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Droning On: Interesting Timing in the Middle East

Oswald: Both JFK and the U-2 Incident?!

COMMENT: The apparent capture and downing by Iran of a U.S. drone aircraft raises a number of interesting questions.

If the account presented in “Debka” can be believed, the possibility of some sort of “inside job” is one to be carefully considered. (“Debka” is an intelligence newsletter specializing in Middle Eastern and Israeli national security matters.)

With the Ptech/Islamist/Muslim Brotherhood links to the GOP and the Underground Reich un-interdicted, the possibility of GOP sabotage to prevent successful military action against Iran must be considered. (Mitt Romney said that if Obama is re-elected, Iran will get the bomb. Although that may very well be a done deal, it is interesting to note the proximity of the drone capture to the Romney’s remarks.)

  • Was Ptech technology involved here?
  • Might U.S. and/or Israeli national security interests have helped engineer this to forestall an Israeli attack on Iran, seen by many as a blueprint for wider devastation and disaster?
  • Might Islamists and/or Underground Reich personnel have been involved?
  • Might GOP personnel have been involved in bringing down the drone to cause embarrassment and or disfunctionality to the Obama administration, not unlike the U-2 incident and its effect on the Eisenhower summit with Soviet premier Khruschev or the October Surprise and its effect on the re-election campaign of Jimmy Carter?
  • Might right-wing Israeli elements have been involved, in order to generate pressure for an attack on Iran by Israel? Note that Debka has a strong bias toward the Israeli right-wing.

“Iran Exhibits U.S. Drone Undamaged. U.S. and Israel Shocked”; DEBKAfile; 12/8/2011.

EXCERPT: Iran exhibited the top-secret US stealth drone RQ-170 Sentinel captured on Sunday, Dec. 4. Its almost perfect condition confirmed Tehran’s claim that the UAV was downed by a cyber attack, meaning it was not shot down but brought in undamaged by an electronic warfare ambush.

This is a major debacle for the stealth technology the US uses in its warplanes and the drone technology developed by the US and Israel.
The state of the lost UAV refutes the US military contention that the Sentinel’s systems malfunctioned. If this had happened, it would have crashed and either been wrecked or damaged.
The condition of the RQ-170 intact obliges the US and Israel to make major changes in plans for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
Earlier Thursday, Debkafile reported:
The Obama administration’s decision after internal debate not to send US commando or air units into Iran to retrieve or destroy the secret RQ-170 stealth drone which fell into Iranian hands has strengthened the hands of the Israeli faction which argues the case for striking Iran’s nuclear installations without waiting for the Americans to make their move.
Senior Israeli diplomatic and security officials who followed the discussion in Washington concluded that, by failing to act, the administration has left Iran not only with the secrets of the Sentinel’s stealth coating, its sensors and cameras, but also with the data stored in its computer cells on targets marked out by the US and/or Israeli for attack.
Debkafile’s military sources say that this knowledge compels the US and Israel to revise their plans of attack for aborting the Iranian nuclear program.
Like every clandestine weapons system, the RQ-170 had a self-destruct mechanism to prevent its secrets spilling out to the enemy in the event of a crash or capture. This did not happen. Tehran was able to claim the spy drone was only slightly damaged when they downed it.
The NATO spokesman claimed control was lost of the US UAV and it went missing, a common occurrence for these unmanned aircraft.
The enigmas surrounding its capture continue to pile up. How did Iran know the drone had entered its airspace? How was it caused to land? Most of all, why did the craft’s self-destruct mechanism which is programmed to activate automatically fail to work? And if it malfunctioned, why was it not activated by remote control? . . . .


11 comments for “Droning On: Interesting Timing in the Middle East”

  1. Here is a, perhaps, telling quote from Mr Ahmadinejad.

    He said: ‘The Americans have perhaps decided to give us this spy plane. We now have control of this plane.’

    Posted by grumpusrex | December 16, 2011, 8:25 am
  2. Based on this proclamation from the Pakistani military the next downed drone might be in Pakistan:

    Pakistan says U.S. drones in its air space will be shot down
    By NBC News, msnbc.com staff and news service reports

    Updated at 8 p.m. EST

    ISLAMABAD — Pakistan will shoot down any U.S. drone that intrudes its air space per new directives, a senior Pakistani official told NBC News on Saturday.

    According to the new Pakistani defense policy, “Any object entering into our air space, including U.S. drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down,” a senior Pakistani military official told NBC News.

    The policy change comes just weeks after a deadly NATO attack on Pakistani military checkpoints accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, prompting Pakistani officials to order all U.S. personnel out of a remote airfield in Pakistan.

    Pakistan told the U.S. to vacate Shamsi Air Base by December 11.

    Pakistani authorities started threatening U.S. personnel with eviction from the Shamsi base in the wake of the raid last May in which U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden at his hide-out near Islamabad without notifying Pakistani officials in advance.

    And it might be NATO operated:

    DECEMBER 15, 2011

    U.S. Pursues Sale of Armed Drones


    The Obama administration has been quietly pushing to sell armed drones to key allies, but it has run into resistance from U.S. lawmakers concerned about the proliferation of technology and know-how.

