Posts Tagged surveillance

Drones Used to Dominate Areas

Elbit Systems President Joseph Ackerman has described an important element of his company’s focus will be a ‘wide area persistent surveillance solution’ (WAAPS) a seamlessly integrated system of various sensors that allow a combat force to dominate a defined area. Apparently WAAPS would be focussed around Elbit Systems Hermes 900 drone or equivalent aircraft. WAAPS might involve as many as 25 airborne cameras, and remotely operated ground stations.

WAAPS would compete with the American WAAS system associated with the Predator drone, using about nine cameras and currently being used in Afghanistan.

WAAPS represents the explosion of surveillance systems associated with the development of the drones industry. Elbit Systems has been involved in providing surveillance systems used on Israel’s separation wall.


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US Drones Patrol Western Canadian Border

US Customs and Border Protection has flown a Predator-B drone patrol along the Western Canadian border from Lake of the Woods, Minnesota to near Spokane, Washington, using an expanded ‘Certificate of Authorisation’.  (It is already flying drones on an eastern section of the border, as reported by the CBC. Apparently the patrols focus on the Akwesasne Reserve, subject to persistent allegations of smuggling). Security Magazine reported that the Predators had been grounded for some time by unreported software problems.

This is not the first drone flight along the Western Canadian border, flights have been carried out since February 2009, presumably under a different level of authorisation.It is uncertain how many flights have been carried out, and whether they have provided any useful information. The RCMP believe that they will benefit from information obtained by the American drones. Wired Magazine reported that the drones would be controlled from Grand Forks and their information analysed in Washington and Riverside, California.

MSNBC reports that the drones, which cost more than $10 million each, will have laser spotlights that light up ‘targets’ with light only visible to wearers of special goggles, for example crews of intercepting helicopters.

There is no indication the drone was armed, although Predator drones are the mainstay of US attacks on Pakistani territory. Government Security News reports that there were two Predator B drones operating from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota in 2009, which is  the home base of these drones.

One assumes that the Predator now has, or will have, an array of surveillance equipment. UPI reports that the drones would transmit ‘live video, radar streams, and photos of footprints’  back to base. Scripps News reports that there would be both infrared and HD video.

One assumes, though that may be too much to assume, that the drone will fly only in American air space. The drones would be able to fly in Canadian airspace with Canadian permission. Would that require them to meet Canadian standards for flying in civilian air space?

The drone will gather information from the immediate border territory as well as well beyond the border into adjacent parts of Canada. Scripps News reported that the Predator’s sensor array monitors a 25 mile (40 km) swath of land, but won’t be flown within 10 miles (15 km) of the Canadian border, meaning that it would monitor a 15 mile (25 km) swath of land within Canada.

(Scripps News reported scepticism over the drone deployment, noting that several commentators felt it was a technological solution promoted for political purposes).

It is uncertain what types of information are best obtained from Predator drones. There are other types of surveillance arrayed near the border (I’ve encountered cameras on the border years ago in Waterton Park). And satellites are capable of providing very detailed images if required.

Will the drones simply make occasional or regular passes along the border? Will they sometimes stay ‘in situ’ overhead, circling? Will they be collecting other data about Canada or Canadians, essentially covert long distance espionage?

One imagines long periods in which the drone operators and the people analysing the data find nothing at all. The area monitored will be approximately the size of Great Britain. Perhaps they will spend their time gathering data for their next fishing trip north of the line? Will they be spotting marijuana patches in the Kootenai Mountains? More sinisterly, will there be a lot of false positives, generating tensions between the two countries?

Dvorak Uncensored blog reported that US border official Michael Kostelnik as saying:

“There are vast parts of the border where, on any given day, we’re not sure what’s going on, so part of this is to try to deal with the unknown and not be surprised.”

Most of us could telling him what is mostly happening on a given day. Not very much at all .

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Autonomous Drones

Much has been made about the use of ‘autonomous’ drones. Many writers confuse autonomy with ‘pilotless’.

But clearly, a fully autonomous drone is one that after launch carries out a task without further interaction with the human controller, based on a pre programmed set of instructions, or decision making rules.

Thus, autonomous drones might survey a target and make a decision whether or not to attack, without further human guidance. This level of accuracy can’t be envisioned now.

Why is this dangerous? First of all it implies that the technology permits the drone to accurately follow the instructions and not make a mistake. This level of accuracy can’t be envisioned now.

More disturbingly, the autonomous drone will almost certainly be stealthy and surrepticious and will thus provide a high degree of deniability and anonymity to the controllers. Furthermore, this ‘killing at a distance’ reduces the moral hazard of the controllers. A controller assured of relative safety from identification or prosecution will programme an autonomous drone differently than one who has to defend his/her actions.

Because drones will be cheap, this means that an entirely new venue for warfare has been opened up. It also opens up a new venue for action by non-state actors, quasi state actors, police, security and intelligence organisations, etc.

Use of drones by these organisations will be difficult to monitor because autonomous drones of the future need not cost a lot, and therefore won’t be large line items in budgets. Nor need they be a large physical presence.

There are already many autonomous weapon systems. Samsung produces an autonomous sentry system capable of spraying a zone with machine gun fire if it detects movement. (see categories list right). Similar systems have been proposed for Israeli border areas.

