Sunday, July 25, 2010

Secrets, Surveillance, and UAVs

Two interesting reports about UAVs (unmanned aircraft) have be brought to our attention. One, written by Thomas P. Ehrhard, is titled, Air Force UAVs:The Secret History. Ehrhard is a Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. In an introduction, Rebecca Grant, Director of the Mitchell Institute for who the report was prepared, writes:
All along, there have been some tantalizing public hints about the extent of America's unmanned reconnaissance and surveillance work. What is striking, though, is how thoroughly the Air Force's secret role in UAV development remained "in the black world," unseen by any except those closest to the projects. The veil allowed speedy development of systems but gave the Air Force an undeserved reputation of indifference.

Of perhaps even more interest to readers of this blog, is a second report titled, Homeland Security: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Border Surveillance by Chad Haddal and Jeremiah Gertler. This discusses progress in using UAV's for surveillance along the U.S.'s international borders.
The technical capabilities of the UAVs have been tested in a military context, but safety and technical issues need to be addressed if the program is to be expanded domestically. Chief among these issues is the FAA’s concerns about the NAS and whether UAVs can be safely incorporated into the nation’s crowded skies. It has been noted that UAVs suffer accident rates multiple times higher than manned aircraft. However, in an effort to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, DOD fielded UAVs such as Predator and Global Hawk before their development programs were complete. Thus, the UAV accident rate might be lower if these systems had been allowed to mature under the full development program.

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