    The Pentagon wants more North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to have such pilotless aircraft to ease the burden on the U.S. in Afghanistan and in future conflicts like the alliance’s air campaign in Libya this year.

    Administration officials recently began informal consultations with lawmakers about prospective sales of armed drones and weapons systems to NATO members Italy and Turkey, while several U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf have been pressing Washington to authorize drone sales, officials said.

    The Pentagon also wants to sell Turkey up to two armed drones and four surveillance drones, according to officials briefed on the discussions. But they say the Turkey deal is unlikely to move forward if lawmakers refuse to sign off on the Italian sale.

    Turkey wants to use the drones against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The Pentagon has been sharing with Turkey real-time intelligence from U.S. drone missions in northern Iraq and along the border, helping Turkey’s air force pinpoint PKK positions for strikes, U.S. officials say. Turkey wants to do the missions itself, a shift supported by the Pentagon.

    Several of America’s allies in the Persian Gulf region are also pushing to purchase armed drones. U.S. officials say such requests could also prove controversial in Congress because of lawmakers’ concerns about the potential impact on Israel’s military edge in the region.

    Lawmakers have told the administration they are concerned U.S. exports of armed drones could make it harder for Washington to make the case to Israel, a pioneer in drone development, to limit its own foreign sales of drones that could rival the U.S.’s. Israel already sells drones to India and other countries.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 16, 2011, 8:31 pm
  3. You don’t say…:

    July 19th, 2012
    06:40 PM ET
    Drones vulnerable to being hacked, Congress told

    By Todd Sperry

    It wouldn’t take much effort to hijack a drone over U.S. airspace and use it to commit a crime or act of terrorism, an aerospace engineering expert told a House subcommittee Wednesday.

    Todd Humphreys showed members of a House homeland security subcommittee how his research team was able to commandeer an $80,000 drone using store-bought global positioning system (GPS) technology.

    Drones, including ones used by police agencies, are vulnerable to hacking because they use unencrypted GPS information for navigation.

    “If you can convincingly fake a GPS signal, you can convince an (unmanned aerial vehicle) into tracking your signal instead of the authentic one, and at that point you can control the UAV,” said Humphreys, an assistant professor specializing in orbital mechanics at the University of Texas.

    Humphreys said hacking and spoofing to take control of a drone can be done from miles away.

    The U.S. military uses encrypted GPS on drones flying in war zones such as Afghanistan. To use similar technology on all drones would increase costs dramatically, according to Government Accountability Office (GAO) officials who attended Thursday’s hearing on Capitol Hill.

    GAO officials have suggested that the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Aviation Administration collaborate in regulating drones. But the Department of Homeland Security has, up to this point, been unwilling to accept a role in regulating drones, according to Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

    DHS officials were repeatedly chastised by committee members for failing to show up for Thursday’s hearing.

    Drones are currently a growth industry in the aviation sector, with scores of new companies competing for a slice of the market. And if they can clear hurdles that currently limit their deployment in friendly airspace, pilotless planes of all shapes will be taking to the air on missions to watch over us.

    Just what sort of reconnaissance the drones will do and how such uses might infringe on civil liberties was a hot-button issue at Thursday’s hearing.

    Privacy advocates are seeking tighter regulation, arguing that anyone can purchase a drone and use it to peek into backyards and places that typically are private.

    Unregulated, hackable spy drones – public and private – flying around the US. Smile for the camera folks! :D

    At least the military’s drones appear to be using encrpyted GPS so they’re not quite as hackable as their civilian counterparts. Let’s all just hope that our future civilian spy drone fleets beaming back a constrant stream of videa surrveillance don’t follow the military’s drone security protocols too closely. Granted, we could also simply hope that we don’t end up filling our sky with fleets of unregulated surrveillance drones beaming who-knows-what into to who-knows-who in who-knows-where(don’t we already have the internet for that?). But, you, we’re in a depression and drones are a “hot” industry right now. So we really can’t afford to NOT build an even more giant surrveillance state. It’ll be good for the economy.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 19, 2012, 9:43 pm
  4. Well, it looks like the fundamentalists were right: porn really will destroy civilization:

    Let A Thousand Euphemisms Bloom
    Josh Marshall August 1, 2012, 9:32 PM

    Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency warns staffers to stop using the missile defense computer network to download so much porn.

    From Bloomberg …

    The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency warned its employees and contractors last week to stop using their government computers to surf the Internet for pornographic sites, according to the agency’s executive director.

    In a one-page memo, Executive Director John James Jr. wrote that in recent months government employees and contractors were detected “engaging in inappropriate use of the MDA network.”

    “Specifically, there have been instances of employees and contractors accessing websites, or transmitting messages, containing pornographic or sexually explicit images,” James wrote in the July 27 memo obtained by Bloomberg News.

    This was the part that interested me most …

    A government cybersecurity specialist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because such work is classified, said that many pornographic websites are infected and criminals and foreign intelligence services such as Russia’s use them to gain access to and harvest data from government and corporate computer networks.

