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The Military United States Technology

Pentagon Office Planning 'Avatar' Fighters and Fighter-Launched Drone Swarms (washingtonpost.com) 113

schwit1 writes: High over Alaska last summer, the Pentagon experimented with new, secret prototypes: Micro-drones that can be launched from the flare dispensers of moving F-16s and F/A-18 fighter jets. Canisters containing the tiny aircraft descended from the jets on parachutes before breaking open, allowing wings on each drone to swing out and catch the wind. Inch-wide propellers on the back provided propulsion as they found one another and created a swarm.
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Pentagon Office Planning 'Avatar' Fighters and Fighter-Launched Drone Swarms

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  • by drew_kime ( 303965 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @12:42PM (#51666347) Journal

    They must have figured the name SCO is available now.

  • Now if we could only get the cool technology developed for something other than our war with Eastasia thanks.

    The LAST thing we need is expanding military capability.

    • The LAST thing we need is expanding military capability.

      No, the last thing we need is people who think you should die for expressing your opinion having greater military capability. And the way to make that not worth it to them is to have countermeasures that are wildly more sophisticated than what they have to fight with. Small, non-manned tools like this REDUCE what we have to spend and deploy in any given scenario. And at the same time the technology lends itself to everything from fire fighting to wildlife monitoring in other venues. You're confusing tools

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        > No, the last thing we need is people who think you should die for expressing your opinion having greater military capability....like this REDUCE what we have to spend and deploy in any given scenario

        The second part seems counterproductive to the first.

        There is no military solution here, all you do by making the use of force easier is make it easier for our for profit military industry to create more enemies in their desire for endless war.

        • by umghhh ( 965931 )
          The war is in fact endless. It is part of being a human to do war.
          It is like a medal - there are two sides of it - you want to have one you get the other one too. The wars of humanity will end with humanity.
          This does not mean that we should not try to prevent war as much as possible but if we want to eradicate war and violence we will ultimately fail. Society that has refused violence and war and was at the same time not protected by another bigger and less peaceful does not exist long - attempts have been
          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            War most certainly is not endless, it just reflects the psychology of it's instigators. Basically eliminate psychopaths and you will eliminate war. The remaining humans simply lack the motivation to drive war where as psychopaths quite simply feed there ego by expressing the ultimate in their mind of control by taking the lives of other humans. So we only need one war to end all war the war of the 99% relatively normal population against the 1% psychopath population.

            What the US military in this instance s

        • The second part seems counterproductive to the first.

          No, it's not. Because technology isn't static, and our need to field and support as many human beings has gone down hugely. Which reduces everything from health care (and related veteran) costs to administrative costs. Staying focused on things like remote imagining and unmanned vehicles isn't free, but it produces results with far less cost per task (though we could use better human espionage/intelligence in many cases - that's a different problem, though it is also made more effective per human involved

          • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

            Well, my solution would start by the complete abandonment of your medieval simplistic assessment of a large section of the human population as guided by nothing more than blind superstition.

            This is not even CLOSE to an accurate description of ANY real issue. In fact, your cowboyism serves to do nothing but rally people behind such polarizing and simplistic views that serve as little more than an excuse to continue the carnage.

            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              So ISIS doesn't exist? Boko Haram doesn't exist? If your solution to bad people is to pretend there are no bad people, that doesn't sound like a good strategy to me.

              • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

                Sure our one sided profit-minded foriegn policy for the past half century has created a number of enemies and caused many of them to band together behind all manner of scary banners. They will continue to do this and continue to make new scary banners as long as we continue to provoke them.

                The only reason they do it can be seen as easily as the yellow fluid that pours down your leg every time they go "boo".

      • No, the last thing we need is people who think you should die for expressing your opinion having greater military capability. And the way to make that not worth it to them is to have countermeasures that are wildly more sophisticated than what they have to fight with.

        The Russians have already done that.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Yep, we can always count on China to keep the sea lanes free and open.

    • Now if we could only get the cool technology developed for something other than our war with Eastasia thanks.

      Like the internet and GPS?

  • This seems like a good idea to counter the advancements in Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Seeing as how they have come quite a long way it would make sense to use drone swarms to make their life a nightmare. I think the USAF was trying to do the same thing with the tacit rainbow project. Where B-52s would release large numbers of drone like anti-radar missiles that would loiter over the battlefield near suspected anti-aircraft units.

