The Drone Zone

Tom Hart’s flying robot news for the weeks of June 13-27

War Is Boring
Jun 27, 2013 · 4 min read

Pakistan continues to wag a rather limp finger at the U.S. over drone strikes. Just how sincere Islamabad is — and to what extent the condemnation is put on for the voters’ benefit — is unclear.

Nonetheless, this week Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins that drone strikes in Pakistan’s territory are not acceptable. Really. Stop now. Enough already. He really means it this time.

This could be a theme.

Meanwhile the Taliban launched an attack on mountaineers about to scale Nanga Parbat, the second-highest mountain in Pakistan. The Talibs cited retaliation for drone attacks as their motivation. Ten of hikers died. One was an American; the rest were from countries completely uninvolved with drone attacks in Pakistan.

In response National Geographic has published a guide to climb sites plagued with violence and instability. Whether this is meant to serve as a warning or a challenge to mountaineers is uncertain.

Van Gogh had sunflowers, Monet his lilies and Duchamp his urinal. Contemporary artists have the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper.

Painter Mahwish Chishty, originally from Pakistan, has imagined drones decked out in local mechanical folk art, the gaudy paintwork usually found on lorries. Mother Jones carries a full interview along with sample artwork.

Puts drone-maker General Atomics to shame. Their dictum, with apologies to Henry Ford, is any color you like so long as it’s gray.

Back in Washington, D.C. a British artist has put on a show with artwork centered on drones. Highlights include a spray-painted drone shadow on a sidewalk and Dronestagram, which feeds images from drone strike locations onto a Tumblr account with information courtesy of the U.K. Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

This week also saw a fancy visualization called Out of Sight, Out of Mind, again with data from the BIJ, which provides a chronology and victim breakdown for drone attacks.

Frankly, if this goes on much longer, the term secret drone war is going to collapse from terminal irony.

Over at the Paris Air Show, commentators fret over the future for drones post-Afghanistan. The main point is that drones are fine to meander across vacant skies in Somalia or Afghanistan (okay, the skies aren’t always so vacant), but can’t hack the overcrowded air space over Europe.

Getting better acquainted in the city of lurve, General Atomics and CAE. The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding, with CAE set to provide simulations to train drone pilots. Also in Paris, the Chinese Wing Loong drone debuted outside home territory for the first time. Uzbekistan and the UAE are rumored to be potential customers for the, ahem, Reaper look-a-like.

Europe continues to limp along in drone production. Three major aviation companies have teamed up to build a drone, but the project isn’t set for completion until 2020. Quite why Europe and Russia lag in the drone race remains mysterious, but market leader Israel continues to power ahead.

Far down south New Zealand is taking the first tiny steps to drone ownership with a $NZ600 million program to improve military communications. If drones are purchased the most likely application will be to monitor fisheries around the island nation.

The blue helmets want more drones, too. There’s a limited experiment with drone monitors for a U.N. mission in eastern Congo, but commanders want to see more drones rolled out to aid peacekeepers.

Americans don’t scare easy, apparently. This is especially true when it comes to drones. A poll released this week indicates that most American citizens are quite relaxed about drone activity over the homeland.

The survey, which comes from the Institute of Homeland Security Solutions and RTI International, both linked to Duke University, reveals many respondents are ignorant about domestic drone applications. Enthusiasm is highest (97 percent) for search and rescue, followed by homeland security (67 percent) and crime fighting (63 percent).

Perhaps unsurprisingly using drones to monitor traffic was least popular (26 percent). Civil libertarians take note. Forget concern over snoops and get people worried about speeding tickets. Read it all here.

Jefferson Morley over at The Daily Beast has dug up some info about a year-old Global Hawk crash back in Maryland. Incidents like this one might be enough to make the American public feel a little queasy about drones at home. As Gizmodo reminds us, drones are still a work in progress.

Finally, and just counter all this nonsense about drones as the most ultra-modern, unusual beasts on the battlefield take a look at this article. The drones have been at it for well over 25 years, and a good deal longer if operations in Israel and Vietnam (yes, Vietnam) are taken into account.

Read Tom’s previous “Drone Zone” installment.

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    We go to war so you don’t have to

    War Is Boring

    From drones to AKs, high technology to low politics, exploring how and why we fight above, on and below an angry world

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