Navy’s robot helicopters will automatically detect pirates

Helicopter drones that have already helped catch cocaine smugglers at sea could soon get much smarter about hunting modern-day pirates. The U.S. Navy plans to upgrade its robotic Fire Scouts with electronic “brains” that are able to automatically recognize small pirate boats spotted through 3D laser imaging.

The Fire Scout drones would bounce millions of laser pulses off distant objects to create a 3D “radar” image of any boats on the high seas — a technology known as LIDAR or LADAR — so that their new software could automatically compare the 3D images to pirate boat profiles on record. A first test is scheduled to take place with seven small boats off the California coast this summer…

U.S. military analysts already suffer from serious information overload on modern battlefields, given the huge amounts of data collected by military sensors and drones. Having smarter robotic helicopters could ease the workload strain for Navy sailors, who must otherwise eyeball the data coming from the new Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) — a sensor mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and the 3D LADAR technology.

That’s the excuse for what may be inadequate oversight and decision-making.

Such LIDAR/LADAR technology has also interested other branches of the U.S. military. U.S. Special Forces helicopters could use LADAR to create 3D maps of the battlefield in bad weather conditions and avoid deadly crashes during attempted landings. The “AlphaDog” robot has also used such technology in early testing as a robotic battlefield mule for U.S. Marines.

Understand that the basis for this research – that no doubt will be returned to once minimal battlefield requirements are satisfied – is picking likely suspects out of a crowd.

When the task comes down to killing or disabling, say, a potential assassin in a crowd greeting a political candidate – you had better hope there’s still someone making the decision to fire. And that the someone has an educated brain.

As for the pirates — go get ’em, tiger!

EU approves attacks on Somali pirates on land as well as at sea


Royal Marines board a pirate skiff after an attack on a Spanish fishing boat
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The European Union has agreed to expand its mission against Somali pirates, by allowing military forces to attack land targets as well as those at sea. In a two-year extension of its mission, EU defence ministers agreed warships could target boats and fuel dumps…

Up to 10 EU naval ships are currently on patrol off the Horn of Africa. They have policed shipping routes and protected humanitarian aid since 2008. The extension means they will stay until at least December 2014.

An EU official said the new mandate would allow warships or helicopters to fire at fuel barrels, boats, trucks or other equipment on beaches…Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters: “The EU plan is to allow attacks on land installations when ships are assaulted at sea,” adding that “much care” would be taken to avoid civilian deaths.

A two-decade war has wrecked Somalia, leaving it without a proper government. The transitional government only controls the capital Mogadishu, while al-Shabab militants, who recently joined with al-Qaeda, hold large swathes of territory.

The EU says the main tasks of the mission are the protection of vessels of the World Food Programme delivering food aid to displaced people in Somalia, and the fight against piracy off the Somali coast…

Brussels also said the Somali government [what there is of it] had told the UN secretary general that it accepted its new offer of collaboration.

You might think the US government or one of our surrogates like NATO might upgrade to this level of backbone.

On one hand, President Obama is trying to appear less than impetuous in the face of Republican electioneering that wants us to remain cops of the world. On the other hand, permission for anything like this might require support from Congress and they aren’t likely to approve anything other than their salaries.

U.S. Commandos take 2 hostages away from Somali pirates

American commandos raced into Somalia early Wednesday and rescued two aid workers, an American woman and a Danish man, after a shootout with Somali pirates who had been holding them captive for months.

The American forces — drawn from the same Navy commando unit that killed Osama bin Laden — swooped in and killed nine pirates before spiriting away the hostages, who were not harmed…

It appeared that President Obama was fully aware of the raid as he was about to give his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, which would have been early Wednesday in Somalia…

In a statement on Wednesday, the president said he authorized the operation on Monday, and he mentioned the American hostage, Jessica Buchanan, by name. “Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our Special Operations forces, yesterday Jessica Buchanan was rescued and she is on her way home. As commander in chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts…”

American officials said Wednesday that the assault team for the hostage-rescue mission drew from the Navy commando unit commonly referred to as Seal Team Six, the Navy’s top-tier counterterrorism organization, which carried out the deadly raid on Bin Laden inside Pakistan. But officials stressed that the rescue mission included personnel from the other armed services as well, and that the commandos themselves were not necessarily the same people who conducted the Bin Laden raid.

Somalia is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world, plagued by pirate gangs and countless militant groups, a lawless nation that has languished for 21 years without a functioning government. Several Westerners have recently been kidnapped, typically for ransom, and it seems that as Somalia’s pirates have a harder time hijacking ships on the high seas because of the beefed up naval efforts, they are increasingly turning to snatching foreigners on land…

Somalia is also considered a no-go zone for conventional American military operations, but it has been the site of several special operations raids, usually to kill wanted terrorism suspects. American forces stage the raids from a constellation of bases ringing Somalia, in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya.

According to local leaders in Galkayo, dark helicopters began circling over the area late Tuesday night. Sometime around 3 a.m., the American commandos landed near a small village called Hiimo Gaabo, south of Galkayo and a firefight erupted.

