Senators Press Pentagon To Give Ukraine Advanced Drones

A group of bipartisan senators is urging the Biden administration to provide Ukraine with advanced MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones that would give Kyiv longer-range capability.

The Biden administration has been hesitant to send the drones due to the risk of escalation with Russia and concerns that the sensitive technology in the drones could end up in the wrong hands.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Biden administration has decided not to provide the drones, although other reporting disputed that claim and said a final decision hadn’t been made.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, 16 senators expressed “concern” over the reports that said the administration has declined to send the MQ-1C. The senators asked the administration to give “careful reconsideration” to the Ukrainian request.

The letter was led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and was signed by many members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK).

The senators said the MQ-1C and other long-range capabilities would provide “Ukraine additional lethality needed to eject Russian forces and regain occupied territory.”

Providing MQ-1Cs would be a major escalation in US military aid to Kyiv as the drones can be armed with powerful hellfire missiles and can fly for up to 30 hours. The drones would give Ukraine the capability to strike targets inside Russian territory.

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Killing By Drone: Hunting Enemies In Urban Combat

A new drone from Israel’s Elbit Systems called Lanius combines a number of technologies that put it at the forefront of how drones are transforming war.

At the same time, reports about the drone may raise questions about how this technology may make war more controversial as “robots” play a larger role in it.

The more armies and defense companies invest in new technology that enables combat to take place remotely — without soldiers interacting with civilians, for instance — the more it seems like “robot wars.”

Elbit Systems has said that Lanius is “part of the Legion-X robotic and autonomous combat solution.” Elbit is one of Israel’s three largest defense companies and is at the forefront of defense technology.

Its website says the drone “is a highly maneuverable and versatile drone-based loitering munition designed for short-range operation in the urban environment.”

The drone can scout and map buildings, flying around small corridors and through doorways. This means it can help a user find “points of interest for possible threats, detecting, classifying and syncing to Elbit Systems’ Legion-X solutions. Lanius can carry lethal or non-lethal payloads, capable of performing a broad spectrum of mission profiles for special forces, military, law enforcement, and HLS.”

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Kiev slated to receive drone-killing VAMPIREs

Ukraine is expected to soon receive a number of so-called VAMPIRE counter-drone systems, according to Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder, who confirmed Washington’s commitment to supply Kiev with air defense capabilities. The statement came amid Russia’s continued strikes targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. 

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ryder said the US government has yet to secure a contract for the laser-guided missile launchers but expects one to be reached within the next few months. “Right now we’re anticipating delivery to be mid-2023,” he explained, noting that “air defense continues to be a priority.”  

The VAMPIRE, or Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment, can be installed on the cargo bed of almost any civilian truck and uses laser-guided munitions capable of hitting both ground and airborne targets, including unmanned aerial vehicles. Although it is not explicitly advertised as an anti-drone weapon, systems similar to the VAMPIRE have been used extensively in Ukraine for that purpose.   

These systems are part of a $3 billion arms package for Ukraine announced by the Pentagon back in August. This also includes the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, which Washington also says will be arriving in Ukraine “in the very near future.” 

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Chinese drone airdrops machine gun-wielding robot dog

Recent footage of a Chinese drone dropping off a dog-like robot with a machine gun strapped to its back has gone viral, providing a glimpse at the future of unmanned warfare.

Video clips, which were originally published by Chinese media earlier this month, showed large unmanned aircraft system with eight propellers hovering in to drop off a robot dog. The robot has its legs tucked in as it’s dropped off, but begins to unfold its legs and stand upright and walk.

As the robot dog begins to move, it is evident that it has some type of light-machine gun mounted on its back. The weapon appears to be a QBB-95 or QBB-97, which are both drum-magazine fed weapons used by Chinese forces.

Another video appears to show the same drone-based robot dog delivery from a different view.

The Drive reported the footage appeared earlier this month on an account on the Chinese social media app Weibo named “Kestrel Defense Blood Wing.” The Weibo-verified account appears to be affiliated with the Chinese armsmaker known as Kestrel Defense.

Another video went viral this summer showing a Chinese robot dog actually aiming and firing at targets on a range. In the video, the robot had to move its entire body and take several seconds to fine tune to aim the gun and it would reel back under the recoil of sustained automatic fire.

