Pentagon shutters African drone base, moves aircraft to other hot spots

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The Pentagon has closed a drone base in Africa and moved the unmanned aircraft to other locations as it strains to cope with a surge in demand for drones from military commanders fighting the Islamic State and other militant groups.

The U.S. military has stopped flying unarmed Reaper drones from an airfield in Ethi­o­pia that had served as a key hub since 2011 for collecting surveillance on al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliate in neighboring Somalia, U.S. officials said.

U.S. troops and contractors packed up the Reaper drones and dismantled their small base of operations in the southern city of Arba Minch in September. But the move was kept quiet until last weekend, when U.S. diplomats confirmed it in a report by an Ethio­pian news website.

U.S. officials were vague about why they decided to end the drone flights. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, said the United States and Ethi­o­pia “reached a mutual decision that our presence in Arba Minch is not required at this time.”

Katherine Diop, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, the capital, added in an email that “it is important to know that our presence in Arba Minch was never meant to be permanent.” A spokesman for the Ethio­pian embassy in Washington did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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DARPA’s New Battle Drone Makes Every Navy Ship an Aircraft Carrier

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new drone — and this one could turn every one of America’s 272 warships into a virtual aircraft carrier.

That’s the upshot of what seemed, at first glance, to be a really very modest contract awarded by the Pentagon to defense contractor Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC). On a slow day for contract awards in general (it was, after all, Christmas Eve), the Department of Defense announced it had granted Northrop Grumman $93.1 million in funding to “design, develop, and demonstrate enabling technologies and system attributes for a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle and shipboard-capable launch and recovery system allowing operations from smaller ships.”

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Newport News, VA and Tuscon, AZ Should Seek New Opportunities with USAF $3B Drone Expansion Plan

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The Air Force wants to vastly expand its drone program over the next five years by doubling the number of pilots and deploying them to bases around the country to give commanders better intelligence and more firepower.

Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — which stands to lose its biggest mission amid efforts to retire the A-10 ground-attack jet — is mentioned as a possible site for expanded drone operations.

Besides Davis-Monthan, those considered most likely sites for the program include Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento, California; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam near Honolulu; and Langley Air Force Base near Newport News, Virginia.

The $3 billion drone expansion plan, which must be approved by Congress, was unveiled Thursday after months of study that focused on a drone pilot force that commanders have described as overworked, undermanned and under appreciated.

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Air Force proposes $3-billion plan to vastly expand its drone program

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The Air Force wants to vastly expand its drone program over the next five years by doubling the number of pilots and deploying them to bases in California and elsewhere to give commanders better intelligence and more firepower.

The $3-billion plan, which must be approved by Congress, was unveiled Thursday after months of study that focused on a drone pilot force that commanders have described as overworked, undermanned and underappreciated.

The proposed expansion comes as the Pentagon has intensified airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. Pilots and crews who operate the MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers have struggled to meet a rising demand for aerial surveillance of war zones and other hot spots.

“Right now, 100% of the time, when a MQ-1 or MQ-9 crew goes in, all they do is combat,” said Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, which oversees drone operations. “So we really have to build the capacity.”

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Former Airmen, with PTSD, Denounce Drone Program.. Self Described Whistleblowers

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Former Air Force airmen are speaking out against America’s use of drone warfare, calling the military drone program “morally outrageous” and “one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

In interviews with NBC News, three former servicemen — who together have 15 years of military drone experience — decried the civilian cost of drone strikes and called on President Obama to “turn this around” before he leaves office.

“We were very callous about any real collateral damage,” said Michael Haas, 29, who worked as both a drone operator and instructor. “Whenever that possibility came up, most of the time it was a ‘guilt by association’ or sometimes we didn’t even consider other people that were on screen.”

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San Diego Air & Space Museum Honors GA-ASI Executives with Hall of Fame Induction

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Frank Pace, Tom Cassidy Inducted into International Air & Space Hall of Fame

SAN DIEGO – 25 November 2015 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, today announced that Frank W. Pace, GA-ASI’s current Aircraft Systems president, and Thomas J. Cassidy, former Aircraft Systems president, have been inducted into the San Diego International Air & Space Museum’s Hall of Fame for their bold contributions to the RPA industry, fortifying the company’s status within an elite top tier of global defense contractors.

“Frank Pace and Tom Cassidy have forever changed the landscape of the aerospace industry through their tireless efforts to create game-changing, state-of-the-art RPA systems, and both are pivotal players in the company’s continued worldwide success,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “On behalf of GA-ASI, I thank them for their ongoing contributions to warfighters around the world who rely on our products for their unparalleled situational awareness and life-saving capabilities.”

Frank Pace has overseen approximately 70-percent of the flight hours accumulated by company aircraft in the last five years. This milestone serves as testament to the visionary leadership he has provided over the course of his 24-year career with GA-ASI. Pace’s impact to the success of the organization can be measured by the successful conceptualization, development, and delivery of Predator® and Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper® to the U.S. Air Force; development and delivery of Altair® to NASA; entry into production of Predator C Avenger®, and development and production of Predator XP. The success of these aircraft has resulted in the dramatic expansion of both the company’s domestic and international customer base, which includes NASA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, UK, Italy, France, and the UAE. It is noteworthy to mention that in addition to his applied leadership in aircraft development, Pace has led numerous key demonstrations, including the implementation of RPA satellite communications (SATCOM), Predator Hellfire missiles, and Sky Warrior® and Gray Eagle for the U.S. Army.