The commandos freed the hostages, and the helicopters took off. By dawn, after morning prayers, the bodies of the nine pirates killed in the raid were brought back to Hiimo Gaabo…

Bravo! Pirates, gangsters, the lawless need to be treated as outside the law. Bring ’em in for trial if you can. But, around Somalia, hardly anyone cares to waste the time on trials except as miniature agitprop shows illuminating what passes for democracy in the region.

The battle against SOPA comes to the fore at CES 2012

The technology community has made substantial in-roads in efforts to stop SOPA and Protect IP, two bills pending in Congress that would expand the ability of federal law enforcement and rightsholders to police the Internet for violations of intellectual-property laws.

But the fight is far from won. That was the message yesterday at a contentious panel discussion at CES’s Innovation Policy Summit, featuring Congressional staffers along with industry representatives from both Hollywood and the technology community…

As further evidence of momentum against the bill, Ryan Clough described a rancorous SOPA markup session in December that featured over 70 proposed amendments from Republicans and Democrats. The coordinated revolt led House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to abandon plans for quick passage of the bill…

Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, was the sole panelist who supported immediate passage of both bills. The Copyright Alliance…board members include the Motion Picture Association of America; the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; BMI; and three of the largest content distributors–Viacom, Time Warner and NBC Universal…

I cannot define my contempt for political action couched in innocuous names – when they’re solely funded and staffed by folks with a dollar-stake in the outcome. I cannot define it adequately without obscenity.

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200 hostages in Somalia who are not having a Happy Holiday


Pirates on trial in Yemen
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Somali pirates are holding 200 hostages for ransom, the European Union’s anti-piracy mission says.

The EU anti-piracy mission released a statement noting, “There are currently 199 men and one woman held hostage in Somalia following the pirating of their ships in the Indian Ocean and all are being held against their will to be used by criminal gangs as part of a ransom business.”

The EU report said the fate of kidnapped crew members, unless they are high-profile individuals, “is not often considered or reported.”

During the period January-September of this year, Somali pirates attacked 199 ships, a sharp increase from the same period in 2010, when 126 international vessels were assaulted.

Despite the increase in assaults however, the pirates have been less successful, as they only managed to commandeer 24 vessels that were hijacked by the end of October, compared with 35 for the same period in 2010…

First, many of the ships with high value cargos are now hiring trained staff who know their way around heavy calibre firearms. Pirates who have been fired upon are less courageous pirates. Always true.

Second, the time for some relevant body to decide to make a sweep through the Horn of Africa and clean house has come and gone. Most likely in my mind would be Ethiopia – previous holders of the territory a couple of times. Though predictable whines would rise to the heavens – as they have done before – most ordinary citizens of the region would breathe a sigh of relief. And, this time, I think they could stipulate a standing commission from the merchant marine of most companies to establish a permanent coast guard presence.

Aargh! – Pirates win almost 9% in Berlin regional vote

With laptops open like shields against the encroaching cameramen, the young men resembled Peter Pan’s Lost Boys more than Captain Hook’s buccaneers when they were introduced Monday as Berlin’s newest legislators: They are the members of the Pirate Party.

Asked if they were just some chaotic troop of troublemakers, Christopher Lauer, newly voted in as a state lawmaker for the district of Pankow, replied with no lack of confidence, “You ought to wait for the first session in the house of representatives.”

By winning 8.9 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election in this city-state, these political pirates surpassed — blew away, really — every expectation for what was supposed to be a fringe, one-issue party promoting Internet freedom. The Pirates so outstripped expectations that all 15 candidates on their list won seats…

These men in their 20s and 30s, who turned up at the imposing former Prussian state parliament building, some wearing hooded sweatshirts, and one a T-shirt of the comic book hero Captain America, were no longer merely madcap campaigners and gadflies. They had become the people’s elected representatives…

They are absolutely not a joke party,” said Christoph Bieber, a professor of political science at the University of Duisburg-Essen. While there was certainly an element of protest in the unexpectedly large share of the votes the Pirates won, they were filling a real need for voters outside the political mainstream who felt unrepresented. “In the Internet, they have really found an underexploited theme that the other political parties are not dealing with,” Mr. Bieber said.

The state election in Berlin on Sunday was full of surprising results. The pro-business Free Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners in the federal Parliament, crashed and burned, again, receiving less than 2 percent of the vote. That is well below the 5 percent needed to remain in the statehouse. The Green Party continued to build on its recent successes and may well become one of the governing parties in Berlin.

While issues like online privacy and data protection may seem incredibly narrow, even irrelevant, to older voters, for young people who often spend half their waking hours online, much of it on social networking sites where they share their most intimate moments, it is anything but a small issue. And the Pirates’ call for complete transparency in politics resonates powerfully with a generation disillusioned by the American case for war in Iraq and galvanized by WikiLeaks’ promise to put an end to secrecy.