    “There are great dangers in interacting with any site that has high-quality imagery, whether it’s pornographic or not, or a lot of links,” said Chase Cunningham, chief of cyber analytics at Sterling, Virginia-based Decisive Analytics Corporation, in a telephone interview yesterday.

    Apparently, foreign intelligence services know what our spooks want to see.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 1, 2012, 8:38 pm
  5. If you thought the recent revelation of the US government’s Judge Dredd Drone legal memo has a “through the looking glass” feel to it, keep reading…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 6, 2013, 2:39 pm
  6. One of the more interesting and terrifying aspects of the future of drone warfare is that it’s likely going to take on a similar dynamic to the Anonymous phenomena…once the microdrone revolution gets underway not only will these things become drastically more accessible and affordable but you may even know it was there and you almost certainly won’t know who sent it. The inevitable drone blowback might be a lot smaller than folks expect:

    Business Insider
    The Future Of Micro Drones Could Get Downright Scary
    Robert Johnson | Jun. 20, 2012, 11:49 AM

    It’s been several years since the rumors and sightings of insect sized micro drones started popping up around the world.

    Vanessa Alarcon was a college student when she attended a 2007 anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. and heard someone shout, “Oh my God, look at those.”

    “I look up and I’m like, ‘What the hell is that?'” she told The Washington Post. “They looked like dragonflies or little helicopters. But I mean, those are not insects,” she continued.

    A lawyer there at the time confirmed they looked like dragonflies, but that they “definitely weren’t insects”.

    And he’s probably right.

    In 2006 Flight International reported that the CIA had been developing micro UAVs as far back as the 1970s and had a mock-up in its Langley headquarters since 2003.

    While we can go on listing roachbots, swarming nano drones, and synchronized MIT robots — private trader and former software engineer Alan Lovejoy points out that the future of nano drones could become even more unsettling.

    Lovejoy found this CGI mock up of a mosquito drone equipped with the ‘ability’ to take DNA samples or possible inject objects beneath the skin.

    According to Lovejoy:

    Such a device could be controlled from a great distance and is equipped with a camera, microphone. It could land on you and then use its needle to take a DNA sample with the pain of a mosquito bite. Or it could inject a micro RFID tracking device under your skin.

    It could land on you and stay, so that you take it with you into your home. Or it could fly into a building through a window. There are well-funded research projects working on such devices with such capabilities.

    Oooooo…a mosquito-like microdrone that can inject things into your body. The nanodrone revolution sure should be interesting.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 8, 2013, 2:17 pm
  7. Don’t blame us for bombing your village, it was our flying deathbot that thought it was a good idea:

    Rolling Stone
    ‘The Point of No Return’: Should Robots Be Able to Decide to Kill You On Their Own?
    U.N. report calls for a moratorium, but lethal autonomous robots could be a reality soon

    By John Knefel
    April 30, 2013 3:10 PM ET

    A U.N. report released earlier this week called for a global moratorium on developing highly sophisticated robots that can select and kill targets without a human being directly issuing a command. These machines, known as Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs), may sound like science fiction – but experts increasingly believe some version of them could be created in the near future. The report, released by Professor Chrisof Heyns, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, also calls for the creation of “a high level panel on LARs to articulate a policy for the international community on the issue.”

    The U.S. Department of Defense issued a directive on the subject last year, which the U.N. report says “bans the development and fielding of LARs unless certain procedures are followed” – although DoD officials have called the directive “flexible.”

    Unlike groups like Human Rights Watch – which has called for an all-out ban on LARs – the U.N. report suggests a pause on their development and deployment, while acknowledging the uncertainty of future technologies. “The danger is we are going to realize one day we have passed the point of no return,” Heyns tells Rolling Stone. “It is very difficult to get states to abandon weaponry once developed, especially when it is so sophisticated and offers so many military advantages. I am not necessarily saying LARs should never be used, but I think we need to understand it much better before we cross that threshold, and we must make sure that humans retain meaningful control over life and death decisions.”

    Others who follow the subject echo these concerns. “I believe [LARs are] a paradigm shift because it fundamentally changes the requirements for human responsibility in making decisions to kill,” says Peter Asaro, co-founder and vice chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. “As such, it threatens to create automated systems that could deny us of our basic human rights, without human supervision or oversight.”

    What does it mean for a technology to be autonomous? Missy Cummings, a technologist at MIT, has defined this quality as the ability “to reason in the presence of uncertainty.” But robot autonomy is a spectrum, not a switch, and one that for now will likely develop piecemeal. On one end of the spectrum are machines with a human “in the loop” – that is, the human being, not the robot, makes the direct decision to pull the trigger. (This is what we see in today’s drone technology.) On the other end is full autonomy, with humans “out of the loop,” in which LARs make the decision to kill entirely on their own, according to how they have been programmed. Since computers can process large amounts of data much faster than humans, proponents argue that LARs with humans “out of the loop” will provide a tactical advantage in battle situations where seconds could be the difference between life and death. Those who argue against LARs say the slowdown added by having a human “in the loop” vastly outweighs the dangerous consequences that could arise from unleashing this technology.