Rear Admiral Thomas Cassidy (Ret., U.S. Navy) has left a legacy at GA-ASI that is enduring and has set a solid course for the company’s current success. His specific efforts have established GA-ASI as the global leader in RPA systems. Predator/Gray Eagle-series aircraft have been accepted by U.S. and foreign governments into everyday operations and have revolutionized the way the U.S. military fights wars and defends the homeland. During Cassidy’s tenure, he was instrumental in establishing a strong corporate culture that promoted quality, leadership, and entrepreneurship. These attributes established the foundation which can be measured by the current success of GA-ASI operations, including design, manufacturing, training, and support activities of the organization’s RPA programs. Of specific note, Cassidy led the development of the MQ-9 Reaper® and Avenger which are in the U.S. inventory and operationally supporting U.S. interests worldwide. Cassidy retired from the day-to-day management of the Aircraft Systems business unit in March 2010 but remains on the company’s Board of Directors as Chairman of its Executive Committee.

“The significant contributions that Mr. Pace and Mr. Cassidy have made over the span of their impressive aerospace careers have transformed the global RPA industry, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum is proud to induct them into our International Air & Space Hall of Fame,” said Jim Kidrick, president and CEO, San Diego Air & Space Museum. “Through their efforts, GA-ASI continues to push the envelope into new frontiers, successfully creating cutting-edge capabilities to protect U.S. and allied forces in combat, support homeland defense, and expand the RPA market worldwide.”

The International Air & Space Hall of Fame represents the commemoration of those, who throughout history and around the world, have made a significant difference and whose contributions are worthy of special recognition. The list of previous honorees are some of the world’s most significant aviation pilots, crew members, visionaries, inventors, aerospace engineers, businessmen, designers, spokesmen, and space pioneers. Previous inductees include Orville and Wilbur Wright, Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager, and Buzz Aldrin.

Air Force hires contracted drone pilots for combat patrols; critics “drone on” about legality

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The Air Force has hired civilian defense contractors to fly MQ-9 Reaper drones to help track suspected militants and other targets in global hot spots, a previously undisclosed expansion in the privatization of once-exclusively military functions.

For the first time, civilian pilots and crews now operate what the Air Force calls “combat air patrols,” daily round-the-clock flights above areas of military operations to provide video and collect other sensitive intelligence.

Contractors control two Reaper patrols a day, but the Air Force plans to expand that to 10 a day by 2019. Each patrol involves up to four drones.

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Another 1st; Gray Eagle | Apache Conducts Manned-Unmanned Teaming in South Korea

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SAN DIEGO – 18 November 2015 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, today announced that a U.S. Army Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) recently conducted manned-unmanned teaming exercises in South Korea. Exercise support was conducted in August 2015 from Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.

“These flights represent a major milestone for the MQ-1C Gray Eagle as they successfully demonstrated manned-unmanned teaming in South Korea and proved the aircraft’s ability to conduct operations in diverse weather conditions that are typical on the Korean Peninsula,” said Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “They also marked a new company milestone for Gray Eagle with its first mission in South Korean airspace.”

During the exercise, the Gray Eagle UAS streamed video and metadata via a line-of-sight data link directly to a U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter from extended distances. The Apache subsequently was able to re-transmit the imagery to a One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT), allowing ground forces to view the video from the helicopter. Field commanders within the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) were able to receive both live Gray Eagle streaming video and re-transmitted video sent by the Apache. Once Gray Eagle was airborne, U.S. ground forces passed contact reports and target coordinates to operators in the aircraft’s One System Ground Control Station (OSGCS). The operators were then able to direct the Gray Eagle’s sensors to positively identify and track the targets.

Technologically advanced and combat proven, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an Army Division and Echelons Above Division organic asset directly controlled by Army field commanders. Its expansive mission set includes persistent, broad-area Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA); communications relay; convoy protection; Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection; pattern of life analysis; and precision weapons delivery. A key force multiplier, Gray Eagle has an endurance of up to 25 hours, an operating altitude of up to 25,000 feet, and payload capacity of over 1,000 pounds.

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USAF struggles to fill drone pilot seats

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Deep in the 60,000 acres of desert on this desolate air base, past a billboard that shows a Predator soaring in the sky, lies a high-security compound where America’s drone pilots learn to hunt and kill from half a world away.

But “the Farm,” as the little-known Air Force boot camp is known, faces a crisis.

Experienced pilots and crews complain of too much work, too much strain and too little chance for promotion operating the Predator and Reaper drones that provide surveillance and that fire missiles in Iraq, Syria and other war zones. Partly as a result, too few young officers want to join their ranks.

The Air Force has struggled with a drone pilot shortage since at least 2007, records show. In fiscal year 2014, the most recent data available, the Air Force trained 180 new pilots while 240 veterans left the field.

“It’s extremely stressful and extremely difficult,” said Peter “Pepe” LeHew, who retired in 2012 and joined private industry. He called the work, which sometimes involved flying surveillance in one country in the morning and bombing another in the afternoon, “mentally fatiguing.”

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DARPA Moves Forward with Fast, Light weight, Autonomy Program… Drones that fly like Birds

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the government agency that funds future technology — has awarded $3.4 million to two Cambridge groups to build speedy miniature drones that function as scouts for first responders.

Some day, the idea goes, tiny flying robots will zip into burning, crumbling buildings and scope out the space before firefighters and first-responders enter.
It’s all part of DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy program that the agency announced in December last year.

In a request for proposals, DARPA compared the agility required of their machines to nature’s aerial champs: “Birds and flying insects maneuver easily at high speeds near obstacles. The FLA program asks the question ‘How can autonomous flying robotic systems achieve similar high-speed performance?’ ”

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