Feb 25, 2010

Admiral Dennis Blair - a bagpiper's lament

The perjury of Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama's Head of Intelligence, in his congressional testimony is fully documented by Allan Nairn at http://www.allannairn.com/2009/01/breaking-news-us-intel-nominee-lied.html on his knowledge and support of the Liquica massacre. (Since it is never punished, perjury has in any case become standard operating procedure in congressional hearings after the testimony of the tobacco company executives.)

Unless you are really fascinated by descriptions of churches with human flesh hanging off the walls, (the Liquica massacre was entirely carried out with machetes) the physical details need not detain us. The remarkable element of the East Timor killings is not that the people killed were Christians – Roman Catholics, in fact – nor that the Moslem general directing the massacre, General Wiranto, (due at the international court in the Hague immediately after Omar Al-Bashir, the demon of Darfur) was simply exacting retribution for a ninety per cent plus vote in favor of independence, just as the British sent in the Black and Tans when the Irish had the impudence to vote seventy-five per cent in favor of independence. (The Mafia also found it an effective method of discouraging independent action.)

It is how eerily it dovetails with the Air Force drone program, described in detail at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LA26Df01.html and described by Nick Turse, the author, as a “nightmare from which there may be no waking.” So it goes. “The nail which sticks up must be hammered down,” as the Japanese say.

The Air Force program plans to have an entirely automated drone fleet in operation by 2087 which will no longer have any human oversight or input at all, but will carry out its work of getting these pesky humans off the face of mother earth completely independently, and unstoppably, color, religion, political loyalty irrelevant.

Well, what can you expect when the president had his student loans paid off by the CIA http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_5161.shtml and the attorney general was legal counsel for a banana company that was paying the FARC to bump off “problems” like labor organizers and union activists?

Trouble is, they’re broke. Literally zero chance that anyone will lend them even enough to pay the interest on their staggering loans. Hence the “Weimar” plan, hyperinflation so you’ll have to take a bag of million dollar notes to the Golden Arches for your crapburger, after which we’ll all be sadder, if not wiser.

Meanwhile, however, 700 (seven hundred) secret bases have been built in Afghanistan, (see http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LB11Df05.html ) and 300 in Iraq, sites left off the official inventory. No intention of leaving in 2012 or any other year can be detected. World wide control is an expensive business, however. Print more money before the whole thing goes south!

Not that you’d ever guess it from the local “news” media, but many other peoples and countries actually inhabit the world. Some of their notions are distinctly attractive, like Putin’s “Europe without internal borders from the Bay of Biscay to Vladivostok.” And none of them are anything like the USA. China, for example, a five thousand year old empire still named after its original founder, which was two thousand years old when Abraham and Moses hove in sight, has really not changed its internal organization in that time, whatever dynasties may come and go. It takes mostly zero notice of all the good advice and sage counsel hurled at it from western media: “the China/Russia axis has been surrounded,” say oxymoronic military intelligence folks. I look at a map, and “surrounded” looks tricky with a land mass that size; I also notice that Afghanistan is not even in the North Atlantic! (Sigh).

A bagpiper’s lament

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a grave side service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Kentucky back-country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost; and being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw that the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.

"There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.

And as I played 'Amazing Grace,' the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together.... When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I was opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen nothin' like that before and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Feb 14, 2010

Power, beauty, danger

Forget valentines – the Year of the Tiger starts today

Power, beauty, danger

The US Air Force Drones program might perhaps be congratulated for properly updating and automating the clunky railway, cattle truck, and gas chamber program of the last claimant to a “thousand year empire.” (“Das Tausend Jaehrige Reich.”) With the establishment of the CIA candidate of choice in the unitary presidency the reduction of the USA to a banana republic is essentially complete – unfortunately without actually producing any bananas.

