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The Military Technology

Drones Within a Drone Riding a Balloon 108

Posted by Soulskill
from the unidentifiable-flying-object dept.
smitty777 writes "Given the U.S.'s recent drone issues, what is the new recipe for sending a drone over another country of interest? Simple, just take a balloon and attach a Tempest drone to the bottom of it. Now, attach two more CICADA drones to that. The balloon climbs to over 55k feet, then drops the first drone, which can travel another 11 miles or so. It then deploys the CICADA drones. These unpowered gliders slip past radar undetected and start sending back information. There are future plans to mount many (count hundreds) of the CICADA glider drones to the Tempest in the future. The article quotes the flight engineer describing the process as 'straightforward.'"
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Drones Within a Drone Riding a Balloon

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  • Nothing new (Score:5, Funny)

    by sethstorm (512897) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:19PM (#38613800) Homepage

    It's just drones, all the way down.

  • I await the day (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@@@carpanet...net> on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:22PM (#38613848) Homepage

    When some other country gets caught trying to spy on the US in this manner.

    How loudly do you think the war drums would beat if Iran launched something like this into our country? Pakistan? China?

    • Re:I await the day (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:38PM (#38614088)

      This isn't something you'd want to use for covert, peacetime operations. The only stealth factor in these mini-drones is that they're hard to detect or shoot down in the air, simply because they're bird-sized. Once on the ground, they're painfully obvious. Littering your opponent's landscape with hundreds of sensor-bearing paper airplanes that home in within fifteen feet of their target... that's not stealthy or covert. That's going to be noticed quickly.

      Besides, the post-balloon range is only ~50 miles. This isn't useful for deeply penetrating an opponent's airspace.

      These are for naval surveillance. A balloon launch can happen from the deck of any ship, even from a surfaced sub. The range is appropriate for scouting around your position at sea, and you don't have to worry as much about detection if these things degrade quickly on contact with the sea. In fact, you might not even be worried about detection at all if you're in international waters.

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        Actually, there's more comedy.

        Who do you suppose might be able to use these once they fall to the ground (even if disabled, anything short of being blown up)?

        Hint: the party you're spying on.

        • by Skidborg (1585365)
          Yes, and your enemies can go and refill bullet casings that you leave on their soil, and might shoot you with them. These are similarly cheap, disposable tech.
      • by blindseer (891256)

        Besides, the post-balloon range is only ~50 miles. This isn't useful for deeply penetrating an opponent's airspace.

        It would be useful in targeting artillery.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You're right that this isn't something for covert ops over an opponent you don't want to alarm. But, I don't think it's only for naval operations; the Navy Press release from which these stories have been cribbed ( Autonomous Deployment Demonstration Program Completes Flight Testing [navy.mil], December 5, 2011 -- just reaching ./ a month later) indicates that these replace sensors that would have to be manually deployed by warfighters (or spies), with payloads for acoustic, magnetic, chemical/biological and signals i

      • This isn't something you'd want to use for covert, peacetime operations.

        ..unless you want to send a message to someone that their secret uranium processing facility isn't fooling anyone and that you can drop in a cruise missile anytime you feel like it.
      • by kmoser (1469707)
        I predict sales of shotguns and buckshot will increase as people organize impromptu drone-hunting parties.
      • by Hadlock (143607)

        Besides, the post-balloon range is only ~50 miles. This isn't useful for deeply penetrating an opponent's airspace.

        We lost our stealth-UAV 114 miles from the Iranian border. There's a lot of things within 150 miles of the border. Besides, launched from 55K feet, even with a crappy 12:1 glide ratio (a flying squirrel's is 2, modern sailplanes are 50+) you should have 150 miles of range (660k ft). Baghdad is 80 miles from the Iranian border, Tehran is 66 miles from the Caspian Sea. A balloon will travel 40-60

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        This isn't something you'd want to use for covert, peacetime operations

        But the US does use drones over Iran and China. If Iran did the same back there would be calls for war in the US, as there are in Iran. Somehow though it's okay to spy on Iran.

        You can see why Iran wants nuclear weapons. They are literally the only thing that will stop the US/Israel attacking them with spy drones, assassination hit squads and computer viruses.

        • by fnj (64210)

          Why would you think a dangerous piece of shit with nuclear weapons is safer from being rubbed out (I won't say assassination) than a dangerous piece of shit without nuclear weapons? I don't understand the logic. If you drill through his syphilitic brain with a sniper round, you've eliminated the nut who might launch nukes at any whim of his insane raving mind. It's probably safer than just waiting til he does just that.

          And even a looney tunes does not launch a literally suicidal nuclear attack because you'r

    • by Dan East (318230)

      Yeah, because the country is so locked down you can't just hop in a car and pretty much drive wherever you want. Or charter a plane if you want some aerial views. It's much easier just to throw a little money at someone and have them collect information here in the US.