    The minute they turn on their radars, BAM, they would have large number

    • Defeated by networked radar systems, same as stealth, since they would be hunting the radar source, which will be miles away and off the flight path.
      • So hack into their networks and tell their missiles to shoot down their own planes. They would probably have some kind of human in the loop system to try and defeat that. So you launch an initial wave of decoy drones that look the same as the attack drones but cost a fraction. Then you watch their networks to find their command and control. You take out the command and control and hack into their networks and either cause the missiles to fire at their own aircraft or just fire without a target at all an

        • And if the launchers use the same tactics as the SSN - keep all other friendlies away, so anything you encounter is an enemy to be destroyed - they can be autonomous. Launch and forget.
        • by umghhh ( 965931 )
          this is called arms race and can be won only with the ultimate weapon that ends it all (if used). If not ended it will continue forever.
          • Honestly I am starting to agree with this line of thinking. Take the same insane amounts of money we spend on warfare and put it into repairing our bodies, fighting diseases, making people smarter and life easier, cheaper & abundant power, clean water for everyone, and more realistic fake jiggly boobs. :-) Spend the money we do destroying each other to make the planet inhabitable by all WITHOUT fighting wars over limited resources. Make the pie bigger, not fighting over a smaller piece.

            Bet you did

            • Except that all of the longevity machinery and jiggly boob simulations in the world won't really help you vs a crazy guy with an RPG who's convinced that god told him to kill you and/or destroy your way of life.
              • You would be surprised how rare it is to actually see that guy around. Certainly MUCH more rare than someone you love getting cancer or having a heart attack. So why not put the funds against the things we all will face, instead of the one in a billion chance someone gets hurt in a terrorist attack?

                • You're assuming todays numbers on terrorist attacks will remain constant in your utopian future in which we've beat our swords into plowshares. That's kind of like claiming firewalls are pointless because you haven't been hacked in a few years (while posting from behind your firewall).

                  Also, terrorists aren't the only threat. If we fall behind in military technology but get our little utopia going, other countries are going to be jealous. All it takes is a charismatic leader in a country that's made some
            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              Take the same insane amounts of money we spend on warfare and put it into repairing our bodies, fighting diseases, ..

              We spend more on Medicare than we do on the military. We spend more on social security than we spend on the military. What was your point again?

              • I didn't really mention Medicare you brought that up, without me mentioning me at all. So what is YOUR point?

                I will say the "military budget" doesn't even begin to explain the trillions we have spent on wars. How do you explain how we wasted 2 trillion dollars in Iraq?

              • Defense takes up ~20% of US Federal budget, paid out mostly directly to the military. [usgovernmentspending.com]
                That's your tax dollars paying for soldiers, guns, tanks, missiles, ships, bases and for buying allies through foreign aid (a tiny piece of it all).
                Veterans also represent a sizeable chunk of the whole thing, either through compensation paid out to them by the government, or through medical costs.
                Again... your tax dollars are spent on all that.

                "Medicare" takes up ~27% of US Federal budget BUT... and it's a HUGE BUT...
                It is

        • You are watching to many science fictions. Or more precisely: the wrong ones.
          There is no "hack into the network" button.

          • Tell the Iranians nuclear facilities that, or the Tor project that after the FBI recently compromised quite a few peoples anonymity, or the NSA that in pretty much every corner of the internet.

            • Sorry, that is not 'lets have a battle and we hack in real time into your network'.
              This are backdoors of ages old hacking.
              Again: there is not "hack this network" button.
              And: seucred network can not be hacked. Plain and simple put.
              Hacking relies on bugs, errors, wrong set ups or other failures.

              You can't just attach something ot a network and say: lets hack it.

              You have a complete moronic idea what 'hacking' is and how it works.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        Not really. Take out the radar and the SAM systems are blind plus it still must be LOS for the target and the launcher. Plus how do you network them? RF? that gives away locations and can be jammed plus limited bandwidth if you are not in LOS. Fiber optic and or copper? Makes things a lot less mobile and fixed targets are easy to hit.
        Also networked radar does not defeat stealth. Bi static might but again that is a complex problem.

        • Networking them one-way is easy enough. A stand-off AWACS broadcasts all the position information to every drone.

          Also, an airplane that is stealth head-on is much more visible to radar from the side or bottom. Again, just make a general broadcast of target info. Networks don't have to be 2-way to be useful. And today's stealth technology has been defeated by going back to WW2-style radars with lower frequencies (someone forgot to check, so this was discovered by accident).

          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

            "Also, an airplane that is stealth head-on is much more visible to radar from the side or bottom."
            But all that visible.
            "today's stealth technology has been defeated by going back to WW2-style radars with lower frequencies (someone forgot to check, so this was discovered by accident)."