    Because LARs don’t yet exist, the discussion around them remains largely hypothetical. Could a robot distinguish between a civilian and an insurgent? Could it do so better than a human soldier? Could a robot show mercy – that is, even if a target were “legitimate,” could it decide not to kill? Could a robot refuse an order? If a robot acting on its own kills the wrong person, who is held responsible?

    Supporters argue that using LARs could have a humanitarian upside. Ronald Arkin, a roboticist and roboethicist at Georgia Tech who has received funding from the Department of Defense, is in favor of the moratorium, but is optimistic in the longterm. “Bottom line is that protection of civilian populations is paramount with the advent of these new systems,” he says. “And it is my belief that if this technology is done correctly, it can potentially lead to a reduction in non-combatant casualties when compared to traditional human war fighters.”

    In a recent paper, law professors Kenneth Anderson and Matthew Waxman suggest that robots would be free from “human-soldier failings that are so often exacerbated by fear, panic, vengeance, or other emotions – not to mention the limits of human senses and cognition.”

    Still, many concerns remain. These systems, if used, would be required to conform to international law. If LARs couldn’t follow rules of distinction and proportionality – that is, determine correct targets and minimize civilian casualties, among other requirements – then the country or group using them would be committing war crimes. And even if these robots were programmed to follow the law, it is entirely possible that they could remain undesirable for a host of other reasons. They could potentially lower the threshold for entering into a conflict. Their creation could spark an arms race that – because of their advantages – would become a feedback loop. The U.N. report describes the fear that “the increased precision and ability to strike anywhere in the world, even where no communication lines exist, suggests that LARs will be very attractive to those wishing to perform targeted killing.”

    The report also warns that “on the domestic front, LARs could be used by States to suppress domestic enemies and to terrorize the population at large.” Beyond that, the report warns LARs could exacerbate the problems associated with the position that the entire world is a battlefield, one that – though the report doesn’t say so explicitly – the United States has held since 9/11. “If current U.S. drone strike practices and policies are any example, unless reforms are introduced into domestic and international legal systems, the development and use of autonomous weapons is likely to lack the necessary transparency and accountability,” says Sarah Knuckey, a human rights lawyer at New York University’s law school who hosted an expert consultation for the U.N. report.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 30, 2013, 2:03 pm
  8. And you thought the sticker-shock was bad:

    Pentagon downplays comment on F-35 fighter jet cyber threat

    By Andrea Shalal-Esa

    WASHINGTON | Thu Apr 25, 2013 7:17pm EDT

    (Reuters) – The Pentagon on Thursday downplayed a comment by one of its officials that he is not totally confident in the ability of the $396 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, to survive a cyber attack.

    The Pentagon’s F-35 program office issued a statement that the Department of Defense was “fully aware of evolving cyber threats and is taking specific action to counter them for all fielded systems, including F-35.”

    “The F-35 is no more or less vulnerable to known cyber threats than legacy aircraft were during their initial development and early production,” spokesman Joe DellaVedova said when asked about a comment by Christopher Bodgan, the F-35 program manager, to lawmakers on Wednesday.

    Bogdan, an Air Force Lieutenant General, told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee that he was “not that confident” about security implemented by the companies that build the plane.

    Bogdan said the Pentagon and the international partners recognized the responsibility they had for safeguarding technology on the fifth-generation stealth fighter.

    He then added, “I’m a little less confident about industry partners to be quite honest with you … I would tell you I’m not that confident outside the department.”

    U.S. military officials and industry executives said on Thursday that government and defense industry networks get probed and attacked each day, but they were unaware of any specific, recent incident involving the loss of data on the F-35 program that could have prompted Bogdan’s remark.

    During Wednesday’s hearing, Lieutenant General Charles Davis, the top uniformed Air Force acquisition official, cited China’s recent unveiling of two new fighter planes over a period of 22 months as cause for concern.

    Pressed for details by committee members, he said China may have used data from U.S. computer networks to design and build the planes, although he said the Chinese planes’ capabilities would probably not measure up to those of the F-35 and the F-22 fighter, also built by Lockheed.

    Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp that builds the engine for the new single-engine, single-seat fighter, also refuted Bogdan’s remark.

    “We do not discuss details of our cyber security initiatives, but we have a well established strategy in place to protect our intellectual property and company private data, as well as our customer’s information, against cyber threats,” said spokesman Matthew Bates.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the chinese knockoff-version of the F35 contains the hacking vulerability too. And you have to love Pratt & Whitney’s assertions about the “well established strategy” for protecting their clients’ intellectual property. Yep, it’s quite a strategy!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 2, 2013, 9:11 am
  9. And now we have a SkyNet gap. This is going to end well:

    Computer World
    Fear of thinking war machines may push U.S. to exascale
    Congress readies a bill, but funding estimates are below other nations

    By Patrick Thibodeau

    Computerworld – WASHINGTON — Unlike China and Europe, the U.S. has yet to adopt and fund an exascale development program, and concerns about what that means to U.S. security are growing darker and more dire.

