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?

Boeing gets $2 Billion in bonuses for failed missile defense system

❝ From 2002 through early last year, the Pentagon conducted 11 flight tests of the nation’s homeland missile defense system. The interceptors failed to destroy their targets in six of the 11 tests — a record that has prompted independent experts to conclude the system cannot be relied on to foil a nuclear strike by North Korea or Iran. Yet, as The LA Times reports, over that same time span, Boeing, the Pentagon’s prime contractor, collected nearly $2 billion in performance bonuses for a job well done…

❝ An LA Times investigation by David Willman also found that the criteria for the yearly bonuses were changed at some point to de-emphasize the importance of test results that demonstrate the system’s ability to intercept and destroy incoming warheads.

Early on, Boeing’s contract specified that bonuses would be based primarily on “hit to kill success” in flight tests. In later years, the words “hit to kill” were removed in favor of more generally phrased benchmarks, contract documents show.

❝ L.David Montague, co-chair of a National Academy of Sciences panel that documented shortcomings with GMD, called the $2 billion in bonuses “mind-boggling,” given the system’s performance…

The cumulative total of bonuses paid to Boeing has not been made public before. The Times obtained details about the payments through a lawsuit it filed against the Defense Department under the Freedom of Information Act…

❝ By relying on bonuses, Montague said, the missile agency has effectively told Boeing: “We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’ll decide it together and then you’ve got to work toward maximizing your fee by concentrating on those areas.”

Um, where can I get a job like that?

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.

Pentagon testing Toyota, Ford, trucks for warfare


Pentagon will figure out how to make these cost $300K

No other country in the world spends $600 billion on its military. The Pentagon, giant hub of the most advanced and most expensive war-fighting apparatus ever known, spends a lot of money on new, advanced, and expensive vehicles, from stealth fighters to stealth bombers to bomb-resistant troop carriers to aircraft carriers. Yet what if there was a versatile, flexible weapon of war, used the world over, that combines discretion with horsepower?

Technically, there is, and U.S. Special Operations Command is about to test them out.

SOCOM is ordering Toyota and Ford SUVs and trucks, with options to improve their armor and add-on other features that turn the civilian vehicles into covert military machines. Known collectively as “technicals,” civilian vehicles converted for war use are so common there’s even a Twitter account documenting them under the name “Toyota Wars.”

SOCOM’s current deal is with Ohio’s Battelle Memorial Institute to modify up to “556 vehicles — 396 armored and 160 unarmored” over five years, according to Military Aerospace, for a total payout of up to $170 million. At roughly $300,000 apiece, that makes the vehicles about half the cost of the heavy, IED-resistant MRAP troop carriers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike MRAPs, however, converted trucks have one modest edge: until the shooting starts, they don’t stand out as explicitly military vehicles, which is an advantage special operations forces are likely to use to their advantage.

Leave it to the GOUSA to figure out how to make something terrorists build for peanuts cost more than middle class housing. Small nations – and not-so-small nations roll these things out for less than six figure$ all the time.

But, Uncle Sugar has to come up with designs that suit the number one priority of our military-industrial complex: Big Profits!

Jordan’s Desert Iris – In production for a decade-and-a-half

Only takes Uncle Sam 14 years to notice they stuck the wrong guy in Gitmo

A Guantanamo detainee whom the U.S. says it “probably misidentified” 14 years ago finally got a hearing Thursday on his bid for a transfer.

Abdul Zahir, 44, arrived at Guantanamo in October 2002 after the United States captured him during an Afghanistan raid…U.S. forces were actually targeting another individual named Abdul Bari, which happens to be an alias Zahir used. The U.S. says it believed Bari was involved in chemical and biological weapons production and distribution for al-Qaida.

The supposed chemical or biological agents that U.S. forces seized during the raid turned out to be salt, sugar and petroleum jelly…

Calling Zahir by his internment serial number, an anonymous female voice said he has offered “no actionable information relative to al-Qaida’s weapons network, and we assess that AF-753 was probably misidentified as the individual who had ties to al-Qaida weapons facilitation activities.”…

This only took the meatheads in charge of Gitmo – with Pentagon and Congressional approval – fourteen years to figure out. Wonder how long it will take for the American people to realize we’re being lied to by the real criminals in this reality TV script?

Since Zahir’s October 2002 arrival at Guantanamo, the detainee has sought a hearing “to determine the validity of the claims that the government has made about him,” attorney David Sleigh told the review board…

Had he been given that hearing, it would have become obvious that he does not pose a threat, significant or otherwise, to the security of the United States,” Sleigh told the board…

The Periodic Review Board should issue a final ruling on Zahir within the next few months.

No hurry, eh? It’s just some furriner’s life our government is screwing over.

The Pentagon wages war on transparency, accountability, truth and American taxpayers

…The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.

And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total. As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used. As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting.

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however. The Pentagon is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.

Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the Defense Department believes it has something to hide…

An entrenched bureaucracy is determined not to provide information that might be used to bring its sprawling budget — and so the institution itself — under control. That’s why budgetary deception has become such a standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense.

