only one problem with that plan. By the end of it, you'll have had

      - your country used for everything from getting rid of old bombs by dropping them on you to testing new weapons by dropping them on you

      - some hospital hit by cruise missiles which the USA still claims they hit their intended super-secret bunkers that nobody else ever heard of

      - a few dozen children born with flippers because of all the uranium oxide dust from the depleted uranium ammunitions used. (While DU is actually pretty inert and s

  • by jimicus (737525) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:51AM (#38650734)

    500MB/sec isn't right in a million years.

    Blu-ray uses about 40megaBITS/second, and that includes audio as well as video. So if we were to say a couple of megabits/second for control (which is probably generous); that means each drone sends out the equivalent of over a hundred totally separate high-def video feeds each with 5.1 channel DTS surround sound.

  • Misleading Title (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    aircraft != warplane

  • Asinine comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:55AM (#38650794)

    which is 500 percent of the total bandwidth of the entire U.S. military used during the 1991 Gulf War.

    As a Gulf War vet who worked with the communication network at the time, that "500 percent" metric is pointless. In 1991, we were still playing games on Commodore 64's. Hardly anything in our military inventory was networked, and what little was, was largely special-purpose point-to-point equipment. Is 5x the bandwidth of a pre-internet era war supposed to be impressive? Quick, tell us how much more bandwidth it was than we used in World War 2!

    • Never underestimate the bandwidth of a V2 loaded with reel-to-reel tapes and sent in the general direction of London...
    • by Amouth (879122)

      looks like the record for ww2 for Morse code was 35 words per min.. split the difference (10 min to operate and 35 max) lets use average of ~23wm. 5 letters per word and average 3 bits per letter so 3*5*23= 345 bits per min per operator = 5.75 bps per operator

      for 500MBs = 4,194,304,00 bps

      so 500MBs is equivalent to ~729,444,174 radio operators from WW2.. which happens to be ~66x the number of people drafted for WW2.

      sorry i couldn't find any stat on the number of radio operators active during WW2.. so i

  • Sure hope they aren't on a at&t or Verizon data plan! LOL. The I.T. guy at our office says we use to much bandwith. I sent him this, said we don't use THAT much, so hush ;)
  • Besides 500MB/s being slightly dubious... so what? They're reconnaissance planes, their primary purpose is gathering intelligence. So they're gathering it, at 500MB/s. So their downside is that they're good at what they're doing?
    This would be an issue if we were told "They use 20% of the total available bandwidth for military applications per plane just to stay in air", but I do not believe this to be the case or we would be told that. So what exactly is the downside?

    • by Donwulff (27374)

      Skimming the actual report, the number in there is predictably "500Mbits", it seems to be Wired who got that mixed with megabytes. Still as some earlier posters point out one needs to go no further than Wikipedia to find out that number is still likely off by a magnitude as the real figure seems to be 50Mbps. I assume the 500Mbits figure came from people trying to get funding for more bandwidth, and may be based on theoretical maximum, such as the capability of the link installed on them.
      The report in quest

  • by apcullen (2504324) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @09:59AM (#38650832)
    Am I the only one waiting for our entire fleet of drones to be hacked and turned against us like in battlestar galactica
  • by Big_Breaker (190457) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:06AM (#38650932)

    Global hawk is a high altitude, high resolution surveillance bird. It's like a drone version of the U2. I'm not surprised that it would generate HUGE amounts of data. They aren't spending tens of millions of those things to mount a web cam. Bandwidth for more pedestrian drones like the Reaper should be far lower.

    I think the bandwidth and security solution will be high altitude relay planes/blimps over friendly territory so that signals can be line of sight in the air and then sent down to ground stations in friendly territory. That type of bandwidth is only problematic until it hits a terrestrial wire. At 40-50k feet line of sight is 200 miles to sea level and 400 miles for another high altitude airplane. By contrast geosynchronous orbits are 22,000 miles away and its a round trip. I guess it is possible to use LEO satellites but those are vulnerable in a way that GEO is not.

    Line of sight signals from aircraft could be stronger and therefore harder to jam. Also the angle of the signal would be harder to duplicate and overwhelm from the ground. Also with multiple relay stations you'd have an alternate way to calcuate position like GPS but without the low power satellite constraints. Bonus points for one time pad encrypting the really sensitive stuff like controls. A 120GB SSD is a lot of unbreakable communication.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:19AM (#38651102)

    The Navy uses displacement as a way to assess the "size" of their fleet....

    Just numerically counting 2lb "drones" and comparing them to F-16s is not a terribly interesting statistic.

  • The Downside (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kidcharles (908072) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:20AM (#38651128)

    The downside — they're bandwidth hogs: a single Global Hawk drone requires 500 megabytes per second worth of bandwidth, the report finds, which is 500 percent of the total bandwidth of the entire U.S. military used during the 1991 Gulf War.

    I think the downside is that the drones are used in "secret" CIA wars, routinely kill civilians, have been used by the President for extra-judicial assassination of at least one American citizen, and are increasingly eyed for use in domestic airspace. I'd put their bandwidth usage pretty far down on the list of reasons to be concerned about drones.

  • The 500MB/s is just as accurate at the 1 in 3 figure. In other words, BS.
  • Dumb (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:33AM (#38651310) Homepage Journal

    That's like saying 3 out of 4 military assault vehicles is a jeep.

    Or 3 out of 4 warships are tugboats.

    Of course there are a lot of drones. They're cheap and practically disposable. They're unmanned because they go places where it's too dangerous to send a man.

    God, I would have hoped we'd have more than just 1 in 3 military aircraft being drones. Aren't they the most effective weapon we have? Assuming by "effective" you mean "killing certain people with the least muss and fuss to your own".

    How about this: "The majority of military aircraft are missiles."

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @10:34AM (#38651320)
  • At $150M/plane can we afford a plane designed for yesterday's conflicts? UAVs are getting better and will soon surpass the capabilities of manned vehicles.

    If the US had the F35 for the past 10 years would it have made a difference in the Iraq or Afghan wars? In the next 10 years where do we see it making a difference over the F18, F16, A10 or F15E?

    The lifetime cost of the F35 is estimated at $1T.

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