Monday, July 2, 2012

The Drone Warfare

The Drone Warfare

I got into a couple of weeks back on the subject of modern combat and the use of drones - or for that matter, the whole notion that drones are not any better for the mental health of our troops. It really doesn't help with a lower amount of PTSD cases and if anything, it sort of offers a slight disconnect on having on the ground reaction.

Besides, on a infrared camera, a group of civilians going to church also look like a terrorist cel. In any instance, here's a long read, but a worthy read about this whole drone mess and why we really shouldn't be proud of using these goddamn machines.

Combat commuters: dishing out death with drones

Ten minutes into Lieutenant Colonel Matt J. Martin's first mission as a Predator drone pilot, he marked a target in Baghdad for a "Spooky" gunship.
And then it opened fire.

"Death from above. Poor bastards down there in the windows never knew what hit them," he wrote in a 2010 book.

As he stood up to stretch in a trailer at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, he remembered that his wife had asked him to buy some milk on his way home.
Lieutenant Colonel Martin was one of the US military's first "combat commuters". These virtual top guns serve on the frontline of the United States' international military operations - but from trailers in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Drone (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)) pilots are centre to the foreign policy objectives of the US President, with Barack Obama personally signing off the use of drone strikes to take out terrorists*.

'Long distance warriors'

so who are these pilots who carry out the President's commands?

On the surface, their lives aren't that different from the average office worker.

"[We] commute to work in rush-hour traffic, slip into a seat in front of a bank of computers, 'fly' a warplane to shoot missiles at an enemy thousands of miles away, and then pick up the kids from school or a gallon of milk at the grocery store in his way home for dinner," wrote Lieutenant Colonel Martin in the book Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot's Story about his time flying drone missions over Iraq and Afghanistan

"Sometimes I felt like God hurling thunderbolts from afar."

Associate Professor Missy Cummings, one of the US Air Force's first female fighter pilots and an expert on these "long-distance warriors", told their experiences were "surreal at best"

"When I used to fly missions, you would come back and you would be in that environment 24/7.

"In the UAV missions, you might fly these missions and you might launch weapons and kill someone and there is a debriefing that you go through ... But you are home much sooner than you would [usually] be."

Drone pilots mostly operate out of Air Force and Army bases in the US - and also from the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters at Langley, Virginia.

They are briefed about their missions, then sit together with a sensor operator - who operates the drone cameras - for a 12-hour shift, watching a multitude of screens and holding joysticks modelled after PlayStation controllers**.

Most of the time, they are monitoring targets or compounds. But sometimes, they also take out targets.

In the early days of the program in the mid-2000s, all pilots previously flew fighters or bombers. But as the demand for drones grew exponentially, there weren't enough existing combat pilots to fill the roles***, Associate Professor Cummings said.

To meet the need, the Air Force began to roll out a new recruitment and training program tailored for UAV pilots.

The Air Force now trains more drone pilots than F-16 pilots and expect their numbers to hit 1100 in the next year or two, Air Force Magazine reported.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

But the constant demand for more drone missions has taken a toll on the overstretched pilots. An Air Force study found that just under one-third of active duty drone pilots reported symptoms of burnout and 17 per cent of them reported "clinical distress" - the point when their work and personal lives are affected by stress, Reuters reported.

Their main source of stress was long hours and lack of staff. Combat stress was another issue. Some pilots experienced "existential conflict", a "guilt feeling, perhaps - or a 'Did I make the right decision? Was this a friendly fire incident? Was it a good outcome? Was it a bad outcome? Could I have done it better?'" Colondel Hernando Ortega, a surgeon for the Air Force's Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency,

"We have guys who have not deployed anywhere and yet can still have combat effects of distance places." The long hours watching screens has also thrown up another potential problem - boredom. "You can watch a wall of screens and nothing will be happening. You could be waiting for something to move. Waiting, waiting, waiting. So it can actually be excruciatingly boring," said Associate Professor Cummings.
So in the first world a work-life balance is key. That's why I choose to fly a drone. I can take out a wedding and still be off in time for my 4:30 happy hour. But hey if it feels so bad to kill towel heads as a pilot of these things, then perhaps you should stop doing that job. But hey, your average day consist of blowing up twenty people, gotta pay the bills somehow, right?

Just a heads up, the article said it was USAF and army, the navy also does the drone thing. So yeah, this is just fucking sick. Even more so is that Obama did a thing where any Arab male of any age is to be considered an "enemy combatants".