As corrupt as Congress is, as deliberately deceptive and hypocritical most residents of the White House have been for decades, the Pentagon can give lessons to the world of thieves. RTFA for example after example of crooked deals designed to siphon away taxpayer dollars.

Our military-industrial complex makes the Mafia look like streetcorner gangbangers who just dropped out of high school. They have been stealing for so long, untouched and impervious to oversight, they limit the number of illegitimate zeros added to contracts to how much ink is left in the pen.

No justice yet for the victims of US air strike on hospital in Afghanistan


Carolyn Kaster/AP

Kathleen Thomas grimly recalls the day when a US warplane flew over in Afghanistan and bombed her intensive care unit.

A survivor of the attack – which killed 42 and wounded dozens of others in the northern city of Kunduz – Thomas recounted seeing patients trapped in their hospital beds and engulfed in flames.

“The strikes tore through the outpatients department, which had become a sleeping area for staff. Our colleagues didn’t die peacefully like in the movies,” Thomas said.

“They died painfully, slowly, some of them screaming out for help that never came, alone and terrified, knowing the extent of their own injuries and aware of their impending death. It was a scene of nightmarish horror that will be forever etched in my mind…”

The account is part of Thomas’ public testimony released recently by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The international medical charity operated the hospital in Kunduz that was flattened by a US air strike last October.

Seven months since the deadly attack, survivors and family members of victims have struggled for an elusive justice that may never come. Even though the US government has disciplined more than a dozen personnel, it has still skirted an independent investigation into the air strike, described by MSF as a “war crime”.

…US actions have sowed fears among human rights activists and advocacy groups that the entrenched pattern of bombing hospitals by “mistake” – in the words of the US government – would leave health facilities in conflict zones even more vulnerable.

“We run the risk of getting used to these [unacceptable attacks] when actually our tolerance ratio should be zero,” Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, the permanent representative of Spain to the United Nations, said at a recent policy forum on attacks on healthcare facilities in armed conflict.

“Wars may be inevitable, but there are rules to follow,” Marchesi said. “Respecting international humanitarian law is not only a matter of life and death; it is humanity itself that’s at stake here.”

RTFA if you’re not already familiar with the details of this atrocity. The Pentagon “investigation” is a farce – as you would expect. The history of official government studies of their own war crimes is absurd to begin with.

An independent commission is needed. The power to bring the guilty to justice is a necessity. For once, the United States government must end the perpetual systematic coverups of “accidental” murder of civilians.

Pentagon opposes Republican claims that protecting birds reduces military readiness


Guess this is enough to scare today’s Republican

House Democrats…released letters from Pentagon officials that they said should put an end to “silly speculation” generated by Republicans that protecting a bird known as the greater sage-grouse could hamstring the U.S. military.

They’re hoping the new information persuades lawmakers to oppose a GOP provision in the annual defense policy bill that would block the Obama administration from protecting the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act for 10 years. The measure also would prevent implementation of land-use plans by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conserve the sage-grouse and its habitat.

The letters show those plans are working, don’t interfere with military readiness, and help ensure the sage-grouse does not have to be listed under the act…

GOP lawmakers have argued that…”listing the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act comes at a high cost to military readiness…Our forces are already struggling to meet their training requirements before they deploy. Listing the sage-grouse would clearly impact our training ranges and make an already bad situation worse.”

Apparently Republicans feel the Sage Grouse is as great a danger to our ability to kill and maim civilians around the world as letting gay or lesbian soldiers serve in our military. Considering their uniform experience as chickenhawks in wartime – real or phony in origin – one might think they’d care more about birds.

Pentagon on the way to wasting a historic amount of taxpayer dollar$


May as well give ’em their own printing press for money…

Waste at the Pentagon is nothing new. But recent revelations suggest that it may be reaching historic levels.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction has uncovered scandal after scandal involving U.S. aid to that country, including the creation of private villas for a small number of personnel working for a Pentagon economic development initiative and a series of costly facilities that were never or barely used. An analysis by ProPublica puts the price tag for wasteful and misguided expenditures in Afghanistan at $17 billion, a figure that is higher than the GDP of 80 nations…

It’s not just about Afghanistan, though. Back in the United States, wasteful spending abounds. A Politico report on the Pentagon’s $44 billion Defense Logistics Agency notes that it spent over $7 billion on unneeded equipment. Meanwhile, Congress is doing its part by inserting its own pet projects into the budget, whether or not they are top priorities in terms of defense needs. The most notable example is the F-35 combat aircraft, which at $1.4 trillion over its lifetime is the most expensive weapons project ever undertaken by the Pentagon. Despite the fact that the plane is far from ready for prime time, Congress stuffed 11 additional F-35s into the defense bill that was signed by the president last month…

During the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s, tales of $600 toilet seats and $7,600 coffee makers convinced Congress and the public that the Pentagon had more money than it knew what to do with, and that the time to curb spending had come. But overspending on routine items – such as the Army’s recent expenditure of $8,000 on a gear worth $500 – continues. In fact, because the Pentagon can’t pass an audit, the department doesn’t even know for sure how much it is overpaying on basic items, or how much excess equipment it is purchasing.

