Indoors or outdoors – but especially indoors – the Pentagon’s newest scout is an autonomous drone

❝ There is little detail in the $1 million contract..The award, from the Army, but through the Pentagon’s brand-new tech-focused “Defense Innovation Unit Experimental” DIUx, is for a nine-month “prototype project in the area of Autonomous Tactical Airborne Drones.” Two other salient features stand out in the little, obligatory blurb attached to the notice. The contract comes from the Naval Special Warfare Command, which mostly oversees Navy SEALs, and the contract was awarded to Shield AI.

❝ What, exactly, will the “Autonomous Tactical Airborne Drones” do? Judging by video from Shield AI, it looks like they’ll fly into unknown airspace, inside of buildings…

❝ The quadcopters, which appear to be modified commercial models with extra sensors attached, are exploring buildings, mapping the insides of spaces, and then transmitting that information back to humans who may soon need to go into that building. That’s useful for fighting in a building, which is a staple task of special warfare units.

And no one in the building, presumably, will notice this critter flying around, eh?

Senators try to block Billion$ U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Four U.S. senators introduced a joint resolution on Thursday seeking to block the U.S. sale of $1.15 billion of Abrams tanks and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia, citing issues including the conflict in Yemen.

The measure was introduced by Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Democrats Chris Murphy and Al Franken, the latest indication of strong disapproval of the deal among some U.S. lawmakers.

The Pentagon announced on Aug. 9 that the State Department has approved the potential sale of more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armored recovery vehicles and other equipment to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which implements foreign arms sales, said that General Dynamics would be the principal contractor for the sale…

“Thousands of civilians are being killed, and terrorist groups inside the country, like al Qaeda and ISIS, are getting stronger. Until the Saudis’ conduct changes, the U.S. should put a pause on further arms sales,” Senator Murphy said in a statement.

And in case you hadn’t noticed…

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered a record US$115 billion in arms, weapons, military equipment and training to Saudi Arabia, according to a report from the Center for International Policy…

The report, due to be released publicly today, said that since Obama started his presidency in 2009, the arms offers were made in 42 separate deals including small arms, ammunition, tanks, missiles and ships.

It did not mention how many deals were accepted by Saudi Arabia, with the majority of equipment not being delivered [yet]. The deal amounts to biggest deal to the Saudi’s of any U.S. administration…

A joint letter signed by 64 members of Congress called for a delay in a controversial tank deal and called “the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen are as reprehensible as they are illegal. The multiple, repeated airstrikes on civilians look like war crimes.”…

The Saudi-led bombing is also believed to be using U.S. cluster munitions, which 119 countries have signed a treaty against their use. The United States and Saudi Arabia have not signed the treaty.

One more example of the historic differences between Republican and Democrat administrations ain’t worth a whole boatload when it comes to foreign policy.

Army has reached $1 billion in energy-saving projects


Click to enlargeUS Army Corps of Engineers

In less than five years, the Army has engaged in 127 energy-saving projects with the private sector that now exceed $1 billion in investments, announced Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning…

The president challenged all federal agencies in December 2011 to partner with companies to save energy. It was called the Energy Savings and Performance-Based Contracting Investments Initiative and the president wanted all of government to execute $4 billion in projects by the end of 2016.

The Army’s projects alone represent 33 percent of all the federal government’s current contributions to meeting the president’s goal…

On our installations, and wherever we maintain and train our force, the Army is focused on finding the sweet spot between energy efficiency and energy security,” he said. The 127 projects have been undertaken at 52 installations.

“This is a case where public policy has worked well,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.

These contracts are important to the Army, she said. Federal agencies like the Army can leverage their utility budgets and take the steps essential to enhancing resiliency, achieving cost savings, and improving operations and maintenance, with no upfront costs to the government, she explained.

The costs of the projects are paid back over time as the Army realizes savings from the improvements…

RTFA for beaucoup details. Especially pleasant – and surprising – to see a chunk of the Pentagon come through with savings of any kind projected over time.

Pentagon research in artificial intelligence moves us closer to robot wars

Human-robot strike teams, autonomous land mines, and covert swarms of minuscule robotic spies: the US Department of Defense’s idea of the future of war seems like a sci-fi movie.