    China’s retaking of the global supercomputing crown was the starting point for discussion at an IBM-sponsored congressional forum this week on cognitive computing.

    Cognitive computing systems have the capability of taking vast amounts of data and making what will be, for all intents, thoughtful decisions.

    Efforts to draw attention to exascale in the U.S. House are being led Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), who talked about China’s new 33.89-petaflop system, Tianhe-2.

    “It’s important not to lose sight that the reality was that it was built by China’s National University of Defense Technology,” said Hultgren, who is finalizing a bill “that will push our nation toward exascale.”

    Hultgren is introducing legislation, the American Supercomputing Leadership Act, to require the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a coordinated exascale research program. The bill doesn’t call for a specific spending level, but one source said about an annual appropriation of $200 million, if not more, will be sought.

    That amount of money is well short of what’s needed to build an exascale system, or a computer of 1,000 thousand petaflops. Each petaflop represents one thousand trillion floating point operations per second.

    Earl Joseph, an HPC analyst at IDC, said that “$200 million is better than nothing, but compared to China and Europe it’s at least 10 times too low.”

    Joseph said that it’s his guess that the world will see an exascale system by 2015 or 2016 “installed outside the U.S. It will take a lot of power and it will be large, but it will provide a major capability.”

    Lawmakers, at a recent hearing, were told by HPC researchers that the U.S. needs to spend at least $400 million annually to achieve exascale capabilities in a reasonable time, possibly by end of this decade.

    If the U.S. falls behind in HPC, the consequences will be “in a word, devastating,” Selmer Bringsford, chair of the Department. of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said at the forum. “If we were to lose our capacity to build preeminently smart machines, that would be a very dark situation, because machines can serve as weapons.

    “When it comes to intelligent software, the U.S. is preeminent and we simply cannot lose that because the repercussions in the future, defense-wise, would be very bad,” said Bringsford.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 21, 2013, 8:56 am
  10. Note to humanity: Skynet Jr. just started school and the teachers are already raising some red flags. While it did well at some tasks, it also seemed to have difficulty asking the “why” questions. So why not start a global thermonuclear war to wipe out the scourge of humanity, right? Right:

    PC Magazine
    Artificial Intelligence Machines Operating at 4-Year-Old Level
    By Stephanie Mlot
    July 17, 2013 10:08am EST

    It appears that the threat of a worldwide takeover by artificial intelligence machines is not yet a reality, unless you consider 4 year olds an impending threat.

    Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) recently IQ tested one of the “best available” AI systems. As it turns out, it’s about as smart as a 4-year-old kid.

    ConceptNet 4, an MIT-developed AI system, was put through Pre-K boot camp, running the verbal portions of the Weschsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Test — a standard IQ assessment for young children. According to the UIC, the super-smart computer scored uneven marks across different portions of the test — a red flag for most kids.

    “If a child had scores that varied this much, it might be a symptom that something is wrong,” Robert Sloan, lead author of the study and the head of computer science at UIC, said in a statement.

    While ConceptNet 4 tested well in vocabulary and the ability to recognize similarities, it did dramatically worse than average on comprehension — the “why” questions, Sloan said.

    It’s those sorts of commonsense situations that prove the most difficult in building an AI machine, according to the professor.

    What seems so simple to most humans has long eluded artificial intelligence engineers, because it requires a large compilation of facts, as well as what Sloan calls “implicit facts” — things so obvious that we don’t realize we know them.

    “All of us know a huge number of things,” Sloan said. “As babies, we crawled around and yanked on things and learned that things fall. We yanked on other things and learned that dogs and cats don’t appreciate having their tails pulled.”

    So, a computer may know the temperature at which water freezes, but not know that ice is cold.

    Based on the UIC team’s research, those nightmares about HAL 9000 staring you down with his bright red eye, defying your strict commands, will not be happening anytime soon.

    “We’re still very far from programs with commonsense — AI that can answer comprehension questions with the skill of a child of 8,” Sloan said. He and his colleagues hope their study will shed some light on the “hard spots” in artificial intelligence research.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 17, 2013, 9:40 am
  11. The Air Force is about to build a next-generation stealth bomber for the first time in 30 years over fears of increasing anti-aircraft capabilities from countries like Russia and China. “Peace through non-nuclear strength” appears to be the selling point, although, in this case, the project is supposed to be “peace through relatively affordable strength using mature technologies so the costs don’t spiral out of control and the peace-inducing strength can be ready for the battlefield testing in about a decade”. Cheap(er) or not, this next-gen super bomber is supposed to be so super kick ass that it will actually stability because no one will consider starting a war with the US and its allies. At least that’s the theory according a 2013 study by a RAND employee which appears to be part of what’s driving this new initiative.

    So, as opposed to the mutually assured destruction that defined much of the Cold War strategic thinking, this next-gen super-bomber is supposed bring peace through non-mutually assured destruction:

    A $550 million Air Force bomber so good it will never be used

    By David Axe
    October 22, 2015

    The Air Force wants a new bomber so that it never actually has to use it.

