Update on the global drone arms race.
It has been predicted that the development of drone surveillance by the U.S. would spark a global race to develop new drone capabilities, leading to a potentially dystopian future of drone wars where combat and even assassinations can be performed by fleets of insect-like microbots. The Washington Post reported in July, 2011:
More than 50 countries have purchased surveillance drones, and many have started in-country development programs for armed versions because no nation is exporting weaponized drones beyond a handful of sales between the United States and its closest allies. (Source)We are already seeing this take place in both air and sea, as myriad unmanned drones are taking flight from research laboratories across the world. Drones have even taken to the high-seas, as navies begin to "build fleets of crewless boats capable of missions on and under the water, according to maritime experts," as discussed at Military.com.
Much like nuclear weapons, it seems as though this genie is not likely to find its way back into the bottle. A new report released by Project 2049 Institute reveals that China has taken the rise of the American drone quite seriously and has been investing just as heavily in drone surveillance and weapons capabilities. All indications are that they are quickly catching up to the world's leader.
According to the report entitled, "The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Project: Organizational Capacities and Operational Capabilities,"
China has developed a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicles across all military branches.
Domestic competition for military contracts appear to mirror U.S. capabilities:
- Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance: electro-optical, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and signal intelligence (SIGINT) sensors. UAV SIGINT sensors include both communications intelligence and electronic intelligence sensors with a strong emphasis on developing UAVs for locating, tracking and targeting U.S. aircraft carriers in support of long range anti-ship cruise and ballistic missile strikes.
- Precision strike missions. Design concepts include numerous antiradiation and combat type UAVs. During operations they would theoretically be supported by decoy drones whose roles would be to aid in defense penetration by helping to overwhelm and confuse enemy air and missile defenders.28 According to Chinese writings, they would also be supported by electronic warfare UAVs.
- Electronic Warfare Missions: UAVs for jamming satellites, airborne early warning plane communications and radar systems, and ship based early warning, communications, and air and missile defense systems.
- Data Relay Missions. In particular, Chinese researchers note that UAVs could provide a critical link between landbased command and control facilities and anti-ship missiles engaged in long range over-the-horizon attacks. One study also posited that high altitude UAVs equipped with data link payloads could substitute for communications satellites in the event of enemy antisatellite attacks. (Abridged from original report, which can be read in full with citations at the article title link above).
Chinese strategists have also discussed using swarms of drones to overwhelm the U.S. Navy's carrier groups in the unlikely possibility of a shooting war. The drones could act as decoys, use electronic warfare to jam communications and radar, guide missile strikes on carriers, fire missiles at U.S. Navy ships or dive into ships like kamikaze robots. (Source)This capability is very likely to already exist in China, as the "kamikaze robots" have been used successfully by The United States in Afghanistan for at least a couple of years; it's known as the Switchblade drone.
No one really knows the full level of drone development across the world, due to the obvious secrecy surrounding military technology. The London Guardian has compiled reports of all known drone stocks in the world and offered maps and graphs that illustrate an indication that a drone arms race is fully under way. There are a minimum of 56 drone models used in 11 different countries, with the U.S. leading the pack at 678 operational drones.
A new U.S. study by the Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) shows why drone proliferation continues to ramp up at a nearly exponential rate: it has become one of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. economy. A report entitled, "The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Integration Systems in the United States" is clear in its conclusion that competition for jobs and tax dollars created by drone tech development is likely to provide the impetus to loosen state regulations on drone use. The AUVSI is projecting 70,000 new jobs in the first three years of full integration.
While we project more than 100,000 new jobs by 2025, states that create favorable regulatory and business environments for the industry and the technology will likely siphon jobs away from states that do not.The full study can be found at the title link above, but the bullet points as noted by the Association are as follows:
- In the first three years following integration into the NAS, more than 70,000 new jobs will be created.
- In the first three years following integration, the total economic impact stemming from the integration is projected to surpass $13.6 billion and will grow sustainably for the foreseeable future, cumulating in more than $82.1 billion in impact between 2015 and 2025. Economic impact includes the monies that flow to manufacturers and suppliers from the sale of new products as well as the taxes and monies that flow into communities and support the local businesses.
- The study projects integration will lead to 103,776 new jobs nationally by 2025. Many of these jobs are portable and will gravitate toward states with favorable regulatory structures and infrastructure. Future events – such as the establishment of FAA Test Sites – will ultimately determine where many of these new jobs will flow.