(Anyone who doubts this should consult Dana Priest’s Washington Post article that describes how the Obama administration has adopted the Bush policy of targeting selected American citizens for assassination if they are deemed to be Terrorists. Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair said in each case a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get "special permission" before an American citizen can be placed on the assassination list; that "permission" is obtained from the President, or someone under his authority within the Executive Branch. The President claims the power to assassinate American citizens without charges, trials, or judicial oversight of any kind, common practice in banana republics, but not often so bluntly acknowledged.)

The trouble with technology, once invented, however, is that it can not be controlled. Stolen, leaked, copied, it immediately proliferates. Truman’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left the Japanese without a comeback, and indeed, sixty years later, still feebly trying to move the US military out of their country, (and the Germans aren’t even trying) but the list of countries that now possess nuclear weapons is a long one, some of them, like India and Pakistan, grimly ignoring the automated slaughter of their own populations while eyeball to eyeball, nukes in hand, they face each other.

So also with drones.

Sudan/Iran - The Drones Club – Africa Confidential
Iran is supplying Khartoum with military equipment for its attacks in Darfur, in clear breach of the United Nations arms embargo, Africa Confidential has learned. On 28 August, the Sudan Liberation Movement-Unity Command shot down an Iranian-made Ababil-111 unmanned > aerial vehicle (UAV) which was probably controlled by Iranian technicians, say aviation and military sources.
Khartoum admitted the ‘accidental’ loss of the drone, which it claimed was made in Sudan. It told diplomats it was crop spraying in Darfur.
Last September, Defence Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein had declared that Sudan manufactured drones, would soon produce ‘missiles’ and now ‘ranks third’ in ‘military industrialisation’ in Africa, after Egypt and South Africa. Military agreements with its fellow Islamist regime in Tehran (AC Vol 49 No 17) in January 2007 and March 2008, include technology transfer and secondment of Iranian experts.
Iran’s Military University now trains Sudanese, including on UAVs. Iran has made drones for over a decade, at Qods Aviation Industries and Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries (HESA). Britain and others have listed both as ‘of concern’ over weapons of mass destruction and proliferation. Qods (‘Jerusalem’) is run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which welcomed Lieutenant General Abdel Rahim in 2007, as did HESA; that year, the UN listed the Revolutionary Guards as of proliferation concern, formally freezing most of their assets.
The Ababil-3 (or ‘T’; in the Koran, ababil are birds sent by God to attack the enemy) is an early model, usually equipped with an Iranian designed guidance-and-control system, ‘Shahid (“Martyr”) Noroozi’. Command and control requires long training and, since this is Sudan’s first known military use of a drone, Iranian involvement seems likely. UAVs mean ‘a whole new set of requirements for both sides,’ said a military source. Khartoum took three to El Fasher, we hear, also in breach of the UN embargo. One flew high over the crash site on 29 August at 16:20, said the SLM-U, but was out of range of SLM weapons.
The first drone was shot down with a Dushka heavy machine gun, SLM-U Vice-Chairman Ahmed Kubbur told Africa Confidential from the field, then hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, ‘because it tried to go up again’.
His men had captured such weapons from government forces in Abu Jabra and Abila, he said.
He had taken the black box to a safe place, said Commander Ahmed, along with two sturdy cameras, both stamped ‘Made in China’. A ‘shaft’ under the engine had ‘Made in Ireland’ on it. This could be a pipe for a camera or missile, say experts, perhaps added in Khartoum since Eire has no aerospace industry. AC vol49 No18 - 5 September 2008 \\ extract:
Dubai-based Mousaei Product Company, supplier of the video recorder in one of the unmanned aerial vehicles that the government used to spy on Darfur rebels. ...The UAV in question,... may be the Iranian-designed Ababil drone shot down by SLM-Unity (AC Vol 49 No 19).
It was to Mousaei Product Co., ... that UK video surveillance firm Ovation Systems sent some US$200,000 worth of recorders and ‘flash cards’ in 2007-08. In 2009, Ovation won the prestigious Queen’s Award for International Trade.