The U.S. military has also been developing dog robots. The U.S. robotmanufacturer Ghost Robotics has also showcased a dog robot equipped with a 6.5 mm rifle pod.

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‘Star Wars’ Actor Mark Hamill Sends Ukraine 500 Drones to Use Against the ‘Evil Empire’

Actor Mark Hamill has seen the fighting in Ukraine from afar and decided to pitch in and help. To that end he has put his hand in his pocket to send funds to buy 500 drones for Kyiv, destined to take on a variety of military and civil tasks against invading Russian forces he says represent the “evil empire.”

The 71-year-old American screen veteran, best known for his role as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, confirmed his donations to the embattled European nation while appearing on an episode of Bloomberg Radio’s Sound On.

Hamill told host Joe Mathieu he only sent the equipment to Ukraine because they desperately need it, the Sun reports.

“Very simply: Ukraine needs drones. They define war outcomes, they protect their land, their people, they monitor the border, they’re eyes in the sky,” Hamill outlined in the radio interview published Thursday.

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When whistleblowers go to prison, we’re on the road to tyranny

Daniel Hale, dressed in a khaki uniform, his hair cut short and sporting a long, neatly groomed brown beard, is seated behind a plexiglass screen, speaking into a telephone receiver at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. I hold a receiver on the other side of the plexiglass and listen as he describes his journey from working for the National Security Agency and the Joint Special Operations Task Force at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to becoming federal prisoner 26069-07. 

Hale, a 34-year-old former Air Force signals intelligence analyst, is serving a 45-month prison sentence, following his conviction under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified documents about the U.S. military’s drone assassination program and its high civilian death toll. The documents are believed to be the source material for “The Drone Papers” published by The Intercept, on Oct. 15, 2015. 

These documents revealed that between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations drone airstrikes killed more than 200 people — of which only 35 were the intended targets. According to the documents, over one five-month period of the operation, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. The civilian dead, usually innocent bystanders, were routinely classified as “enemies killed in action.”

You can see my interview with Hale’s attorney, Jesselyn Radack, here.

The terrorizing and widespread killing of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of civilians was a potent recruiting tool for the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents. The aerial attacks created far more hostile fighters than they eliminated and enraged many in the Muslim world.

Hale is composed, articulate and physically fit from his self-imposed regime of daily exercise. We discuss books he has recently read, including John Steinbeck’s novel “East of Eden” and Nicholson Baker’s “Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act,” which explores whether the U.S. used biological weapons on China and Korea during World War II and the Korean War. 

Hale is currently housed in the Communications Management Unit (CMU), a special unit that severely restricts and heavily monitors communications, including our conversation, and visits. The decision by the Bureau of Prisons to lock Hale up in the most restrictive wing of a supermax prison ignores the recommendation of the sentencing Judge Liam O’Grady, who suggested that he be placed in a low-security prison hospital facility in Butner, North Carolina, where he could get treatment for his PTSD.

Hale is one of a few dozen people of conscience who have sacrificed their careers and their freedom to inform the public about government crimes, fraud and lies. Rather than investigate the crimes that are exposed and hold those who carried them out to account, the two ruling parties wage war on all who speak out.  

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MIT Engineers Create ‘Robotic Lightning Bug’ That Weighs Little More than a Paperclip

In a new study published in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters a team of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) describes how it created a 650 mg aerial robot powered by four electroluminescent actuators (tiny “soft” motors), each able to generate distinct colors and patterns. This tiny flying bug-bot, the researchers say, “further shows the potential of achieving coordinated swarm flights without using well-calibrated indoor tracking systems.”

In the video immediately above the engineers outline how their “insect-scale” flying lightning bug robot works, noting it was inspired by the ever-whimsical firefly and its ability to use bioluminescent chemical reactions to create light.

“If you think of large-scale robots, they can communicate using a lot of different tools—Bluetooth, wireless, all those sorts of things. But for a tiny, power-constrained robot, we are forced to think about new modes of communication. This is a major step toward flying these robots in outdoor environments where we don’t have a well-tuned, state-of-the-art motion tracking system, Kevin Chen says in an MIT press release. Chen is the D. Reid Weedon Jr. Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT and the senior author of the paper.