            VHF radar can not be used in SAMs You can not fit a VHF radar in a SAM or an AWACS much less a fighter so it will be limited to LOS and have a very large footprint. You take it out with a low observable low altitude strike wea

            • The ww2-type radar is obviously a tactical advantage - the russians are putting them all over the place. Never said it would be used in the air. A stand-off fighter would be useful for spotting stealth fighters from the side, top, or bottom, since you can't make stealth work equally well in all directions. As for the lower-frequency radars on the ground, even if they can't immediately tell exactly where you are, they do give warning - and when you know where to look, you know where to position your assets
              • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

                Lower frequency radars "VHF" radars have several issues.
                1. They are large. The longer the wavelength the bigger the antenna. Easy to spot and hard to move.
                2. They must be on the ground so you have a small coverage area as far as low altitude targets go.
                3. They are not accurate enough for terminal SAM guidance.

                And yes stealth aircraft tend to optimize RCS for ingress and egress but they still have a small RCS from other profiles. The exception may be close to straight up and straight down. Take a look at the

                • Hilltops make great places. Ask the Russians - they're deploying them with their allies in Syria.
                  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

                    And great targets.
                    A hill will get you a bit more a 500ft hill will get you 27.4 miles. throw in clutter and jamming and you will still be facing an low observable standoff missile hitting you. Once the standoff missile crosses the radar horizon the target will have 3 minutes or less to engage. AAA will not be effective since they can not use VFR for targeting. Your only hope is optically guided SAMS or optically targeted AAA and if it is foggy or at night those might not even be effective.
                    VFR radar was dro

                    • You seem to have ignored that it's not like it's an either-or choice. Low frequency radar for detecting an intruder, high frequency for targeting once you know someone is in the area. Sure, you might have time to get a radar-seeking missile off, but they've just killed your aircraft - and the aircraft costs a heck of a lot more.
                    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

                      The microwave frequency radar will not be able to target a low-rcs target or guide a missile to it. That is the entire point of low-observables. You also don't get that the VHF radar will be targeted not with a ARM but with a standoff weapon. You really do not seem to know very much about radar and weapon systems.
                      High frequency radar is only used for backscatter OTH radar systems. They are huge and not portable. What Russia is using is VHF radar.
                      This is one way they will be dealt with.
                      1. An EC-135 will dete

                    • The low-frequency radar is NOT for targeting - it's for the initial warning that someone is there. Then you light up the skies with targeting radar. I made that clear. Also, it's kind of hard to take out 10 different radar sites at one time - word gets out, and they're cheap to build.
      • Defeated by networked radar systems, same as stealth, since they would be hunting the radar source, which will be miles away and off the flight path.

        Yes, but what it really comes down to, or goes to next, is that if we spend money on the drones, will they spend money on the networked radar system and its deployment. Then we build a counter measure, etc. Like most war, it will come down to money and industrial manufacturing with a significant lead in the beginning to those that have already sunk costs into the effort, while sunk costs hurt other elements of the economy.

        • Given that defense+veteran's benefits is almost 2/3 of federal spending, maybe it's better to just dial it back a bit? Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex, and he was right.
    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Indeed. Release a drone from altitude and you don't technically even need to give it active propulsion, just active flight surfaces to control its glide. That said, with a glider or weak-powered craft, you are going to be fairly subject to winds. Then again, that only matters for some types of applications - it would be a problem for using them to conduct a ground attack or surveilance, but if you're using the drones as sort of a smart aerial "screen" against incoming missiles, maybe not.

      Seems to me that

      • by bradrum ( 1639141 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @01:56PM (#51666891)

        Indeed. Release a drone from altitude and you don't technically even need to give it active propulsion, just active flight surfaces to control its glide. That said, with a glider or weak-powered craft, you are going to be fairly subject to winds. Then again, that only matters for some types of applications - it would be a problem for using them to conduct a ground attack or surveilance, but if you're using the drones as sort of a smart aerial "screen" against incoming missiles, maybe not.

        Well the Tacit Rainbow project used very small jet engines I believe. I think that was sort of a big problem with that project in the 80s, the actual loiter time was much less than what was advertised so they did. But now drones loiter for 14 hours fully loaded, so I think the game has changed.

        • The smaller a jet engine the less efficient it is because of mechanical limits in the manufacturing process. Although technology has improved a good bit in the last few decades and smaller jet engines are far more practical than they were in the 80's. Even with those improvements though military drones mostly use props when endurance is a concern and speed isn't.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Also, my other thought on this topic is, air superiority and air to ground attacks are all good, but that's only half of the picture, you still have to have some sort of ground capabilities to take and hold ground. When will that go robotic?