Battalions ‘as big as you want’
The NCP cannot pursue its military strategy without breaking the UN embargo but infringements are often hard to prove. A sovereign government can easily move equipment into Darfur and claim it was there before the embargo. To comply with the 2005 Darfur Peace Agreement, it reorganised SAF in the region, disbanding the Western Military Command and deploying three divisions, one in each state capital: El Fasher, El Geneina and Nyala. The Report says these include infantry, mechanised and armoured units, with attack helicopters, jets and Antonov cargo planes (mainly used for bombing; cargo and troops are carried by aviation firms). The regime needs UN permission to deploy troops in Darfur: since 2005, it has not asked. Instead, it claims the eight battalions it has deployed are returning from Southern Sudan after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. When asked how big a battalion was, a military source said, ‘As big as you want!’
Without continual monitoring, which the international community will not pay for, it is impossible to measure troop or insurgent movements and the regime refuses to provide any information. Much of the materiel is post-embargo, though, and ammunition is easy to trace. The UN Report goes into rigorous detail about bullets and fuses, nearly all from China, including those used by rebels.
What is harder to pin down is the ‘trading chain’: was this materiel sold legally to the NCP regime which then moved it illegally into Darfur? While the Beijing government has often stalled on questions from the Panel, the companies receiving specific questions on this year’s transactions – China National Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation, North Industries Corporation and Xinshidai Company – simply failed to reply. Also silent was Dubai-based Mousaei Product Company, supplier of the video recorder in one of the unmanned aerial vehicles that the government used to spy on Darfur rebels. This is because the company does not exist. Its real name is Millennuim [sic] Product Co. LLC, and while its main shareholder is one Ayoub Mohamed Abdullah, its leading managers are Iranian: Mojtaba Sadegbi and Saeid Mousaei. The UAV in question, AC understands, may be the Iranian-designed Ababil drone shot down by SLM-Unity (AC Vol 49 No 18).
It was to Mousaei Product Co., however, that UK video surveillance firm Ovation Systems sent some US$200,000 worth of recorders and ‘flash cards’ in 2007-08. In 2009, Ovation won the prestigious Queen’s Award for International Trade. This raises a subject dear to the Panel’s hearts: due diligence, i.e. assessments of the deeper ramifications of any commercial deal. ‘Even for well-intentioned companies, it has to be understood that when you do business in Sudan, you are likely to end up doing business with government,’ the Panel Coordinator, Enrico Carisch, a veteran of UN panels on Somalia, Liberia and Congo-Kinshasa, told AC.
An emphasis on corporate social responsibility requires support from UN governments, especially the 15 on the UNSC which mandates investigative panels on arms and resources (AC passim). Yet though the Council renewed the Panel’s mandate until October 2010, it displayed the carrot approach which now characterises international dealings with Sudan, urging and encouraging rather than using the Panel’s detailing of torture and sanctions-busting to build more robust policies. Someone may be listening, though. In an unprecedented case on 4 November, the owner of one of the world’s largest second-hand military equipment dealers, Andrew Jackson, a Briton, was sentenced to two years eight months’ gaol after trying to send some £500,000 (US$840,000) of military vehicles to White Nile Petroleum, thereby breaking the European Union’s arms embargo. The Swedish troop transporters are designed for rough terrain and, said a military source, superior to those Sudan might buy from Russia or China. The White Nile in question was the Sudan government oil company, not the outfit of former England cricketer Phil Edmonds in South Sudan, an enforcement official at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs assured us.


The tiger, one of 12 animal signs in the Chinese zodiac, stands for power, beauty, and danger - which means that the year ahead could be a wild ride. The ox plods, the tiger pounces.

Of the five basic elements - metal, wood, water, fire and earth - that rotate through the zodiac, creating a 60-year cycle, metal and wood are the key actors this year. Metal, whose symbol is a sword, is stronger than wood in what is considered a conflicted relationship. While the tiger pounces and metal and wood clash, expect a year of heightening international tension.