But hey, at least it gets rid of that pesky PTSD, right.... oh

How to Prevent Drone Pilot PTSD - Blame the 'Bot

The human operators who control America’s killer drones are susceptible to the same psychological stress that infantrymen sometimes experience after combat. But better drones and control systems could help reduce the controllers’ stress levels — by allowing the people to blame the robots for the awful human cost of remote air strikes.

But there’s a downside. Sometimes you don’t want drone operators avoiding feelings of guilt.

At least that’s what Stanford University researcher Ryan Calo has concluded. Calo, one of the country’s top experts on the legal and ethical aspects of robot technology, has written extensively on the subject — and closely tracks the work of other researchers in his field. “It really matters how you design the controls,” Calo tells Danger Room. “Design and interface design … can change incentives and can change the psychological impact.”

When a missile gets fired or a bomb dropped — something that’s happened hundreds of times in America’s fast-expanding robotic air war — someone or something is going to get blamed for any resulting deaths. The question is whether a human being absorbs all of that culpability, which can mean an enormous emotional burden.

For drone operators, many of whom live in the U.S. and steer their armed drones via satellite from air-conditioned trailers, combat stress can be accentuated by the contrast between their jobs and their otherwise peaceful surroundings. “You shoot a missile, you kill a handful of people,” Missy Cummings, an MIT drone developer and former pilot, told Salon. “And then — this is what is strange — you go home. Your shift is over.”

When you fight in a war without living in a combat zone, “it’s harder to keep it in perspective,” Cummings said.

The question is who shoulders the feelings of guilt and remorse that can result from even justified drone strikes that kill only enemy combatants, Calo says. “People feel more, or less, responsible for tasks they perform, depending on whether or not [the tasks] happened to them virtually or physically.”

In other words, the more operators can offload their feelings onto the robots, the better they’ll feel. The problem with today’s Predator and Reaper drones and their standard ground control stations is that the stations don’t give the human controllers a chance to shift feelings of responsibility onto the ‘bots.

Blah blah blah. The rest of the article is pretty fucking boring and I realize it has details, but it's all sounding the same. In short, this is all about having responsibility free war. War is yuk, we all know it. That's why people respect the troops, they have to do some crazy shit and you really don't want that job, do you? They have to be places they don't want to be - on the other hand, a drone can kill a guy in Kabul from Langley while the pilot drinks a coffee, he's probably got ESPN on in the background and sees his pals after work for a beer. Should this guy give a fuck? Nah, it's just a day job, he probably wants to be a writer.. a romance novel writer.

And really, that's part of the problem. Drones stand to change a lot of what war is going to be like. All thanks to the greatest Nobel Peace Prize winning President we have. Drones are awesome for a president because no one gets killed except for "bad people" and I dare you to prove they weren't bad people... you know, from their dental records or something.

But these drones take out a lot more -- such as the bad people at the ruin of a wedding ceremony trying to help the survivors of the drone attack that took place 15 minutes prior. Imagine, if you could have wars in 10 countries at once and everyone's still buying their cornflakes and seeing their dads. Now that's the America most want to live in... that most want to believe in.

One day we might have a drone-from-home system. Log in and fly your drone, it's worth 15 bucks an hour! Just point and click, it's like a game that helps your country -- even if you can't kill hookers and steal cars with it.

You just have to wonder what their weakness is. I mean, seriously though, would these things be any more susceptible to cyber warfare? I know there was a situation where a bunch of drones got a computer virus and that's the sort of shit that you could write on a computer from home without much special gear, but are they safe even with this potential of hacking into a drone?

I mean, a drone is considerably more sophisticated, but I suppose it should be possible for a nation with access to decent technology to jam the communications between the drone and the control center. Although I assume these things have automatic piloting programs so it would just probably go around in circles and head back home.

Then again, I'm fooling myself into thinking that the US will ever be the aggressor against an actual nation with actual technology instead of essentially picking on random groups of people inside a given area that have the latest technology that is a little more than rocks and stones.

But hey, maybe they could just target ID via google face recognition. Only you'd have to do a quick openbook for "OMG GETTING MARRIED TODAY SOOOOO EXCITED" before the drone emits whoops and beeps and deploys hellfire missiles on those poor bastards.

But hey, why does the war have to have all the fun? How about our police officers joining in on some of that action?
American police officers may soon be able to use unmanned aircraft not only for surveillance, but also for offensive action. The drones may be equipped to fire rubber rounds and tear gas.