In a report that dreams of new ways to destroy adversaries and protect American assets in equal portions, the DOD’s science research division cements the idea that artificial intelligence and autonomous robotic systems will be a crucial part of the nation’s ongoing defense strategy.

US military already uses a host of robotic systems in the battlefield, from reconnaissance and attack drones to bomb disposal robots. However, these are all remotely-piloted systems, meaning a human has a high level of control over the machine’s actions at all times.

The new DOD report sees tactical advantages from humans and purely self-driven machines working together in the field. In one scenario, a swarm of autonomous drones would flock above a combat zone to jam enemy communications, provide real-time surveillance of the area, and autonomously fire against the enemy.

Might be satisfying to some to presume our robots are only killing their robots. Kind of like believing that hacker techniques are only used by the NSA, FBI, etc., to spy on other folks in other countries.

Wishful thinking.

China’s “Minecraft” military camo


Click to enlarge

On 3 September 2015, China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a fairly stunning display of its military might, parading hundreds armoured fighting vehicles and some 12,000 troops from the normally secretive People’s Liberation Army through Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Many of these vehicles had never appeared in public and a notable theme — one that to many eyes came as a big surprise — was the Army’s use of dramatic ‘digital’ camouflage patterns. The Chinese pageant featured columns of military vehicles covered in pixelated squares, some in shades of green and khaki, others in outlandish schemes of blue, white and black.

The pattern, which resembles the blocky graphics from the computer game Minecraft, is a stark contrast to traditional variegated “organic” camo designs that militaries have employed since the 19th Century — schemes that use blotches of complementary colours to mimic foliage and other natural features. The boldly pixelated camo, which despite some initial reluctance has seen increasing use by military forces around the world, seems counterintuitive; nothing in nature is so rigidly shaped. But it does work, and its vastly improved performance even came as a surprise to the man — a US Army officer — credited with developing it 40 years ago.

“Well when I looked at the data I think my observation was something on the order of ‘holy crap’,” recalled now-retired Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R O’Neill, PhD, when we asked him about early tests of the camo.

In the late 1970s O’Neill suggested to the US Army that square blocks of colour would disguise an armoured fighting vehicle better than large blotches. His idea was to build a pattern that would work no matter how far the vehicle is from the observer. Large patterns work well at long distances, and small patterns are better at close range. But patterns made from small squares, or pixels, can be painted to mimic both. Close up, the small patches mimic natural patterns on the scale of leaves on a tree, but from farther away, the clusters of squares create a macro texture that blends with branches, trees and shadows…

The experiment exceeded expectations, but it took a long time for digital camouflage to catch on…“It really should have come to fruition in the late 70s,” says Guy Cramer, the President and CEO of the fantastically named HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. He is one of the leading designers of modern camouflage…

“…testing continued to show that digital was actually working better, but still you got the armchair quarterbacks, and people who don’t know about camouflage jumping to the assumption that it can’t work, it shouldn’t work, and so it doesn’t work…”

But the low-tech solution of coloured squares, developed in the 1970s, still remains the simplest and most effective form of camo. Both O’Neill and Cramer continue to work on refining it, and we can still see — or should that be not see — vehicles based on the same principles in use today.

Yup. Why pay attention to reality when it conflicts with your beliefs, eh? Obviously, some people, some armies do.

Radioactive waste ready to re-surface with global warming


One of eight nuclear power plants left behind under the ice and snow

In 1951, the United States government made a pact with the Danish government to begin building camps and testing sites throughout Greenland to protect themselves from arctic Soviet attacks.

Camp Century, built 125 miles inland from Greenland’s shores, was built within the ice, housing up to 200 soldiers, testing construction in the arctic, drilling some of the first ice cores and even testing secret nuclear missiles.

But in 1967, Camp Century, and other camps, were decommissioned and closed. All but the nuclear reactor cores were left, to live forever, forgotten beneath the ice. Or so they thought.

A new study published…in the journal Geophysical Research Letters says that we shouldn’t forget about the stuff, some of it toxic and radioactive, because Greenland is melting. The scientists, from York University in Toronto, estimate with a business-as-usual climate model, the site will be melting in the next 75 years. Outside experts say it could be even sooner than that.

