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United States Robotics Technology

First Robotic Drone Squadron Deployed 772

coondoggie writes with a link to a Network World blog post on the world's first unmanned attack squadron. The US is deploying a full squadron of combat drones to Iraq this week. These armed and remotely controlled robots can be manipulated from on the ground in the field, or via satellite from thousands of miles away. "The MQ-9 Reaper is the Air Force's first hunter-killer unmanned aircraft. It is the big brother to the highly successful and sometimes controversial Predator aircraft, which General Atomics said this week had flown over 300,000 flight hours, with over 80% of that time spent in combat. The company said Predator series aircraft have flown an average of 8,200 hours per month over the past six months while maintaining the highest operational readiness rates in the U.S. military aircraft inventory. The MQ-9 Reaper is twice as fast as the Predator - it has a 900-horsepower turbo-prop engine, compared to the 119-horsepower Predator engine - and can carry far more ordnance - 14 Hellfire missiles as opposed to two."
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First Robotic Drone Squadron Deployed

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:39AM (#19887219)
    In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet funding bill is passed. The system goes on-line on August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn, at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 am, eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. Skynet fights back!
    • I wonder if Arnold Schwarzenegger will trade in his Humvee for one of these...
    • Better yet (Score:4, Funny)

      by Y2KDragon ( 525979 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:51AM (#19888315)
      Klaatu barada nikto!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LifesABeach ( 234436 )
      Cool, these birds are fast and strong. But I was looking beyond Iraq. I am seeing an event, like a Hurricane? Could these same aircraft be used to assess initial damage to a community? Could these same aircraft fly in relief, and supplies to help those in a time of need? But the one thing that I wanted to see happen is if a 7/24 aerial reconnaissance of Black's Beach California posted on the Internet, Live; Now that! Would be a fine use of the president's, "Going It, Alone."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        It's called a helicopter.

        I know what you meant, but since these drones are remotely controller rather than autonomous, I see it more of an additional cost than an asset right now.

        Besides, why invest money in damage assessment aircraft when you have the local news media willing to do it for free? The local news station here on the Alabama Gulf Coast has a helicopter with a very nice pan-zoom camera system.

    • The MQ-9 Reaper is the Air Force's first hunter-killer unmanned aircraft.

      "Did you see this war?"
      "No. I grew up after. In the ruins... starving... hiding from H-K's."
      "Hunter-Killers: patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal."

      "You stay down by day, but at night you can move around. You still have to be careful because the H-Ks use infra-red. But they're not too bright. John taught us ways to dust them. That's when the infiltrators started to appear."

    • Given the number of friendly fire incidents which have occurred with human pilots in Iraq - would we expect Robotic Drone Squadrons to enhance the safety of friendly forces or to erode it?

      And would they be more or less likely to kill enemies? Harder to capture them, I imagine?

      Finally - doesn't seem like the ideal way to win hearts and minds - imagine growing up in a City patrolled by Western death machines?
  • Ok... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RandoX ( 828285 )
    What could possibly go wrong with this?
  • Video game ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RichMan ( 8097 )
    So when will the army release the video game for this to give all those teenagers a head start on the training they need to be a part of the new military?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rockout ( 1039072 )
      It's completely unnecessary for them to do this, as the video game industry has been doing it for them for decades (please note, I'm not anti-video-game; quite the opposite, I make my living partly as a result of programming and playing games as a teenager).

      Who do you think is sitting in those darkened control rooms flying these things NOW?

    • by dpilot ( 134227 )
      Goal is DOWN!