“Those are things that law enforcement utilizes day in and day out, and in certain situations it might be advantageous to have this type of system on the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle),” Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas told The Daily news app as he outlined the possible development.

The US military and CIA have used drones armed with lethal weapons to target militants overseas for years. The prospect of having “lite” versions of those remotely controlled killer-machines circling over America gave some second thoughts to rights groups.

“It’s simply not appropriate to use any force, lethal or non-lethal, on a drone,” Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told CBSDC.

She explained that an officer operating an armed drone from afar would simply not have the same understanding of a situation that an officer on location would have. So judgment on the use of force would be limited by this narrowness of observation.

“An officer at a remote location far away does not have the same level of access,” she explained.

ACLU is also worried about the general atmosphere of pervasive surveillance that may engulf America as the use of drone technology becomes wider.
“We don’t need a situation where Americans feel there is an invisible eye in the sky,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at ACLU.

“The prospect of people out in public being Tased or targeted by force by flying drones where no officer is physically present on the scene,” Crump added, “raises the prospect of unconstitutional force being used on individuals.”

There are other potential threats of a wide fleet of armed drones operating in a country. For instance, their communication is not tamper-proof, as the recent downing of an American spy drone by Iran showed. So malignant hackers may take over control of a police UAV and use it for nefarious ends.

The US Federal Aviation Administration allowed several public safety agencies to use drones domestically with fewer restrictions last week. UAVs weighting up to 11.3 kilos can now be operated by police, fire and similar departments without special approval.

The step moves forward a campaign for broader use of drones in America, which was launched by Congress in mid-February.
I, for one, welcome our new police drone overlords. Now all America needs to do is invest in their opponents' armies so that they can have their own drones, and we can just have drone vs drone combat during the day and then put down our controllers at night. One big happy international community.

What I really wonder about in all this is how much Pentagon money is going out to all those tech magazines and websites to run those stories and videos lately with non-combat drones trying to get nerds to accept the technology as neutral and useful to civilians.

This Simpsons quote really rings true;

"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today, remember always your duty is clear. To build and maintain those robots."

What they're going to do is get some slick Lockheed fuckface to design an automatic terrorist hunting prowl routine for the drones, then their going to spend all day sexually harassing the weakest people in the command trailer until the buzzer goes off and they have to make a 5 second call for approval to nuke an orphanage.

So with that in mind, I probably will support drone autonomy simply because the most fumbling, rudimentary machine intelligence will still be morally superior to a troop.

It's also not like they're by any means cheap. A predator drone is about $4 million per drone, which I guess is small compared to most US military projects, but still pretty fucking pricey. reapers are apparently over $100 million with all the command and control shit needed to operate them.

Oddly enough, the most expensive part of the drone is the stealth skin. But that's cause Uncle Sam isn't touching anything without a million dollar coat of paint on it. That's just how he rolls. Oh how we should bankrupt the nation of mean that our machine children might live.

Factored into all that is the cost of R&D, since they're still in active production that price is going to go way way way down eventually. I guess I'm still going to believe they're expensive because I never really want to find myself in the mindset of calling something worth $4 million as "cheap" to be perfectly honest. I realize that in this new world of billions and trillions that it's not the case, but still, goddamn. Hey, welcome to the united states government, the best government in the world...

In fact, the only thing cheaper than a drone is human life. I mean, literally, that's the case. This is actually very true, a human life (American, that is) is worth about 400,000 dollars to the military. That is the maximum limit on life insurance when you're in the military. I'm also pretty sure that it's some "official" economic valuation in regards to the lost value of a human life in America.

To be honest, there's just something particularly chilling about the whole notion of using drones for war. It's a sick feeling that the whole thing gives me in my stomach about the idea of a weapon that's only purpose is to be utilized against populations incapable of defending themselves. It's the same reason why we keep the B-2 Bomber. In the situation of defense, it couldn't defend us for shit and would have been decommissioned a long time ago for something more serviceable and faster. But since it's really good at doing its job of dropping bombs on people that can't shoot back, it's kept around.

This notion of oppression with complete impunity just bothers the ever loving shit out of me. But I guess it could just be summarized with this is simply not a weapon of war. It's explicitly a terror weapon and that's why it feels so wrong to have it be used on anyone. All these toys are pretty much just modified and refined Nazi V-1 buzz bombs, specifically designed to kill and terrorize civilians.

While I have your attention, please click on the following to see all the drone strikes in Pakistan


P.S. Don't forget to zoom in, you'll be extra surprised.

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