    • I think the standard procedure in the USA is to blame it on extra terrestrials.
    • Most poor countries spy on us using $300 hookers with hidden cameras or wads of cash that are 2-4 times the annual salary of the government worker they're trying to compromise. A $10,000,000 stealth drone is sorta overkill for espionage.

  • Yo Dawg.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:22PM (#38613856)

    I heard you like drones, so I put drones in your drones so you can spy on stuff while you spy on other stuff.

  • Awesome! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jdavidb (449077) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:24PM (#38613882) Homepage Journal

    I think everybody should have this, and then everybody can watch to make sure that nobody is up to no good.

  • Our enemies will create drones to enter the drones in our drones. It'll be a hit movie for our drone overlords.
  • CICADA? (Score:3, Funny)

    by towelie-ban (1234530) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:24PM (#38613902)
    I thought cicadas weren't due back until 2021?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
    You can make him carry a plank of wood
    to the top of a hill and nail him to it.
    To do this properly you require a crowd of people
    wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
    to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
    man to hammer the nails home.

    Or you can take a length of steel,
    shaped and chased in a traditional way,
    and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
    But for this you need white horses,
    English trees, men with bows and arrows,
    at least two flags, a prince, an

  • by Walking The Walk (1003312) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:28PM (#38613950)

    There are a surprising number of mistakes in this summary. TFA says the balloon goes to 57K feet, then the Tempest goes 35 miles or so (30 nautical miles), and then the Cicadas go the last 11 miles.

    Unleashed at 57,000 feet, the Tempest drones traveled as far as 30 nautical miles before unleashing their Cicada cargo. Once deployed, the Cicada drones glided an extra 11 miles, and landed an average of 15 feet away from their target locations.

  • Japanese Fire Ballons [wikipedia.org]

    Is that technique patented and/or copyrighted? Or is the US pirating ideas? Or is there a drone coming my way for raising the question?

  • by jd2112 (1535857) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:30PM (#38613982)
    Wile E. Coyote. It appears he has found a job as an engineer at a defense contractor.
    • by P-niiice (1703362)
      He's a bit frustrated. He had to switch from launching these with slingshots because huge rubber bands got to be too expensive.
  • ... it's a hive mothership!

  • by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:30PM (#38614000) Homepage Journal

    As an added bonus, they can not adhere to RoHS when building their disposable gliders and pollute their enemies with PCBs, lead, cadmium, mercury and lots of other lovely chemicals...

  • "which can travel another 11 miles or so"

    Why bother? The ballon is likely travelling at about that speed, or greater, so why not just wait? I find it hard to believe that those 11 miles offer any flexibility in positioning that another couple of thousand feet of altitude wouldn't get you, and adding the intermediary seems likely to reduce the maximum altitude by an amount that would offset any gliding advantage.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      Weather balloons can be tracked by radar, which as TFA mentions the little drones cannot. Also, weather balloons are decidedly hard (read: impossible) to steer, whereas the little drones have surprisingly effective guidance. So yes, the 11 miles (or whatever the actual capability is) offers some very unique possible applications, especially since it is likely that your targets are not all within earshot of each other.

    • by sackbut (1922510)
      That is an 11 mile radius (380 sq miles) you can saturate with the sensor filled drones. Or 11 miles on either side of the balloons path. 22 mile wide coverage is pretty decent with minimal risk of personnel that would normally be used to place sensors (within 15 feet of target!).
      • Actually, my bad. The summary should have read 30 miles for the Tempest drones, and 11 mi for the Cicadas. But your (impressive) 380 mi/sq radius is of course correct.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      As one system watches, another gets clearance to kill.
      Its a lovely public private partnership with shareholders getting a nice segment of all that new defence spending.
      http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-drones-civilians-20111230,0,6127185.story [latimes.com]
      If you see something, kill something.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:37PM (#38614068) Journal

    So what's to keep someone from doing the exact same thing but attaching grenades to the secondary drones?

    As the summary claims, it would be undetectable by radar and, if put into a dive on the final approach, would be traveling too fast for guards armed only with assault rifles to reliably SEE them and shoot them down (gliders also have no heat signature). Seems like a weapon that could be used even against heavily guarded outdoor events like the swearing in(?) ceremony of the U.S. president, the Kremlin military parade or the Pope delivering Mass. Or how about a Justin Bieber concert.

    A while ago I thought that maybe a (very) high altitude balloon dropping guided tungsten darts (darts not rods fom God) would be a poor man's ballistic weapon but this might be even better because of a greater cross-range capability.

    • by the_fat_kid (1094399) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:54PM (#38614286)

      I'd like you to have a seat over here...
      How long have you been a terrorist agent?
      Who else is in your cell?
      Did my wife send you?