The Pirates’ surprisingly strong showing came as further evidence of voter dissatisfaction in Germany with the established parties, and what many see as their inability to look beyond self-interest and focus instead on the needs of their constituents…

The effort made to build a sustainable Germany after World War 2 included a reliance on democracy long ago subverted in the United States. In almost every state, the deck is thoroughly stacked against a minor party getting on the ballot. And the 2-Party private club owns all the people who administer and regulate the process. Still, these folks are an inspiration.

Of course, the number of articles appearing on radio and TV, in mass media newspapers across the USA – relating the tale of this minority miracle – is less than coverage of the average NFL quarterback developing a hangnail on his throwing hand.

Marines free cargo ship from pirates


USS Dubuque [L], Turkish Frigate TCG Gokceada [Rear], M/V Magellan Star
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

US Marines stormed a pirate-held cargo ship off the Somalia coast, reclaiming control and taking nine prisoners without firing a shot in the first such boarding ride by the international antipiracy flotilla, according to the US Navy.

The mission — using small craft to reach the deck of German-owned vessel as the crew huddled in a safe room below — ranks among the most dramatic high seas confrontations with pirates by the task force created to protect shipping lanes off lawless Somalia.

The crew managed to kill the engines before taking refuge in an panic room-style chamber, leaving the ship adrift and the pirates so frustrated they started damaging equipment after hijacking the vessel on Wednesday

Lt. John Fage, a spokesman at the US Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, described the predawn raid as an “air and sea” assault that included Cobra attack helicopters for surveillance and co-ordination.

It was the first boarding raid since the multinational task force was formed in January 2009 to patrol off the Horn of Africa, said US Navy Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost in Bahrain…

“The pirates had entered a ship that they couldn’t steer and there was no crew,” he said.

The pirates then hit an emergency button that connected them directly with the ship operators in Germany.

“They asked us where the crew is,” he said. “We told them, ‘They’re on leave.”’

Har!

The idiots were so pissed off they couldn’t steal the ship, they began vandalizing it. The ship is now on the way to DuBai for repairs. I pirates are on the way to jail.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/piracy/7992953/US-Marines-storm-pirate-held-cargo-ship.html

Holland supplying submarine to hunt pirates

The Netherlands has agreed to a Nato request to deploy a submarine off the coast of Somalia to combat piracy…

It will be used for reconnaissance in the vast area from the Gulf of Aden deep into the Indian Ocean where Somali pirates have been hijacking commercial vessels for ransom…

The EU has an anti-piracy mission in the same region, Navfor, which is also tasked with protecting World Food Programme ships carrying food aid to Somalia.

Pirates have in the past succeeded in collecting multi-million-dollar ransoms and the head of the Navfor says there has been an upsurge in attacks recently after a period of relative calm…

With warships patrolling along the Somali coast, the pirates have started to operate further away and have even staged some attacks across the Indian Ocean, closer to India than Somalia.

Efforts to fight piracy are complicated by the lack of a functioning central government in Somalia and the lack of an international legal system for people accused of piracy. It is up to individual governments to put suspected pirates on trial if they are captured.

Last week a Dutch court sentenced five Somali men to five years in prison for attacking a Dutch Antilles-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden last year, in the first such case to come to trial in Europe.

I know they wouldn’t waste anything as expensive as a torpedo on gangbangers like this; but, I’m confident that what passes for small arms on a modern submarine will be used – if needed.

Hopefully, surrender will be the order of the day and pirate skiffs will be scuttled, RPGs and long guns confiscated.

These clowns are dumb enough to attack a military vessel every now and then. I wonder if anyone ever told them about submarines?

Modern high-tech navies take on Somalia’s pirates


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

How do you tell the difference between a Somali pirate in a small boat and a largely identical but innocent fisherman? It all comes down to the ladders.

Pirates often take fishing gear out with them into the deep waters of the Indian Ocean to help feed themselves, and fishermen from the lawless country often carry AK-47s for self protection. Grappling hooks can be easily hidden out of sight.

But if naval officers see a small boat with long metal ladders lashed to the deck, they say they know for sure the occupants have set to sea with only one thing in mind…

You can see the giveaway signs that this is a pirate gathering,” says Andreas Kutsch, a German naval officer working as an assistant chief of staff for the EU’s anti-piracy task force, using a laser pointer to show the ladders among the brightly colored plastic containers for spare fuel and water. “Fishermen don’t need ladders…”

On any given day, the United States estimates that some 30 to 40 warships are involved in counter piracy efforts from the EU, NATO and the United States as well as emerging Indian Ocean players China, Russia, India, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan…

There is no overall commander although the navies meet once a month in Bahrain and coordinate through an Internet chat room…

RTFA. Lots of details. Many avenues of interest and discussion.

Poisonally, I’m glad to see any modern navy doing something useful. Yes, I realize the political arrivals and departures from harbors foreign to the flag of a military vessel does some good. But, it’s nice to see productive use of hardware that, after all, is designed to interdict global lawbreakers.