    The Defense Department recently announced it will soon pick a contractor to build a new stealth bomber for the Air Force. The potentially $80-billion Long-Range Strike Program is a big deal, particularly for the Air Force. It hasn’t developed a new bomber in more than 30 years. The Pentagon is increasingly worried that its existing fleet of about 160 B-52s, B-1s and B-2s is largely outdated, vulnerable to the newest Chinese- and Russian-made air defenses.

    The Air Force wants up to 100 new bombers armed with all the latest weaponry and radar-evading stealth technology — and plenty of fuel. For the new warplanes must be able to fly long distances, penetrate even the heaviest defenses and destroy scores of targets in a single bombing run.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that the Pentagon really believes it will be fighting a war against Russia or China. Defense planners instead want the new bombers to reinvigorate a once-key concept that the military has allowed to atrophy: conventional deterrence.

    By deploying high-tech armaments of such fearsome nonnuclear destructive power, the mere presence of such weapons should give pause to U.S. enemies. This would buy time so diplomats could negotiate to work out major conflicts without anyone resorting to violence.

    Bomber genesis

    The new bomber has been a long time in the making. As early as 2004, Air Force planners began talking about buying new heavy warplanes and introducing them into service as early as 2018. The planes would partly replace B-52s, which were built in the 1960s, B-1s, which date to the 1980s, and 1990s-vintage B-2s.

    But in 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the bomber effort on hold; he cited the Air Force’s tendency to develop overly complex and expensive warplanes. The flying branch had intended to buy 132 of the radar-evading B-2s. But the stratospheric costs and post-Cold War budget cuts made that goal unrealistic. The Air Force ended up getting just 21 B-2s, at a price of more than $2 billion a plane, including research and development costs.

    The Pentagon allowed the Air Force to restart bomber development in 2011, but with a firm cap on the costs. Each of the up to 100 new bombers could cost no more than $550 million, or roughly $800 million, including research and development. Northrop Grumman, which built the B-2, is competing against a consortium of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the contract, which should be awarded later this year.

    The Air Force is aiming for the new bombers to be on air base ramps by the mid-2020s — just a decade after the signing of the contract. This in an era when major warplane programs can take 20 years or more from contract to fielding.

    “We have to build affordability, right from the beginning, into our new programs, whenever we have the opportunity to do so,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a 2014 press conference, “… [T]hat’s what we did with the Long-Range Strike Bomber.”

    The relatively low cost and quick deployment timeline are feasible because the Air Force is urging the industry teams to include as much existing, or “mature,” technology as possible in their designs — rather than reinventing everything from scratch, as is often the case. One unnamed official told Aaron Mehta of Defense News that the new bomber has the “highest level of maturity” he’d ever seen in a warplane program.

    This newfound discipline reflects the Pentagon’s serious interest in acquiring new bombers. The military has come to believe that new bombers will play a crucial role in preventing full-scale war between the major powers.

    Peace through strength

    That wasn’t always the case.

    In the early 2000s, the Defense Department had proposed to wait until 2037 for a new bomber. That made sense at the time. Russia was still suffering economic hardship and political dysfunction. Moscow had yet to begin asserting itself militarily as it has since in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria and other countries along its periphery.

    China’s economic and military expansion was then just beginning. Beijing was still years away from making forceful claims in the China Seas.

    Meanwhile, the United States was fighting major counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan against low-tech foes who had no means of shooting down high-flying bombers. The Air Force’s B-2s, B-1s and B-52s were able to fly missions over Iraq and Afghanistan without crews having to worry much about enemy defenses. There was no compelling need for a high-tech new bomber — as long as the older bombers were still perfectly adequate for the wars at hand.

    Today, U.S. military strategy — and the world’s — has changed. The U.S. occupation of Iraq has concluded; the West’s coalition in Afghanistan ended its frontline ground-combat mission in late 2014. U.S. warplanes, including B-1s, are waging an intensive air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. But in July, the Air Force secretary said a resurgent Russia was the biggest threat to U.S. national security, a sentiment that Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed the same month.

    The Pentagon is developing the Long Range Strike Bomber with this new threat assessment in mind. “We need to get ahead of the curve when it comes to the enormous and very rapid change that we’re seeing in our world,” James said in her press conference last year. “We have to maintain that technological edge.”

    Russia produces the best surface-to-air missile systems in the world, and China’s missiles are nearly as good. To pose any substantive opposition to Russian and Chinese forces, the Long Range Strike Bomber needs to be able to penetrate these defenses by avoiding detection. The new bomber is intended to be stealthier than the famously elusive B-2, sources told Defense News. The B-2’s “flying wing” shape and special surface coating are designed to scatter some radar waves and absorb others, helping minimize the plane’s “signature” on enemy radar scopes.

    But for all this effort in tailoring the Long Range Strike Bomber to defeat Russian and Chinese defenses, the Pentagon still hopes the new warplane will never drop a bomb on either one. They instead talk about it as having a stabilizing effect.

    Crisis stability

    The Air Force has good reason to subscribe to this theory, as counterintuitive as it might sound. In 2013, the aviation branch commissioned Forrest E. Morgan, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, a California policy organization, to determine how well certain military forces could stabilize an escalating international crisis without ever firing a shot.