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Nebraska wants to test body and facial scans that work from a distance

The state of Nebraska is planning to test whole-body and facial recognition technology from far-off sensors. The project, funded by the Department of Defense, aims to test the accuracy of AI in identifying subjects from images and videos captured by stationary towers and drones positioned far from the subjects.

The project is backed by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) as part of its Biometric Recognition and Identification at Altitude or Range, aka Briar, program. The first phase, dubbed WatchID, of the three-part program will run for 18 months.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska’s Omaha and Lincoln campuses, University of Maryland College Park, Resonant Sciences, and BlueHalo Co. will participate in WatchID. The program will require 200 volunteers who will stand and walk in circles and straight lines in an open space. Once the first phase is successful, it will be expanded to require 600 volunteers.

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Mysterious drone attacks on US war ships solved

A mysterious series of attacks on US Navy warships off the coast of California in 2019 have been revealed to be caused by a cluster of drones launched from a Hong Kong cargo ship, a new report says.

The bizarre incidents, which were reported between March 30 and July 30, 2019 on seven warships and had led to speculation that they were caused by unidentified aerial phenomena or UFOs, came to light Friday after the publication of previously classified US Navy memos and ships’ logs, obtained by The Drive under Freedom to Information legislation.

The drone attacks caused high-level concern because they took place near a sensitive naval training area near the Channel Islands. Nearly two years after the attacks, Marine General Kenneth McKenzie Jr. called them “the most concerning tactical development since the rise of the improvised explosive device in Iraq.”

Among the revelations in The Drive’s cache of documents were that on July 15, 2019, Navy warships reported drones that they suspected were being launched from a Hong Kong civilian cargo ship, the MS Bass Strait. The initial report of the drone clusters was reported by sailors on the USS Bunker Hill, which recorded 11 drone attacks, according to the newly released documents.

The US ship called in a special team known as SNOOPIE — Ship Nautical or Otherwise Photographic Interpretation — to document the drones. Sailors also radioed the nearby Bass Strait, but the crew did not respond, according to the logs obtained by The Drive.

Another US Navy ship — the USS Paul Hamilton — which was on its way to Long Beach, California, also summoned its SNOOPIE team to document drones above their ship. The crew noted in their internal report to the US Navy that “MV Bass Strait likely using UAVs (unidentified aerial vehicles) to conduct surveillance on US Naval Forces.”

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US To Sell Ukraine Advanced Drones Armed With Hellfire Missiles In Coming Days

Despite a mere days ago President Biden pledging in a New York Times op-ed that under his watch the United States would ensure it avoids supplying the Ukrainians with weapons which could penetrate deep inside Russian territory, given the potential for wider war with Russia, the White House is now said to be mulling the transfer of multiple MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones which can be armed with Hellfire missiles.

Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reports the Biden administration has notified Congress of the potential sale within “the coming days”. If it goes through, the sale would mark the largest and most sophisticated drones in Ukraine’s arsenal. It would also inch the US a bit closer toward President Zelensky’s prior request for the US and NATO to “close the skies” – or impose a No Fly Zone (NFZ) – despite Biden officials earlier admitting this would trigger automatic direct conflict with Russian.

The Pentagon is already supplying hundreds of AeroVironment’s Switchblade drones, which is a small, low-cost loitering munition or “suicide” drone. Ukraine has also already long deployed the Turkish-made Bayraktar, however, the General Atomics-made Gray Eagle is much faster and capable of carrying heavier munitions.

According to a brief comparative analsysis in Forbes,

The Gray Eagle carries up to four roughly 100-pound Hellfire missiles, whereas the Bayraktar can carry as many as four 49-pound laser-guided “smart micro” bombs.

Further, “The long-range model of the Gray Eagle drone is 28 feet long and can fly for over 41 hours with a top speed of about 173 miles per hour, while the Bayraktar is 21 feet long and can fly for 27 hours at up to 138 miles per hour.”

The potential transfer comes just as Biden authorized $700 million more in military aid to Ukraine. Reuters says the transfer is to include at least four Gray Eagle drones.

The Drive notes that with this type of advanced weapons system sale, there could be a few more hurdles along the way: “Typically a foreign military sale, even one financed by the U.S., as Reuters reports, has to be pre-approved by the State Department,” the report says.

And once again the Pentagon could be ordered by the administration to deplete its own crucial stockpile and arsenal in order to further arm the Ukrainians.

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