On the positive side, however, the tiger and its "seed of fire" are considered signs of economic strength.

Tiger-friendly sectors that are expected to prosper include energy, airlines, and entertainment. Remember, this is also a metal year, so metal-related industries – machinery, automobiles, [and drones] - stand to gain. Since earth produces metal, mining, and property development should also be on the upswing.

But the year will be tough on those employed in occupations associated with wood. Foresters, furniture-makers and fashionistas should prepare for hard times. For those working for newspapers and magazines, it may be time to give up the ghost.

The Year of the Tiger favors people who like to take risks and take charge.

Those born in pig, horse, and dog years are in harmony with the tiger and can look forward to the year ahead. Monkeys and snakes, on the other hand, face dimmer prospects.

Meanwhile, love will bloom. With an extra boost from Valentine's Day, rabbits will be out in force - but their first choice of a partner should, of course, be a tiger, strange and awkward as that might sound.


Feb 1, 2010



Jan 26, 2010 Drone surge: Today, tomorrow and 2047 By Nick Turse

One moment there was the hum of a motor in the sky above. The next, on a recent morning in Afghanistan's Helmand province, a missile blasted a home, killing 13 people. Days later, the same increasingly familiar mechanical whine preceded a two-missile salvo that slammed into a compound in Degan village in the North Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan, killing three.

What were once unacknowledged, relatively infrequent targeted killings of suspected militants or terrorists in the George W Bush years have become commonplace under the Barack Obama administration. And since a devastating December 30 suicide attack by a Jordanian double agent on a Central Intelligence Agency forward operating base in Afghanistan, unmanned aerial drones have been hunting humans in the AfPak war zone at a record pace.

In Pakistan, an "unprecedented number" of strikes - which have killed armed guerrillas and civilians alike - have led to more fear, anger and outrage in the tribal areas, as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with help from the United States Air Force, wages the most public "secret" war of modern times.

In neighboring Afghanistan, unmanned aircraft, for years in short supply and tasked primarily with surveillance missions, have increasingly been used to assassinate suspected militants as part of an aerial surge that has significantly outpaced the highly publicized "surge" of ground forces now underway. And yet, unprecedented as it may be in size and scope, the present ramping up of the drone war is only the opening salvo in a planned 40-year Pentagon surge to create fleets of ultra-advanced, heavily-armed, increasingly autonomous, all-seeing, hypersonic unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Today's surge
Drones are the hot weapons of the moment and the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review - a soon-to-be-released four-year outline of Department of Defense strategies, capabilities and priorities to fight current wars and counter future threats - is already known to reflect this focus. As the Washington Post recently reported, "The pilotless drones used for surveillance and attack missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are a priority, with the goals of speeding up the purchase of new Reaper drones and expanding Predator and Reaper drone flights through 2013."

The MQ-1 Predator - first used in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s - and its newer, larger and more deadly cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, are now firing missiles and dropping bombs at an unprecedented pace. In 2008, there were reportedly between 27 and 36 US drone attacks as part of the CIA's covert war in Pakistan. In 2009, there were 45 to 53 such strikes. In the first 18 days of January 2010, there had already been 11 of them.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the US Air Force has instituted a much-publicized decrease in piloted air strikes to cut down on civilian casualties as part of Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy. At the same time, however, air UAS attacks have increased to record levels.

The air force has created an interconnected global command-and-control system to carry out its robot war in Afghanistan (and as Noah Shachtman of Wired's Danger Room blog has reported, to assist the CIA in its drone strikes in Pakistan as well). Evidence of this can be found at high-tech US bases around the world where drone pilots and other personnel control the planes themselves and the data streaming back from them.