      It's obviously a lot further into the future. One envisions, rather than raining bombs down on a city, one rains down small (as small as you can) armed "rovers" with rapid reaction times to gunfire (issuing counterfire / seeking cover) and constant close communications

      • Also, my other thought on this topic is, air superiority and air to ground attacks are all good, but that's only half of the picture, you still have to have some sort of ground capabilities to take and hold ground. When will that go robotic?

        Probably inevitable at this point. Killer robots seem to be the future.

        It's obviously a lot further into the future. One envisions, rather than raining bombs down on a city, one rains down small (as small as you can) armed "rovers" with rapid reaction times to gunfire (issuing counterfire / seeking cover) and constant close communications with air support and reinforcements. So if someone does attack or take one out, they're quickly swarmed by reinforcements. And obviously if the rovers visually identify weapons they can engage targets - under human control if unjammed, autonomously if jammed. Most of the time you'd want them sitting still and conserving power (they'd either need to be able to access refueling drops on their own, be passively powered, or self-destruct when their energy supplies run out), but you'd ideally want a platform mobile enough that it could move between areas, through buildings, etc if needed, and ideally at a good speed. In civilian areas you'd want them to be very obvious and actively warn people away from them in their local language.

        All good ideas. Would be very frightening to be on the ground during that though. Just personally kind of a nightmare of mine.

        Counter-tactics to such weapons would obviously be tactics that keep as far away from it as possible (so that you're not at the site when reinforcements arrive) and offer no reasonable reaction time to the attack, such as IEDs. Counters to that, in turn, are more eyes looking for suspicious activity and better sensors.

        Yeah it would be a really interesting thing to have a robot that figures out peoples motives. Be very useful in close combat I guess.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @12:51PM (#51666417)
    life finds a way
  • by sittingnut ( 88521 ) <sittingnut@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @01:01PM (#51666517) Homepage

    comments here say this would be good counter to russian anti aircraft weapons, but real beneficiaries of drone swarm technologies, which are relatively cheap and easy to deploy(and will be ever more so as times goes on), and not that secret, will be smaller nations defending against bigger costlier high tech aircraft, missiles, and drones( and big ships at sea).
    this would be another form of asymmetric warfare, like guerrilla and terrorist warfare.
    in fact, biggest losers will be usa and nato.

    • And they will be totally useless against howitzers lobbing shells from +20 miles away.
    • Right. Because the bigger nations can't have swarms of drones too. It's big and expensive traditional planes, or drones. Not both. Them's the rules.

    • How do you figure? Drone "swarms" capable of doing any damage to a destroyer or carrier group will be incredibly easy pickings for a single CIWS system. And drone swarms with members small enough to evade detection or destruction by a CIWS system won't be able to do jack to those same assets. Drone swarms also won't be able to do anything to fast moving, high flying, GBU dropping aircraft.

      These drones the US is developing on the other hand will be autonomous and in future able to seek human sized targets

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        I already have imagined it, and I find the concept so abohorent that its reason enough to tear the flag down and burn the pentagon to the ground before it happens.

        • Annnd, you're on some list somewhere now. And we all know what happened last time someone tried to burn the Pentagon...

      • any damage to a destroyer or carrier
        Exploding a small drone on top of your radar antenna costs you mere grams of C4.
        group will be incredibly easy pickings for a single CIWS system.
        Plastic drones don't show up on radar.
        And drone swarms with members small enough to evade detection or destruction by a CIWS system won't be able to do jack to those same assets.
        See above, ofc they will.
        Drone swarms also won't be able to do anything to fast moving, high flying, GBU dropping aircraft.
        Yes, but they easily fly into t

        • I think you vastly overestimate the sophistication of drone swarms that an asymetric foe might field. For that matter, calling them swarms might be generous. For comparison the thing that killed and injured more soldiers in Iraq than anything else was the IED. Which is basically 19th century tech - bury a bomb, set it off with wires hooked to a detonator, or if you're feeling fancy, use a cellphone as the detonator (presuming it isnt jammed).

          Developing a drone swarm, let alone one that could fly miles ou

          • Developing a drone swarm, let alone one that could fly miles out to open sea and precision attack a warship, is a very lofty undertaking with an uncertain payoff.
            It certainly is not. Check what an Exocet missile is ...
            And then you only need a single drone flying to a carrier and exploding on the radar dome. Not a drone swarm.
            And if you want to make that seriously, you only need drones that can do two things: identify the target, avoid to collide with each other.
            That is all a toy thing in our days.