      (I'm sure that's not what you meant, but it seemed fitting.)
  • by dbrecht ( 1111657 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:45AM (#19887309)
    Although automated flight may prevent a crash from pilot error, it introduces "crash" due to a "driver" problem.
  • Robotic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:45AM (#19887313)
    IMHO the term "robotic" implies some kind of autonomy. Don't these drones more qualify as really cool, but terrifying, RC planes?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by icegreentea ( 974342 )
      in general, you can program in overall commands (fly here, patrol here for x amount of time, look for target here, stuff like that). then when you come into actually shooting, then you get the human directly aiming the laser (assuming its a hellfire), and hitting the 'fire' button. though im sure once you get into gps guided bombs onto fixed locations, then it just becomes a human giving the final "blow it up" command.
    • Re:Robotic? (Score:4, Informative)

      by wiggles ( 30088 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:57AM (#19887509)
      Robots don't necessarily need to have any type of autonomy. You can have a robotic arm that requires human control, for example. You can have robotic industrial machines that just repeat the same motions in response to specific input switches. I don't know of any robots that have autonomy to do anything that they're not specifically built to do.

      If anyone is interested, learn to program in ladder logic [wikipedia.org], and you'll understand how industrial machines and robots operate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      my flying a regular RC plane qualifies as TERRIFYING.

      Crashing into cars, ground, trees, other people, animals. Something that is unpredictable and ready to cause direct bodily harm at a moments notice in spite of the operators desires is terrifying.
  • Great, (Score:2, Insightful)

    by InDi0 ( 691823 )
    Now the trail of causality between the killer and the killed is even more blurry...
  • Are there any remote controlled helicopters like this? It seems like they would be more handy for urban combat.
    • Re:Any Helicopters? (Score:4, Informative)

      by icegreentea ( 974342 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:53AM (#19887443)
      yup. us navy has developed the mq-8 fire scout, and its not being used by bunch of branches of us forces. its designed to provide recon, and battlefield awareness to ground forces. im sure that there are others, but from what i remember, the marines and the army have tiny uavs (backpack size) that they can launch by throwing. they got little cameras on them, and can stream video. apparently the guys on the ground love this stuff.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by umjaja96 ( 199715 )
        Here's the details on the MQ-8: http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/app2/q-8. html [designation-systems.net]
  • by Elsapotk421 ( 1097205 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:48AM (#19887367)
    It's a good way to risk lest pilot's lives but in reality how hard would it be to jam communications? I mean Lonestar could do it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )
      Communication is done using MILSAT's ultra-high-frequency burst communications I'm assuming. Extremely hard to both jam and detect who is transmitting when the transmitting is done in hostile areas.
  • The Air Force is developing the ability to operate multiple aircraft from a single ground station, in effect, multiplying the overall combat effectiveness over the battlefield.
    Does this mean they're trying to get one pilot to run multiple drones?

    If so, one pilot per drone please.
    Pilots are cheaper than ($17 mil) drones.
    Pilots are also a lot cheaper than the fallout from any mistakes.
    • "Multiplying combat effectiveness" is military jargon for "it works better than the previous way."

      It's kind of like saying, "this is more proactive, and network-centric."

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mr_musan ( 1075927 )
      >Pilots are also a lot cheaper than the fallout from any mistakes.

      ha-ha fallout from mistakes ?? you mean the us armed forces are responsible for anything ? they don't even adhere to modern warfare practices and try and bully others into letting them out of the world criminal court.
    • Pilots are cheaper than ($17 mil) drones.

      How do you figure that? Would you rather spend money training one pilot and have him or her run three or four drones, or spend money training three or four pilots to run three or four drones?

      I get the comment about it being safer — having one pilot/drone certainly reduces the risk for error, but the comment about cost is pretty far off base.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by zolf13 ( 941799 )
      Training a military pilot is not cheap.
      1) Remove hard physical requirements for pilots 2) Hire Halo players 3) Profit!
  • Old dog, new tricks. (Score:2, Informative)

    by delire ( 809063 )
    Continuing the Great American tradition [commondreams.org] of testing new weaponry on the battle-field. I wonder how many people will be unintenionally harmed in this experiment, this time.