These sites include a converted medical warehouse at al-Udeid Air Base, a billion-dollar facility in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar where the air force secretly oversees its ongoing drone wars; Kandahar and Jalalabad air fields in Afghanistan, where the drones are physically based; the global operations center at Nevada's Creech air base, where the air force's "pilots" fly drones by remote control from thousands of kilometers away; and - perhaps most importantly - at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a 12-square-mile (32 square kilometers) facility in Dayton, Ohio, named after the two local brothers who invented powered flight in 1903. This is where the bills for the current drone surge - as well as limited numbers of strikes in Yemen and Somalia - come due and are, quite literally, paid.

In the waning days of December 2009, in fact, the Pentagon cut two sizeable checks to ensure that unmanned operations involving the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper would continue full speed ahead in 2010. The 703rd Aeronautical Systems Squadron based at Wright-Patterson signed a $38 million contract with defense giant Raytheon for logistics support for the targeting systems of both drones. At the same time, the squadron inked a deal worth $266 million with mega-defense contractor General Atomics, which makes the Predator and Reaper drones, to provide management services, logistics support, repairs, software maintenance and other functions for both drone programs. Both deals essentially ensure that, in the years ahead, the stunning increase in drone operations will continue.

These contracts, however, are only initial down payments on an enduring drone surge designed to carry US unmanned aerial operations forward, ultimately for decades.

Drone surge: The longer view
In 2004, the air force could put a total of only five drone combat air patrols (CAPs) - each consisting of four air vehicles - in the skies over American war zones at any one time. By 2009, that number was 38, a 660% increase according to the air force. Similarly, between 2001 and 2008, hours of surveillance coverage for US Central Command, encompassing both the Iraqi and Afghan war zones, as well as Pakistan and Yemen, showed a massive spike of 1,431%.

In the meantime, flight hours have gone through the roof. In 2004, for example, Reapers, just beginning to soar, flew 71 hours in total, according to air force documents. In 2006, that number had risen to 3,123 hours; and last year, 25,391 hours. This year, the air force projects that the combined flight hours of all its drones - Predators, Reapers and unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawks - will exceed 250,000 hours, about the total number of hours flown by all air force drones from 1995-2007. In 2011, the 300,000 hour-a-year barrier is expected to be crossed for the first time, and after that the sky's the limit.

More flight time will, undoubtedly, mean more killing. According to Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the Washington-based think-tank the New America Foundation, in the George W Bush years, from 2006 into 2009, there were 41 drone strikes in Pakistan which killed 454 militants and civilians. Last year, under the Barack Obama administration, there were 42 strikes that left 453 people dead. A recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based independent research organization that tracks security issues, claimed an even larger number, 667 people - most of them civilians - were killed by US drone strikes last year.

While assisting the CIA's drone operations in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, the air force has been increasing its own unmanned aerial hunter-killer missions. In 2007 and 2008, for example, air force Predators and Reapers fired missiles during 244 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, while all the US armed services have pursued unmanned aerial warfare, the air force has outpaced each of them.

From 2001, when armed drone operations began, until the spring of 2009, the air force had fired 703 Hellfire missiles and dropped 132 GBU-12s (250-kilogram laser-guided bombs) in combat operations. The army, by comparison, launched just two Hellfire missiles and two smaller GBU-44 Viper Strike munitions in the same time period. The disparity should only grow, since the army's drones remain predominantly small surveillance aircraft, while in 2009 the air force shifted all outstanding orders for the medium-sized Predator to the even more formidable Reaper, which is not only twice as fast but has 600% more payload capacity, meaning more space for bombs and missiles.

In addition, the more heavily-armed Reapers, which can now loiter over an area for 10 to 14 hours without refueling, will be able to spot and track ever more targets via an increasingly sophisticated video monitoring system. According to air force Lieutenant General David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, the first three "Gorgon Stare pods" - new wide-area sensors that provide surveillance capabilities over large swathes of territory - will be installed on Reapers operating in Afghanistan this spring.