    “Crisis stability and the means of achieving and maintaining it — crisis management — are not about warfighting,” Morgan wrote. “They are about building and posturing forces in ways that allow a state, if confronted, to avoid war without backing down.”

    The Cuban missile crisis is one prominent, if imperfect, example that Morgan analyzed in his study. In response to the U.S. nuclear buildup in Europe, the Soviet Union, in 1962, began building missile sites in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy deployed U.S. forces around Cuba, and the Soviets backed down — after Kennedy agreed to dismantle some U.S. nuclear missiles in Europe.

    Military shows of force around Cuba, if at times risky and clumsy, positioned both the United States and the Soviet Union to be able to reach a peaceful settlement without either side suffering humiliation.

    The United States and other countries took the same approach to major potential conflicts throughout the 20th century. But crisis-management practices fell out of favor following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

    Morgan’s study urges a revival. “The reemergence of great-power competitors,” he warned, “will make dangerous interstate confrontations increasingly likely in the future.” Morgan examined other historical examples and compared how the deployment of different weapons — bombers, fighter jets and missile-armed submarines — helped ease tensions by making actual combat unthinkably costly. Sometimes, however, it also worsened them, by surprising the enemy and forcing a panicky reaction.

    “Stability requires forces that are powerful enough to deter a potential enemy,” Morgan wrote, “but employable in ways that minimize their exposure to surprise attack.”

    Morgan’s conclusion is unequivocal. Fighter jets, capable of flying only short distances, must deploy so close to the enemy that they could attack — and be attacked – quickly. This makes a destabilizing surprise attack dangerously tempting for what Morgan calls a “risk-tolerant” country.

    Submarines, because they are underwater most of the time and thus invisible, can prove even more surprising — and thus destabilizing. What’s more, a submarine can’t “signal,” to borrow Morgan’s term. Signaling is when a country deliberately but carefully deploys highly visible forces as a statement to its enemy that doesn’t want to go to war — but could if diplomacy fails.

    Long-range bombers deployed far from enemy shores are the most stabilizing weaponry, in Morgan’s assessment. “Bombers generate a potent deterrent threat,” he wrote, “without exposing U.S. forces to an inordinate amount of vulnerability to surprise attack.”

    But there’s a catch here. To back up their threat, the bombers must actually be capable of penetrating enemy defenses — and that disqualifies older models, according to Morgan. To keep the peace between major powers, the Air Force needs a high-tech new bomber that, ironically, is fully capable of wreaking havoc on U.S. enemies.

    If this all works as expected, in coming months the Pentagon will tap a contractor to build the Long Range Strike Bomber. A decade later, those bombers will be available to deploy in crises pitting the United States against a fellow world power. Then, if all goes according to plan, the fearsome new bombers will never, ever drop a single bomb.

    “Then, if all goes according to plan, the fearsome new bombers will never, ever drop a single bomb.”
    Well that’s a nice thought.

    Ok, so let’s review: A 2013 study concluded that the Cuban missile crisis, where mutually assured destruction that couldn’t be thwarted by a surprise attack was a key factor in both sides’ decision-making, is a model for future conflicts because both sides were given enough time to resolve the conflict without humiliation by making mutual concessions:

    “Crisis stability and the means of achieving and maintaining it — crisis management — are not about warfighting,” Morgan wrote. “They are about building and posturing forces in ways that allow a state, if confronted, to avoid war without backing down.”

    The Cuban missile crisis is one prominent, if imperfect, example that Morgan analyzed in his study. In response to the U.S. nuclear buildup in Europe, the Soviet Union, in 1962, began building missile sites in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy deployed U.S. forces around Cuba, and the Soviets backed down — after Kennedy agreed to dismantle some U.S. nuclear missiles in Europe.

    Military shows of force around Cuba, if at times risky and clumsy, positioned both the United States and the Soviet Union to be able to reach a peaceful settlement without either side suffering humiliation.

    And the best military hardware for repeating that kind of crisis negotiation-stance open is the development of a super bomber that can’t be easily attack in a surprise attack and can confidently make it through enemy air defenses:

    Morgan’s conclusion is unequivocal. Fighter jets, capable of flying only short distances, must deploy so close to the enemy that they could attack — and be attacked – quickly. This makes a destabilizing surprise attack dangerously tempting for what Morgan calls a “risk-tolerant” country.

    Submarines, because they are underwater most of the time and thus invisible, can prove even more surprising — and thus destabilizing. What’s more, a submarine can’t “signal,” to borrow Morgan’s term. Signaling is when a country deliberately but carefully deploys highly visible forces as a statement to its enemy that doesn’t want to go to war — but could if diplomacy fails.

    Long-range bombers deployed far from enemy shores are the most stabilizing weaponry, in Morgan’s assessment. “Bombers generate a potent deterrent threat,” he wrote, “without exposing U.S. forces to an inordinate amount of vulnerability to surprise attack.”

    But there’s a catch here. To back up their threat, the bombers must actually be capable of penetrating enemy defenses — and that disqualifies older models, according to Morgan. To keep the peace between major powers, the Air Force needs a high-tech new bomber that, ironically, is fully capable of wreaking havoc on U.S. enemies.