    It's no wonder most humans are terrified of America right now.. and that includes many Americans themselves: they might agree however, that it's better than testing on your own people [rationalrevolution.net].
  • My assessment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:52AM (#19887435) Journal
    The geek in me: Cool!
    The human in me: Why the fuck do we have to spend so much money on killing each other?
    • Re:My assessment (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xeth ( 614132 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:21AM (#19887865) Journal
      Because spending more doesn't always mean killing more. Most of the money the US spends in R&D is into technologies that risk fewer lives, or are less lethal. Tossing a few guys with AKs into a meat-grinder is cheap. Firebombs that leave cities smoking ruins are cheap. Bulletproof vests are expensive. Smart bombs that only destroy limited targets are expensive.
    • by workindev ( 607574 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @12:18PM (#19888731) Homepage
      Of course! Why didn't anybody think of this before? All we have to do is get everybody on the face of the earth to agree with each other and be nice to each other and then we won't have to worry about defending ourselves ever again.

  • by iknownuttin ( 1099999 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:53AM (#19887447)
    I would guess that this would really put some terror into the enemy because their attacker can't die, while they can. They can't terrorize their attacker with roadside bombs or anything. They "kill" it, well, another one just rolls off the assembly line.
    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Yeah, they'll be forced to go back to just killing their own countrymen, just like they always do.
  • I'm looking at pictures of this thing, and I have lots of questions:
    1) Why is there what appears to be a cockpit?
    2) Why is the prop on the back?
    3) What is with the crazy tail wings and fins on the back? They seem to go in all directions.
    4) Is that a camera in the front? Why is it not recessed for aerodynamics?

    Now we know why China wants to build destroying missiles. You can take out the whole attack force by destroying the satellite network.
    • Re:Crazy wings (Score:4, Informative)

      by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:17AM (#19887803)
      1) comms/antenna dome (url:http://science.howstuffworks.com/predator1.ht m) 2) pusher prop planes can be more efficient (eliminate prop wash leads to less drag) 3) V-tail planes use two fins in place of three to reduce drag and weight. Can reduce radar signature in some instances. Original predator used this. But there must have been reason to flip them and add a third fin, keeping some semblance to the original (able to use existing parts and avionics?). 4) same reason camera/laser designators stick out on manned aircraft (including your local news chopper): wider field of view for the swiveling optics. Sometimes it's worth adding a bit of drag if you don't have to fly the aircraft all wonky just to see something.
  • How hard can it be to build miniature (footprint of wheelchair), remote-controlled tanks with a bunch of cameras all around it, lethal and nonlethal armaments, and a big booming microphone so it can bark orders?

    We have been building wheeled robots for longer than we have been building flying robots. Put some on the ground and start saving lives!
  • by AbbyNormal ( 216235 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @10:58AM (#19887525) Homepage
    Google has reported an unprecidented amount of queries for the search term "Sarah Conner" occured today.
  • Wow. Even for the Slashdot crowd that likes to run fast and loose with copyright, that cut-and-paste article summary was pretty bad.

    It's not "fair use" to just fill a slashdot "story" with paragraphs from the story you're linking to. Give us an actual summary, a more informative/in depth article, or don't bother posting your submission at all.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:00AM (#19887551)
    We've been killing people with simple robots for years. Guided weapons, anyone? Fire and forget missiles, torpedoes, they're all simple robots that kill, it's just that they do so after a human pulls the trigger so they seem little different from bullets. Is there anything different about an operator a thousand miles away firing a drone's weapon or the drone engaging a target automatically? It feels different, though one could say that there's not much difference between that and a landmine going off.

    I think the new Star Wars trilogy is massively disappointing so I hesitate to use the term "droid army" but that's still the best phrase I can come up with. What are the moral implications of operating a droid army? In conventional armies, a general who orders his soldiers to massacre civilians could meet with resistance. Even a Chinese Army tank driver balked at the idea of rolling over a protester in Tienanmen Square. Who is there to object in a droid army? The lowest level humans involved would be the support crew. Would they even know what the bots are up to?

    I do think that the decision to go to war will become much easier with droids. What motivates objections to our current Iraq war, dead Americans or dead Iraqis? Would we object any less if it was 0 dead Americans instead of 4,000 and the Iraqi toll was still around 700k? I would like to think we wouldn't but people can be selfish.
  • Holy War (Score:5, Funny)

    by jshriverWVU ( 810740 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:01AM (#19887567)
    I find it funny that people scoff at the war when the enemy calls it a "holy war" yet we bomb them with things called "hellfire".