- Additional economic benefit will be seen through tax revenue to the states, which will total more than $482 million in the first decade following the integration.
- Every year that integration is delayed, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic impact. This translates to a loss of $27.6 million per day that UAS are not integrated into the NAS. (Source)
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is the world's largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. Serving more than 7,500 members from government organizations, industry and academia, AUVSI is committed to fostering, developing, and promoting unmanned systems and robotic technologies. AUVSI members support defense, civil and commercial sectors.
Advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community through education, advocacy and leadership.
To improve humanity by enabling the global use of robotic technology in everyday lives.
AUVSI's Strategic Goals
Despite their stated concern for humanity and desire to foster global economic opportunity, drones and robots are already eliminating many jobs, including military personnel and affiliated tech work. Autonomous intercommunicating systems are being developed by the U.S. and now apparently the Chinese with the capability for unilateral threat assessment and war theater decision making. It is often cited that robotic warfare lessens the dangers to humans, but at some level it becomes an outright replacement, such as DARPA's amazingly human PETMAN and other warbots. Next generation drones have the stated goal of reducing or eliminating the human element altogether as the promotional video from General Atomics below highlights for 2017.
- Inclusive Community – AUVSI will be an inclusive and accessible global organization encompassing the robotics/unmanned systems community.
- Global Focus – AUVSI will be the essential partner in the growth and reach of the global robotics/unmanned systems community.
- Education and Outreach - AUVSI will facilitate the expansion of robotics/unmanned systems knowledge and will promote educational opportunities.
- Knowledge Source – AUVSI will be the preferred robotics/unmanned systems knowledge source.
- Advocacy and Influence – There will be recognition of AUVSI by governments, industry and academia as a powerful advocate for robotics/unmanned systems.
- Member Services – AUVSI will provide value-added services to its current and potential membership. (Source)
Similar to the machines in a factory, robots don't have human frailties such as sickness, tiredness, mental health issues, clouded judgement based on emotions ... or conscience. Where do the human resources of war go when they have been outsourced?
It is possible that during the initial phases, it will appear as a boon to the economy, but the cascading effect of a global robotic arms race is likely to reach a tipping point and get out of hand very quickly.
Clearly, even as resistance to drones in American skies heats up, especially following the Rand Paul / Eric Holder debate about the constitutionality of killing Americans on U.S. soil, the military-industrial complex continues to invest in robotic warfare as though global proliferation is a foregone conclusion. The world's two leading superpowers and the feedback loop they have created ensure it.
The Drone Arms Race Heats Up: World's First "Beach Ball" Surveillance Drone Developed in Japan
Researchers in Japan have provided the latest in all-seeing eye technology: the drone "beach ball". This might be the clearest evidence yet that we have entered a world which resembles bad science fiction, but, nonetheless, it's true.
Homeland Security Newswire reports that the new Spherical Air Vehicle (SAV) "weighs 350 grams (12.3 ounces) and has a diameter of 42 centimeters (16.8 inches); it can reach a speed of 37 miles per hour."
The developer from the Technical Research and Development Center of the Japan Defense Agency has amazingly constructed this vehicle from parts that can be found at electronics shops for a cost of around $1,400. (Source).
The DIY flying spy camera can bounce, roll, hover and turn corners in any environment using components such as a modified plastic bottle, propeller and control flaps. All operated by remote control. (Source)
Naturally, this has led the researchers to speculate how it can be used in search-and-rescue missions. This is the exact same justification we have heard from military and police sources in the United States to justify the use of micro-drone surveillance over the interior U.S. in violation of the Constitution.
Nonetheless, the technology continues to be developed as competition soars between nations to catch up to the United States. As we wrote about previously, the miniaturization of surveillance and weapons of war is not nearly over. President Obama (signed off on by John P. Holdren) has issued the comprehensive, 60-page National Nanotechnology Initiative 2011 Strategic Plan, calling for investment in nanotechnology to be used in everything from remote sensors for bioweapons detection, to surveillance and traffic control.
The world of science fiction has indeed become our reality. We would be well advised to put pressure on world leaders and the scientific community to use the greatest caution when racing toward a unmanned future that science fiction warns can end rather unpleasantly for the human race.
Here's the demo (in Japanese)
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