    So an updated “Peace through strength” theory, based on a 2013 RAND employee study, appears to be part of what’s justifying the stepped-up schedule for the development of the US’s next-generation bomber. It’s a theory that suggests stability in conflicts between great powers requires that each side fears the destructive power of the other enough to pause the escalation of the conflict and, hopefully, give enough time for a negotiation. And an unstoppable stealth bomber is the key to achieving that stability. It’s an interesting theory, especially since it’s based on the Cuban missile crisis.

    But regardless of the validity of the theory, it’s not like the US (or any major military force) is going to require a theory to justify a next generation super stealth bomber. Super stealth bombers sort of sell themselves, especially if they’re cheaper than the last generation of super stealth bombers.

    And, yes, while the bomber is being sold as a cutting edge aircraft for waging conventional combat using non-nuclear munitions, it’ll be equipped to non-conventional munitions too. Like nukes. Or directed energy weapons. And maybe a virus:

    Popular Mechanics
    Why You Should Care About America’s Next Bomber

    Today the Air Force announced Northrop Grumman as its choice to build the new Long Range Strike Bomber. The plane will be an immediate icon of American power, militarism, advanced technology—and deep pockets.

    By Joe Pappalardo
    Oct 27, 2015 @ 5:52 PM

    For defense wonks, today was bigger than Christmas. After all, that holiday comes once a year. The creation of a new stealth bomber is once-in-a-generation, and today the U.S. Air Force announced that Northrop Grumman won a contract that amounts to $55 billion or more to build the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB.) That amount could grow to as much as $100 billion over time.

    The company beat a team formed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build what Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called the “backbone” of the Air Force’s ability to strike and deter enemies. Northrop’s LSRB is scheduled to have “initial operational capability” in 2025, and fly for real starting in 2040. There is no mission designator for this aircraft yet. It will cost $564 million per plane in current year dollars.

    There’s more to this than just a new warplane. The LRSB is also a cultural and economic event with enduring ripple effects. It will set the standard for military aviation; become the chief talking point for bitter debates over defense acquisition; influence nuclear weapons arsenals in Russia and China; kick foreign espionage efforts into higher gear… and all of this will happen before a prototype even flies.

    In a sign of the program’s importance to aerospace industry and U.S. economy, the Air Force intentionally delayed today’s announcement until stock markets closed to avoid disruptions when the news broke, according to Pentagon sources. Shares of Northrop Grumman were up 6.3% in after-hours trading.

    The only people who would have been sure-fire winners no matter what the outcome today are the locals in southern California, where the contenders develop secret warplanes. No matter who won, this aerospace development program was fated to reshape the economy in the Palmdale area and spawn a generation of engineers.

    But the entire world is paying attention to this program, or soon will be. New military planes come and go, but an American bomber is in its own league. Like aircraft carriers, they symbolize the United States’ ability to go anywhere in the world and exert its influence, no matter who or what is in the way. Or, to borrow a phrase from the Air Force, the Pentagon wants to reassure the Commander-in-Chief that they can “hold any target in the world at risk.”

    If the USAF wants to make good on its promise to blow up anything, anywhere, it will need this new hardware to get it done. The Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-2 Spirit, rolled off the assembly line in 1988. The aircraft that the LRSB is meant to replace are getting old—the average B-52 Stratofortress is more than 50 years old, and the B-1 Lancer fleet has a mean age of 27 years. These workhorse man-killers will fly until 2040, when the new bomber is ready for action.

    But how do we even know what that fight will look like in 2040? We don’t. “We’re designing the aircraft to be adaptable,” said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

    What little we know about the LRSB already paints a picture of a bleak future glimpsed by the USAF trend-spotters: Advanced radar and deadly surface-to-air missiles will guard targets, making full-aspect stealth shaping and radar absorbing materials necessary in a strike bomber. Senior Air Force officials have told Popular Mechanics that the bomber will be rated to carry nuclear weapons, acknowledging the enduring existential threat posed by Russia, China, and North Korea. The initial focus on carrying conventional weapons envisions a future of deep strike missions using precision-guided munitions.

    When people in 2045 wear “Peace through Superior Firepower” T-shirts, they’ll be stenciled with an outline of the LRSB’s profile.

    This bomber will have to accommodate exotic weaponry, such as directed energy beams, advanced decoys, and computer viruses. “A platform with terrific penetrating capability and wonderful avionics, from a cyber-warfare standpoint, is a fantastic asset,” aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group told Popular Mechanics.

    “This bomber will have to accommodate exotic weaponry, such as directed energy beams, advanced decoys, and computer viruses. “A platform with terrific penetrating capability and wonderful avionics, from a cyber-warfare standpoint, is a fantastic asset,” aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group told Popular Mechanics.

    Well, dropping a computer virus is probably a much better option than dropping a nuke, so let’s hope the Cuban missile crises of the future mostly involve threats of super bombers carrying nasty viruses. Keep your fingers crossed!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 27, 2015, 7:15 pm

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