    *shakes head*

  • Controversial? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:01AM (#19887571) Homepage
    It is the big brother to the highly successful and sometimes controversial Predator aircraft,

    In what way is the Predator aircraft controversial?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Because there isn't a human being up there looking at the target and pulling the trigger. Predators are proxy weapons and there is a concern [time.com] that these weapons are more likely to produce civilian casualties. It's like the debate between robotic versus manned space exploration. You might be saving money, but at the expense of human judgment.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shawnce ( 146129 )
        Humans do the targeting and firing... at no point is human judgement not involved. In fact given that the people doing the targetting/firing/flying aren't under stress of being killed, having to deal with motion of the aircraft, etc. they can spend far more time on making judgement calls about what to target and if/when to fire. Also the drone can stay in harms way much longer and at lower speeds then attack aircraft which gives them more time to target, etc.
  • Humanity won't get together and agree three laws of robotics. The first thing they do when they have enough technology is to turn robots into weapons.

    Stephen Hawkins has been right all the way. We need to move to other planets. This way it will be more difficult to get rid of the whole human species.
  • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:05AM (#19887625)
    I can't believe there's a company called General Atomics - sounds like something out of a bad 1930/40/50's pulp SciFi book.
  • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @11:13AM (#19887729)
    Straight wings, turboprop engine. Wonder how well they'll do against a good shoulder-fired SAM.

    • by TagrenHawk ( 19856 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @12:02PM (#19888481) Homepage
      Flying at 50,000ft (just short of 10 miles!), with a really small engine, it would probably be hard to even hear the aircraft at all, especially in any kind of Urban environment. If you can't hear the aircraft, you don't know it is there. I couldn't find any information on a radar cross section, but I could imagine that it might be hard to target from the ground with a shoulder-mounted SAM.

      For those that have seen Transformers, there is a scene when the Special Ops team calls in fire support and a Predator (or what is supposed to be one) comes over the sand dunes. From what I understand that is NOT how a Predator is used. They stand off a ways and take pictures from a high altitude (25,000ft).

      What I would be really interested in hearing are anecdotal accounts by soldiers/airmen who have been either supported by or used the Predator systems. Assuming, of course, that they are allowed to talk about it.

      Obligatory wikipedia links:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MQ-1_Predator [wikipedia.org] Predator
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MQ-9_Reaper [wikipedia.org] Reaper
    • by hernick ( 63550 ) on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @12:59PM (#19889379)
      They may be a little slow (only 400km/h - 250mph - 220kts), but they can fly pretty high (15km - 50000ft).

      Shoulder-launched SAMs aren't able to intercept targets flying that high. An MQ-9 Reaper is only vulnerable to them during takeoff, landing, or low-altitude operations.

      The best way to kill a high-flying drone is to use another high-flying vehicle carrying air-to-air missiles, ideally a drone. In 2002, the Iraqi Air Force managed to shoot down an MQ-1 Predator with a MiG-25 by shooting an air-to-air missile at it. Still, they risked a life and a very expensive MiG-25 to shoot down a cheap 3.2M$ drone.

      Oh, you could always use a huge SAM with enough power to climb to 50000ft, but you're going to need a big truck to carry it around, and the SAM won't be cheap either.
    • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (gnauhc.mailliw)> on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @01:06PM (#19889483) Homepage
      Reapers will be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. If the enemies there had SAMs, they would be shooting down a lot of Predators already.

      Also, most man-portable SAMs are heat-guided. A Reaper has its engine and exhaust vents on top of the ship and flies at 50,000 ft, so it would be resistant to heat-guided SAMs. It doesn't travel fast enough to heat up the leading winig edges. I bet it's stealthier than you might think.
  • Lagtime? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by griffjon ( 14945 ) <GriffJon&gmail,com> on Tuesday July 17, 2007 @12:24PM (#19888839) Homepage Journal
    What's the lagtime from (a) the I hope really solid crypto guarding the command link and (b) the raw distance between the human sitting in Nevada and the actions of the drone in Iraq? It seems that might have some rather horrific downsides in combat situations?

User hostile.