Thursday, October 27, 2011

Big eyes . . .

REMOTELY PILOTED AIRCRAFT — aka "drones" are developing with explosive rapidity. I have mentioned this before, that this is very much the wave of the future. Some "progressives" get very uncomfortable about these machines, and seek relief in disparaging discussion as being fixated on weapons as a fetish material. Even idiots are entitled to their opinion, I just hope they stay out of positions of authority where they send people into harm's way, because, regardless of whether you are "progressive" or troglodytic, the battlefield is about to become way, way more deadly than it's ever been.

The New York Post, a strident right-wing rag, has an article by Noah Shachtman, "Dread zeppelin" — ya gotta love it — about the ‘Blue Devil’ — the US military’s massive new eye in the Afghan sky.

Come this fall, there will be a new and extremely powerful supercomputer in Afghanistan. But it won’t be in Dave Petraeus’ headquarters in Kabul or at some three-letter agency’s operations center in Kandahar. It’ll be floating 20,000 feet above the war zone, aboard a giant, robotic spy blimp that watches and listens to everything for miles around.

That is, if an ambitious, $211 million crash program called “Blue Devil” works out as planned. As of now, the unmanned airship’s “freakishly large” hull — seven times the size of the Goodyear blimp’s — has yet to be put together. The Air Force hasn’t settled yet on exactly which cameras and listening devices will fly on board. And it’s still an open question whether the military can handle all the information that the airship will be collecting from above.

• • •

The first phase of the Blue Devil project is already underway. Late last year, four modified executive planes were shipped to Afghanistan and equipped with an array of surveillance gear.

Phase two — the airship — will be considerably bigger, and more complex. The lighter-than-air craft is longer than a football field, at 350 feet. The hull is being stitched and glued and sewn together out of Kevlar-like composite fibers at a facility in North Carolina.

“It’s freakishly large,” says a source close to the program, “one of the largest airships produced since World War II.”

The Air Force hopes that the extra size should give it enough fuel and helium to stay aloft for as much as a week at a time at nearly four miles up. That’s an improvement over most airships, which float at about 3,000 feet — and therefore have a pretty limited field of view. It’s also an upgrade over spy drones, which can only fly for about a day before they run out of gas. So instead of constantly rotating in and out robotic planes, the US military can keep this eye in the sky staring at a suspected Taliban hideout for seven days at a stretch.

WIRED has a companion article, "Flying Spy Surge: Surveillance Missions Over Afghanistan Quadruple", that expounds on this expansion:

In mid-2009, as the Pentagon began sending a slew of new spy planes to Afghanistan, a top military official joked that the U.S. was about to “blot out the sun” with all the new surveillance drones there.

Turns out, that official wasn’t entirely kidding. Back in 2009, NATO aircraft flew about 22 surveillance missions per day over Afghanistan. Today, according to military statistics, the coalition is flying nearly 85 spy sorties daily, for a total of more than 22,800 missions in the first nine months in 2011.

Back when the official cracked his joke, there was only a handful of spy planes flying at any given time over Afghanistan. Now, there are 54 Predator and Reaper drones in the air at once, most of them above Afghanistan. They’re joined by an array of executive-planes-turned-aerial-snoops and dozens of traditional fighters and bombers, all of which now come equipped with surveillance cameras. Thanks to this aerial spy surge, Afghanistan has become a virtual Panopticon.

A lot more dangerous. Anyway, "Dread Zeppelin" could be ideal for our Arctic surveillance.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Is this the Gorgon Stare?