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UAV’s for Domestic Surveillance in Canada

Airstar International has tried to sell its Airstar drone to law enforcement agencies and energy companies for use to patrol energy installations in the Dawson Creek area of British Columbia, where someone has been bombing installations at night. The Skyhawk would provide thermal imaging and patrol the sites at night. (Source)

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Thales Wins Three Year Support Contract for Watchkeeper

Thales (UK) has been awarded a three year support contract for the new UK Watchkeeper drone.

Thales was also the ‘system integrator’ for Watchkeeper,  the company which took technology from the Hermes 450, and added new technology to create a made-in-UK drone system. Hermes 450 is a product of Elbit Systems of Israel, which is one of Israel’s largest drone exporters, and provides surveillance technology for Israel’s ‘apartheid wall’. Thales and Elbit did the project through a joint venture known as UTacS.

It does not appear that the contract was subject to competive bidding, at least none was mentioned.

Composite producer ACG provided the material for the body of the drone. ACG brags that the project has ‘strengthened the ties that exist between ACG and Elbit Systems’.

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Mini Drone Used in Saskatchewan to Investigate Traffic Accident

A small ‘helicopter’ mini drone was recently used in Saskatchewan to investigate a traffic accident, despite extreme cold and high winds. The drone performed well, but the operators of the onsite control system suffered from the cold.

One wonders what advantage the drone provided that couldn’t be offered by ‘mapping’ on the ground.

Is this a case of boys wanting to play with toys? Is there a cost savings involved? Are there unexpected side effects, like the drones being used for legal or illegal surveillance by police? Will they become common at native roadblocks and protests? Will police in rural areas patrol outlying communities from the air?

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‘Terrorists’ may use drones?

With  up to 40 countries building drone technology some people have raised the possibility that ‘terrorists’ will be able to find and use drone technology. Others have dismissed that insurgents could acquire and master sophisticated drone technology.

But many countries, and many arms companies, have shown no compunction about selling sophisticated arms to insurgents, either for ideological reasons or for hard cash. Many drones are being sold for non military purposes, civilian surveillance, crop monitoring,  border patrol, mapping etc. Access to drones of many sizes and the ability to fly them will proliferate. Many drones are small and easily hidden and transported. Most drones are put together with parts from many sources, and the constituent parts may soon be available to ‘build’ sophisticated drones from ‘off the shelf’.

Hezbollah has flown a surveillance drone over Israel.

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Thoughts on drones for domestic surveillance

Domestic surveillance using drones  seems to be about to skyrocket. The UK already has millions of surveillance cameras, so it bears thinking about what drones add to the mix. Some speculation:

1. Resolution. Many surveillance cameras have relatively low resolution. Drone cameras can have very high resolution. It would be expensive to convert all surveillance cameras to higher resolution, but with drones that high resolution capability can be moved around where most useful.

2. Covert capability. While cameras can be covert, most public ones are not. Drones can be covert when required, or can be made obvious, for purposes of intimidation.

3. Drones can cover areas where cameras aren’t practical, such as rural areas. Drones can’t easily be blocked or disabled.

4. Drones can move with the target. Drones can photograph at angles. Some drones can move inside space.

5. The toy factor. Drones are gadgets, and make the life of the users more interesting.

For most applications, there isn’t a need for drones to be large. Therefore they can be cheap and easy to operate. In a ‘stakeout’ for example, one operator might monitor more than one drones, even at the same site.

Drones can operate in the dark, and produce images in infrared for night vision.


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Elbit Systems involvement in Israel security

Elbit Systems is important to people in the UK because it is an important contractor for the UK Watchkeeper drone system. Elbit is also involved in  providing ‘security’ to many agencies in Israel, including those that protect the ‘apartheid wall’, and protect numerous illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Elbit is involved in Israeli security primarily through Elbit Security, and Elbit Electro Optics (some products). Elbit Systems also supplied UAV’s during combat in both Gaza and the West Bank, according to ‘Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry‘ website. The same website suggests that Elbit has been building and unmanned ground vehicle for patrolling the ‘seamline’, along with Controp Precision Technologies, and Tomcar. They list the major shareholders of Elbit as the Federman family, (since 2004) through the Federman Group. (See end of article for more on the Federman Group)

More than one director of Elbit Systems, have been high ranking officers in the Israeli military, including Gideon Sheffer, executive officer,  and Nathan Sharony(74), who retired as a Major General after 30 years in the IDF. Sharony is a well connected high flyer. Sharony is a member of the Council for Peace and Security, (composed mostly of retired military) which supports a Palestinians state in the West Bank and Gaza, but which opposes most other Palestinian demands.

Elbit has provided surveillance technology to the US for its wall between the US and Mexico. More-includes border drone.

Elbit Electro Optics (El-op) provided LORRO surveillance cameras for the Ariel section of the wall, and the A-ram section.

The Federman Group is composed of David Federman, his brother and his father, Michael Federman.  David Federman(bio)  has a B.A. from Tel Aviv University, and is a Captain in the Reserve of the Israeli Air Force. Along with another company Federman Group recently bought controlling interest in Haifa Oil Refineries. They appear to be involved in many other companies, including Carmel Olefins, Elite Industries, etc. Here’s an article discussing more of David Federman’s business affairs.

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