…The scientists estimate that there are 53,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 63,000 gallons of waste water and sewage, and unknown amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls and radioactive coolant. While the site is currently under more than 100 feet of snowfall, fallen since the 1960s, the pollutants will not stay hidden forever.

With the pollutions’ reemergence, the study authors believe this could bring up questions of who is accountable for cleaning up the site. The United States built the site, with the Danish government on a Danish territory, which is now under self-rule.

“It’s a new breed of political challenge we have to think about,” lead author and climate and glacier scientist William Colgan said…

If scientists had their way, responsibility would ultimately accrue to those who put dangerous materials in place. The United States government? That’s another story. The bifurcated clown show in Congress will ultimately decide on the budget – if any – for responsible action. Regardless of which party sits in the White House.

Given our nation’s track record, domestic and foreign, for action on radioactive pollution foisted on communities in the name of our “peace-loving” military – I ain’t too hopeful.

Navy ship will be named for Harvey Milk, assassinated Gay Rights leader


AP

In a sign of changing times for the American military, the Navy plans to name a ship for Harvey Milk, the gay rights leader and San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated in 1978.

Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, has notified Congress that he will name a fleet oiler for Mr. Milk, the first openly gay elected official in a major American city…

The move comes five years after President Obama ended the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a move that allowed gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly. Last month, the Pentagon lifted restrictions on transgender people serving openly.

Gay rights activists and friends of Mr. Milk in San Francisco were already celebrating the long-awaited news. In 2012, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling on Mr. Mabus to name a ship for Mr. Milk, who served in the Navy from 1951 to 1955.

Mr. Milk has been the subject of books, movies, a postage stamp and an opera. He was played by Sean Penn in the 2008 movie “Milk,” for which Mr. Penn won an Oscar for best actor. A 1984 documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk,” also won an Academy Award.

RTFA for a part of American history deliberately ignored by bigots, mostly of the Republican persuasion. Harvey Milk stands as a role model exactly like others to be so honored in coming months and years: Sojourner Truth, Earl Warren, Robert Kennedy, Lucy Stone.

Pentagon supports release of Gitmo detainee who wrote bestseller exposing prisoner abuse

A Guantánamo Bay detainee whose memoir recounting abuse by American interrogators became a best-seller last year has been recommended for transfer out of the wartime prison…

The detainee, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, 45, is a Mauritanian and the author of “Guantánamo Diary,” which he wrote by hand at the prison in 2005.

His lawyers fought for years with the government for permission to publish the book. It finally appeared in bookstores in January 2015 — with many redactions — sold briskly, and has since been optioned for a movie.

Mr. Slahi appeared June 2 before a parole-board-like six-agency panel, the Periodic Review Board, that interviews prisoners and reviews their files. It decides whether they are enough of a threat to national security to continue to be detained. In a July 14 decision memo that was recently made public the board determined that Mr. Slahi should be transferred…

Of the 76 detainees remaining at the prison, 31 are recommended for transfer if security conditions can be met in the receiving country.

In a short statement on its “consensus” decision, the board cited Mr. Slahi’s “highly compliant behavior in detention.”

“The board also noted the detainee’s candid responses to the board’s questions, to include recognition of his past activities, clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mind-set,” it said. “Furthermore, the board considered the extensive support network available to the detainee from multiple sources, including strong family connections, and the detainee’s robust and realistic plan for the future.”…

Mr. Slahi studied electrical engineering in Germany and then joined Al Qaeda to help the Afghan anti-Communist resistance in the early 1990s, a time when Osama bin Laden’s mujahedeen fighters were backed by the United States.

He returned to Germany and later crossed paths with one of the accused plotters of the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Slahi was back in Mauritania by the time of those attacks, and he was arrested and sent to Jordan, which later transferred him to the United States.

Mr. Slahi was taken to Guantánamo and in 2003 was subjected to a special interrogation torture approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Slahi wrote of extensive sleep deprivation, beatings, dousings with ice water, and of being shackled for days in a freezing cell. He denied involvement with terrorism and was never charged with a crime.

One more lesson in American hypocrisy the whole world is learning from our self-assigned role as cops of the world. Liberal or conservative in the White House, some things never change.