The common thread uniting the C-5 scandal of the 1960s, the spare parts scandal of the 1980s and today’s array of wasteful expenditures is that they all came on the heels of major military buildups. When there is too much money to go around and no one is minding the store, spending discipline goes out the window…

What can be done to get the “fat” out of Pentagon spending? For starters, the department needs financial incentives to get its books in order. Members of Congress…have put forward bills designed to press the Pentagon to become audit ready as soon as possible.

But the best management tool is to put the Pentagon on a tighter budget, so it is forced to make some tough choices. No one, hawk or dove, should sit still for the waste of tens of billions of tax dollars. Waste doesn’t defend us. On the contrary, spending too much on the Pentagon just subsidizes bad choices.

It’s time for Congress, the president and the presidential candidates of both parties to speak out about Pentagon waste, and put forward concrete plans for reining it in. Otherwise, our era may have the dubious distinction of being the golden age of Pentagon waste.

Even though I can vote for Bernie or Hillary – one because it’s a good choice, finally – the other because we need at least a centrist defense of the Constitution to protect the rights we’re supposed to have – Bernie’s more likely to come down on the principled side of this question.

In front of most American audiences, the middle ground still plays well. Regardless of material reality. Hillary will stick with historic Liberal Democrat copouts. The kind that brought us everything from VietNam to Iraq.

So be it.

Want a little extra sidebar? Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was a heavy-duty military jock for George W Buch. And has a conscience about it. Read what he has to say.

More evidence of US military burn pits causing soldiers’ illness

Burn-Pits
Click to enlarge

In 2007, shortly after vice-president Joe Biden learned that his eldest son would be deployed to Iraq, the then-presidential hopeful turned to a modest crowd at the Iowa state fair and admitted that he didn’t want Beau to go. “But I tell you what,” he said, his family lined up behind him. “I don’t want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years and so how we leave makes a big difference.”

Beau arrived in Iraq the following year, and spent the next several months serving as a Jag officer at Camp Victory, just outside of the Baghdad airport, and Joint Base Balad, nearly 40 miles north of Baghdad. Though he returned home safely in September 2009, he woke up one day a few months later with an inexplicable headache, numbness in his limbs and paralysis on one side of his body. Beau had suffered a mild stroke. His health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Less than two years later, he died at the age of 46.

Though the underlying cause of Beau’s cancer cannot be confirmed, evidence gathered in a new book out Tuesday suggests a possible link between his illness and service. Based on clusters of similar cases, scientific studies and expert opinions, author Joseph Hickman proposes in The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers that US service members in Iraq and Afghanistan confronted more than one unexpected enemy that followed them home. Many soldiers complain of respiratory issues relating to their burn pit exposure. But others likely developed more life-threatening conditions such as cancers, Hickman contends, because of what the burn pits were built on top of: the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program.

From the moment the US launched its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon ordered the use of open-air burn pits to dispose of the wars’ massive volume of waste. The military relied heavily upon these sprawling ditches, which burned around the clock to consume the tens or even hundreds of tons of junk generated daily. By May 2003, according to Hickman, there were more than 250 burn pits at US bases peppered across the two nations.

The Department of Defense has long recognized that burn pits pose a substantial danger, especially to the environment. Waste management guidance in 1978, for instance, said that solid waste should not be burned in an open pit if an alternative is available, like incinerators. But the department charged ahead anyway and hired contractors like Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) to manage the pits. And up until 2009, the military didn’t have comprehensive standards in place governing what could or could not be burned…

❝“I’ll never forget the smell of burning shit,” said Marcus Hill, a retired US army sergeant who served in Balad between 2004 and 2007. But that was the least of his concerns. Among the other hazardous items service members recall being burned are: petroleum, oil, rubber, tires, plastic, styrofoam, batteries, appliances, electrical equipment, pesticides, aerosol cans, oil, explosives, casings, medical waste and animal and human carcasses. They also used jet fuel to stoke the fire.

These materials converged in a toxic plume that hovered over the base, and seeped into soldiers’ sleeping and working quarters, which were often a mile or less away. “Sometimes the smoke was so dense that you could breath it in and back out again, kind of like smoking a cigar,” said Hill. But for Hill and many others, the hazy cocktail didn’t initially register as a threat. “After being blown up a couple of times, you didn’t complain about stuff like that. It wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “It was part of our mission and we were told not to worry about it.”

As with Agent Orange in VietNam, the Pentagon, military branches and our government alike have maintained a policy of ignoring and disavowing responsibility for the death and destruction not caused by direct assault. That’s more than hypocrisy. It’s a deliberate policy choice. Not at all dissimilar from decisions made to carpet-bomb whole villages, incendiary air raids on cities full of civilians, demonstrate the genocidal potential of nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

We’ve just added the maiming and death of our own forces to the sum of thoughtless murder.