A technology not available for the older Predator, Gorgon Stare will allow 10 operators to view 10 video feeds from a single drone at the same time. Back at a distant base, a "pilot" will stare at a tiled screen with a composite picture of the streaming battlefield video, even as field commanders analyze a portion of the digital picture, panning, zooming and tilting the image to meet their needs.

A more advanced set of "pods", scheduled to be deployed for the first time this autumn, will allow 30 operators to view 30 video images simultaneously. In other words, via video feeds from a single Reaper drone, operators could theoretically track 30 different people heading in 30 directions from a single Afghan compound. The generation of sensors expected to come online in late 2011 promises 65 such feeds, according to air force documents, a more than 6,000% increase in effectiveness over the Predator's video system. The air force is, however, already overwhelmed just by drone video currently being sent back from the war zones and, in the years ahead, risks "drowning in data", according to Deptula.

The 40-year plan
When it comes to the drone surge, the years 2011-2013 are just the near horizon. While, like the army, the navy is working on its own future drone warfare capacity - in the air as well as on and even under the water - the air force is involved in striking levels of futuristic planning for robotic war. It envisions a future previously imagined only in science-fiction movies like the Terminator series.

As a start, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, the Pentagon's blue skies research outfit, is already looking into radically improving on Gorgon Stare with an "Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Infrared (ARGUS-IR) System". In the obtuse language of military research and development, it will, according to DARPA, provide a "real-time, high-resolution, wide-area video persistent surveillance capability that allows joint forces to keep critical areas of interest under constant surveillance with a high degree of target location accuracy" via as many as 130 'Predator-like' steerable video streams to enable real-time tracking and monitoring and enhanced situational awareness during evening hours".

In translation, that means the air force will quite literally be flooded with video information from future battlefields; and every "advance" of this sort means bulking up the global network of facilities, systems and personnel capable of receiving, monitoring and interpreting the data streaming in from distant digital eyes. All of it is specifically geared toward "target location", that is, pin-pointing people on one side of the world so that Americans on the other side can watch, track and, in many cases, kill them.

In addition to enhanced sensors and systems like ARGUS-IR, the air force has a long-term vision for drone warfare that is barely beginning to be realized. Predators and Reapers have already been joined in Afghanistan by a newer, formerly secret drone, a "low observable unmanned aircraft system" first spotted in 2007 and dubbed the "Beast of Kandahar" before observers were sure what it actually was. It is now known to be a Lockheed Martin-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicle, the RQ-170 - a drone which the air force blandly notes was designed to "directly support combatant commander needs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to locate targets". According to military sources, the sleek, stealthy surveillance craft has been designated to replace the antique Lockheed U-2 spy plane, which has been in use since the 1950s.

In the coming years, the RQ-170 is slated to be joined in the skies of America's "next wars" by a fleet of drones with ever newer, more sophisticated capabilities and destructive powers. Looking into the post-2011 future, Deptula sees the most essential need, according to an Aviation Week report, as "long-range [reconnaissance and] precision strike" - that is, more eyes in far off skies and more lethality. He added, "We cannot move into a future without a platform that allows [us] to project power long distances and to meet advanced threats in a fashion that gives us an advantage that no other nation has."

This means bigger, badder, faster drones - armed to the teeth - with sensor systems to monitor wide swathes of territory and the ability to loiter overhead for days on end waiting for human targets to appear and, in due course, be vaporized by high-powered munitions. It's a future built on advanced technologies designed to make targeted killings - remote-controlled assassinations - ever more effortless.

Over the horizon and deep into what was, until recently, only a silver-screen fantasy, the air force envisions a wide array of unmanned aircraft, from tiny insect-like robots to enormous "tanker size" pilotless planes. Each will be slated to take over specific war-making functions (or so air force dreamers imagine). Those nano-sized drones, for instance, are set to specialize in indoor reconnaissance - they're small enough to fly through windows or down ventilation shafts - and carry out lethal attacks, undertake computer-disabling cyber-attacks, and swarm, as would a group of angry bees, of their own volition. Slightly larger micro-sized Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (STUAS) are supposed to act as "transformers" - altering their form to allow for flying, crawling and non-visual sensing capabilities. They might fill sentry, counter-drone, surveillance and lethal attack roles.