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      After looking at the photos, it is likely that the secondary drone is probably about 1/30th the weight of a typical handheld explosive. I am sure you could probably come up with a somewhat effective explosive that was weight-compatible with the micro-drone but it is not likely within the capabilities of foes of the USA, RUS (unless the cold war restarts) or even Justin Bieber. It doesn't mention it, but knowing a little about miniature aviation in general I can say that the micro-drone is probably in the

    • Seems like a weapon that could be used even against heavily guarded outdoor events like the swearing in(?) ceremony of the
      U.S. president, the Kremlin military parade or the Pope delivering Mass. Or how about a Justin Bieber concert.

      Better watch out, someone might get mad at you suggesting harm to the Bieb.

      -AI

  • I know that the military likes imposing names like Falcon or Comanche, but anyone else notice that one of the End Times predictors is a plague of cicadas (locusts) flying in from parts unknown?
    • Somebody, somewhere spends hours coming up with these "names"

      CICADA [navy.mil] = Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft

      • Somebody, somewhere spends hours coming up with these "names"

        CICADA [navy.mil] = Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft

        It was actually the inventor of the CICADA himself, who has a great sense of humor and loves to do this to almost all the "drones" he creates.

    • I know that the military likes imposing names like Falcon or Comanche, but anyone else notice that one of the End Times predictors is a plague of cicadas (locusts) flying in from parts unknown?

      And the fifth angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth. And there was given to him the key of the bottomless pit. 2 And he opened the bottomless pit: and the smoke of the pit arose, as the smoke of a great furnace. And the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke of the pit. 3 And from the smoke of the pit there came out locusts upon the earth. And power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt t

  • Woah. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:41PM (#38614140)

    the CICADA's logic boards serve as its wings, while inside are gyroscopes, GPS circuits, and a batch of sensors driven by a custom algorithm.

    A custom algorithm? Like, they wrote some software? These defence contractors are pretty far out, I would have expected them to just load her up with Microsoft Word and hope for the best..

    • by Anonymous Coward
      They would use reuse an open source algorithm but the defence department has a bad case of "Not Invented Here."
    • Ha... defense contractors probably write more custom software than google, apple, and microsoft combined. You just don't see any of it, until of course you see it go bang on the late night news.
  • Eventually, the Navy hopes to deploy hundreds of Cicada drones from an aerial vehicle, and disperse them to deluge a hostile area with secret sensors.

    That actually makes some sense.

  • by jdev (227251)

    The Cicada drones are tiny gliders, each about the size of a small bird and undetectable to radar. Plus, because the drones don’t have a motor or propulsion system, they’re essentially noiseless.

    Someone creates an undetectable, noiseless drone and the best name they can come up with is Cicada? Who is naming these projects? Captain Irony?

    • To echo my previous response to the same question above: It was actually the inventor of the CICADA himself, who has a great sense of humor and loves to do this to almost all the "drones" he creates.
    • by plover (150551) *

      Because the closest thing they could come up with to describe how they'd cover the sky with a network of drones was Skynet, and TriStar already holds a copyright on that name.

  • The Register.uk already did this...
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/11/paris_paper/ [theregister.co.uk]

  • a drones drone.
  • It's the Turducken drone!
  • True maximization of recursion would require all the drones involved to spray smart dust [wikipedia.org] on the target area on the way down.

    BRB, gotta be at USPTO in 26 minutes.

  • many years ago.

    Before finding BBS's I built 2 meter gliders (Balsa wood), my favorite was the
    Gentle lady" http://www.towerhobbies.com/products/greatplanes/gpma0960.html [towerhobbies.com]

    That TEMPEST would of been a dream come true for me at the time.

  • "These unpowered gliders slip past radar undetected..."

    There is no radar ever created that can detect these as they are gliding. I'm sure there is. Also a big baloon floating around with all this stuff dangling from it is probably going to show up on a radar system.

    "...slip past radar undetected and start sending back information"

    I'm pretty sure that can be detected.

  • Eg:

    If some of your kids start making paper airplanes, LET THEM...
    in fact. ENCOURAGE such students to make paper and/or
    model DRONES... and - the best - to be Aeronautical Engr's :-)

  • I would say this is a great idea! military intelligence is not an oxymoron, there is no way the countries that these will be used to spy on will get angry at the U.S. for something like this...

    .... Is what I would like to post. I am constantly surprised at the immense amount of stupidity apparent in the U.S. military.
  • Don't call me til we have subs that can drop
    frickin sharks that can deploy frickin remora [wordsmith.org]
    that have lasers attached to their frickin heads.

    Then I'll be impressed.

    -AI

  • So we put drones inside your drone :-)

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun

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