      • by vux984 ( 928602 )

        . Imagine the US "clearing" a city like Fallujah not by blockading it and sending in the troops, but by broadcasting a warning to clear all civilians from the city and telling everyone to leave unarmed and scanning the departing people for weapons and known enemies. Then 24 hours later C130s fly over and dispense thousands or even tens of thousands of these swarm explosive drones and they sweep the city looking for human sized heat signatures, homing in and destroying any that are found.

        Was that sarcasm? Because that sounds like precisely the sort of weapon terrorists would want to use. Minus the C130 to deliver them, and minus the warning to civilians.

        A container truck full of human seeking drones with small improvised explosives attached is precisely the sort of tech that a small insurgent group would be able to muster and deliver to a populated area... or release towards a military base on their home turf.

        Or on a smaller scale, just park cars around town; remotely pop the trunk and then

  • Make them big enough to do all the above, but each one carries a standard frag grenade. Then swarm the city homing in on human targets to explode about 3 feet from.

    Instead of bombing a city to hell.... drop 50,000 human seeking frag grenades.

    • by Thud457 ( 234763 )
      Only if they make them screech

      I'm a 30-second bomb! I'm a 30-second bomb!

      And then start counting down in the local language.

      • Only if they make them screech

        I'm a 30-second bomb! I'm a 30-second bomb!

        And then start counting down in the local language.

        Then detonate a random time between 5 and 15 in the countdown.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )

      Why? That's what nukes are for. And if we ever reach the point of wanting to indiscriminately kill tens of thousands of civilians, then wiping out their cities would probably be seen as a bonus, not a deterrent.

      • by umghhh ( 965931 )
        There is no 'if' - we want to wipe them enemies out and only the media coverage of the mess that results when we do, can stop us from actually doing it. NB machetes and their well organized users can effectively kill half a million humans in 3 months [wikipedia.org]. That is how humans operate.
      • by Salgak1 ( 20136 )
        Incorrect. Nukes are terror weapons, when used in a counter-value (i.e. city) mode. Any city contains a fortune in useable resources. Nuking it destroys them. Killing only the population preserves those resources.

        However, grenade-drones aren't what you would even VAGUELY consider cost-effective. If you want to kill the population and keep the resources mostly intact, the weapon of choice is either a fast-acting/short duration chemical agent or an enhanced-radiation weapon (i.e. a "neutron bomb").

        A

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        herp derp......

        Nuke it and you cant do anything with it. kill all the people and hose out all the guts, you get a free city!

  • The geek in me is squealing...

    But the more rational side of me is concerned about what this portends...

    "War... War never changes..."

  • Avatar: The Last Dronebender
  • This is a big improvement over v. 1.0, which were launched from the flare dispensers of stationary F-16s and F/A-18s. Good work.

  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @02:32PM (#51667177) Journal

    TFA description doesn't mention the 'Avatar' details at all.

    The swarms are cool, but the 'Avatar' program is with *full size* F-15, F-16, and F-18's that are autonomous drones that follow a lead pilot in an F-22 or F-35...from TFA:

    One new project not previously reported is called Avatar, and calls for the Pentagon to pair high-tech “fifth-generation” fighter jets like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with unmanned versions of older jets like the F-16 Fighting Falcon or F/A-18 Hornet, which would be flown without a pilot for the first time.

    The Avatar effort was previously called Skyborg by SCO and is known as “the Loyal Wingman” concept in the Air Force, Roper said. The program will require unmanned fighters to act with enough autonomy that the pilot in the manned jet doesn’t have to direct them all the time.

    This is also the future for Google's AI-cars, the actual practical application will be in long-haul trucking. AI will never replace human drivers...Google's cars with no steering wheel will never be implimented. However, we will see the self-driving car tech used in the same way as this aircraft application. One human-driven lead vehicle with AI drones following the human.

  • Is that again a posting about the fail of the F35?

    Just wondering ...

  • by Daniel Matthews ( 4112743 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @05:36PM (#51668341)
    Somebody needs to go and look up the definition of avatar.

    The idea of recycling old jets into autonomous aircraft goes back many decades, the new part is putting AI in them, but suggesting there could still always be a man-in-the-middle is deceptive. It only works 100% if the jet can fly itself and make weapons fire decisions autonomously, that is not an avatar, that is the terminator, with wings.

Multics is security spelled sideways.

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