Additionally, the air force envisions small and medium "fighter-sized" drones with lethal combat capabilities that would put the current UAS air fleet to shame. Today's medium-sized Reapers are set to be replaced by next generation MQ-Ma drones that will be "networked, capable of partial autonomy, all-weather and modular with capabilities supporting electronic warfare [EW], CAS [close air support], strike and multi-INT [multiple intelligence] ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] missions' platforms".

The language may not be elegant, much less comprehensible, but if these future fighter aircraft actually come online they will not only send today's remaining Top Gun pilots to the showers, but may even sideline tomorrow's drone human operators, who, if all goes as planned, will have ever fewer duties. Unlike today's drones, which must take off and land with human guidance, the MQ-Mas will be automated and drone operators will simply be there to monitor the aircraft.

Next up will be the MQ-Mb, theoretically capable of taking over even more roles once assigned to traditional fighter-bombers and spy planes, including the suppression of enemy air defenses, bombing and strafing of ground targets and surveillance missions. These will also be designed to fly more autonomously and be better linked in to other drone "platforms" for cooperative missions involving many aircraft under the command of a single "pilot". Imagine, for instance, one operator overseeing a single command drone that holds sway over a small squadron of autonomous drones carrying out a coordinated air attack on clusters of people in some far off land, incinerating them in small groups across a village, town or city.

Finally, perhaps 30 to 40 years from now, the MQ-Mc drone would incorporate all of the advances of the MQ-M line, while being capable of everything from dog-fighting to missile defense. With such new technology will come new policies and new doctrines. In the years ahead, the air force intends to make drone-related policy decisions on everything from treaty obligations to automatic target engagement - robotic killing without a human in the loop. The latter extremely controversial development is already envisioned as a possible post-2025 reality.

2047: What's old is new again
The year 2047 is the target date for the air force's Holy Grail, the capstone for its long-term plan to turn the skies over to war-fighting drones. In 2047, the air force intends to rule the skies with MQ-Mc drones and "special" super-fast, hypersonic drones for which neither viable technology nor any enemies with any comparable programs or capabilities yet exist. Despite this, the air force is intent on making these super-fast hunter-killer systems a reality by 2047. "Propulsion technology and materials that can withstand the extreme heat will likely take 20 years to develop. This technology will be the next generation air game-changer. Therefore the prioritization of the funding for the specific technology development should not wait until the emergence of a critical COCOM [combatant command] need," says the air force's 2009-2047 UAS "Flight Plan".

If anything close to the air force's dreams comes to fruition, the "game" will indeed be radically changed. By 2047, there's no telling how many drones will be circling over how many heads in how many places across the planet. There's no telling how many millions or billions of flight hours will have been flown, or how many people, in how many countries, will have been killed by remote-controlled, bomb-dropping, missile-firing, judge-jury-and-executioner drone systems.

There's only one given. If the US still exists in its present form, is still solvent and still has a functioning Pentagon of the present sort, a new plan will already be well underway to create the war-making technologies of 2087. By then, in ever more places, people will be living with the sort of drone war that now worries only those in places like Degan village. Ever more people will know that unmanned aerial systems packed with missiles and bombs are loitering in their skies. By then, there undoubtedly won't even be that lawnmower-engine sound indicating that a missile may soon plow into your neighbor's home.

For the air force, such a prospect is the stuff of dreams, a bright future for unmanned, hypersonic lethality; for the rest of the planet, it's a potential nightmare from which there may be no waking.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University's Center for the United States and the Cold War. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books). His website is NickTurse.com.

(Copyright 2010 Nick Turse.)

(Used by permission Tomdispatch)