CIA drones and US Military Drones
CIA drones kill yet another key target
Yesterday a drone strike killed an Al Qaeda leader wanted in the USS Cole attack, further weakening the group after the kill of Osama bin laden, the capture of KSM and others, and recent kills of people like Anwar al-Awlaki but the story wasn’t that we had dealt another blow, it was that the Al Qaeda scumbags decided they had had enough with the drone strikes: they sent a video of hostage Warren Weinstein, a private contractor consultant who was abducted in Pakistan some time ago. Mr. Weinstein asked President Obama (likely by force) to cease the brutally effective drone strikes in Yemen , Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.
Jay Carney, press secretary probably did the man in when he responded via the media by saying that we do not negotiate with terrorists (actually no one in the administration calls them terrorists). He’s right, we won’t negotiate with Al Qaeda, and we will certainly not stop the drone strikes. Perhaps the leadership of the splintered organization is taking too many losses of late and this is a weak attempt to get us to stop the attacks. With thoughts and prayers going to Warren Weinstein and his family.
The Al Qaeda representative killed yesterday was Fahd al-Quso, a longtime nuisance.
How do the CIA drones and the US Military drones actually work?
Few people know just how the CIA drone program and US military drones work, and for lack of a better way to put it: they are remote controlled unmanned airplanes made for strategic missile placement. The CIA drones and the US Military drones have been incredibly effective.
At the Kandahar Airfield run by the 62nd Expeditionary force of the US Air Force and coupling with the RAF’s 39th to run the outfitting and redeployment of the CIA drones and the US Military drones, which are actually piloted by CIA pilots and USAF pilots based in Nevada, USA, somewhere on the Creech AFB. The Kandahar Airfield is one of the busiest runways on the planet, handling some 30 aircraft every hour, which requires the team at KAF to reload and re-launch the CIA drones and US Military drones until they get to cruising altitude, where the other pilots can take over from almost a world away. There are a couple of reasons this is so: firstly, there are pilots stationed in a joint effort between countries and military branches at Creech AFB in Nevada, who need training and experience; the U.S. military drones strikes are increasing; CIA drones are more easily communicated about when there is a quicker route to the agents working on a specific case. Furthermore, the satellite lag experienced with the distances, require involvement from multiple pilots (some with eyes on the ground).
Let’s be fully informed though: there is no such thing as “eyes on the ground”: EVERYTHING in the drone program regardless of the sponsor, is flown with a camera, which has some pluses and minuses. In sand storms and harsh weather, the flying becomes easier, but the side-winds and the lack of engine sounds and pedal feel does require quite a bit more attention to positioning on the pilot’s behalf.
What types of aircraft are the CIA Drones?
The most prevalent drones in the arsenal of the CIA drone program are the General Atomics MQ-1 and the RQ-1, which are very similar drones, built on nearly identical platforms. The older MQ-1 have mostly been modified to carry a couple of missiles: Hellfires (AGM-114’s), can use the aircraft’s propeller driven engine to fly 400 nautical miles to a specific target, stay above that target for up to 14 hours in peak conditions and then return the 400 nautical miles to the launch point. That is an incredible amount of flexibility for the windows that sometimes never come when expecting a HVT (high value target). Now there is a bit of confusion in the civilian sector that points to the multiple renamings of the predator aircraft. The designation MQ-1 is what the military calls NOW its M (multi-role) Q (unmanned) variant, which was also a developmental designation to the project. The Second generation drones coming out of the General Atomics Program are designated RQ-1 R (Reconnaissance) Q (unmanned) and some are still referred to as that designation, especially those which have been retrofitted with the advanced GPS, Satellite system, cameras and intelligence gathering devices. BOTH types of drones are very similar and BOTH are used by the CIA drone program and the US Military’s.
The cost for each of these variants is between $5-11 Million.
What types of aircraft are the US Military Drones?
The MQ-9 Drone is increasingly becoming a key factor in many of the missions of the US Military Drone program, but there is no shortage of the already mentioned MQ-1 and RQ-1. The MQ-9 Reaper is a M (Multi-role) Q (Unmanned) aircraft specifically built for strategic offensive maneuvers. It houses a 950 hp engine, some 8 times more powerful than the MQ-1/RQ-1 and is purpose built to expand upon the munitions capability of the (often retrofit) earlier R or M variant predators.
The MQ-9 Reaper is capable of 3200 nautical mile legs and an operating elevation of more than 50k feet altitude. It can carry 3200 lbs of munitions with a much larger payload. It is built specifically to take out targets in remote locations with heavy payload needs.
It is the 3rd major generation of the General Atomics drone program.
The cost of the MQ-9 is approximately $14 million
Are the CIA drones limiting the future viability of traditional intelligence?
There is a lot of concern in the private security industry and the military circles, specifically in light of the newly heightened levels of drone targets being eliminated. Many consultants claim that the use of drones exclusively (which has been discussed heavily in the Obama administration) will limit the amount of intelligence we can gather as an integrated intelligence community (JSOC + CIA + FBI, etc.). They say that the unintended consequences of smashing every target we have with a drone, while it might diminish the current capacity for terrorist organizations, it kills all of our potential lead sources, and removes the ability to extrapolate data and intel from the targets who could be conceivably extracted by a strategic mission of our special forces personnel.
Those in the intelligence community are overwhelmingly in support of heavy drone use, but argue that the lack of live targets severely limits the capability of intelligence agents and agencies to gather new intelligence, especially if informants and others on the other side of the war, are still at risk after having shared intelligence-via a drone.
There has been a heavy media push by recently retired CIA and FBI agents who have been heavily involved in the Al Qaeda operations of years past, who are now saying that we risk removing traditional intelligence gathering opportunities by killing all of the ideal targets like we are. They argue that we must increase face to face intelligence work in lockstep with drone strikes to ensure we have relevant and useful intelligence for future drone strikes. They urge the administration and agencies/military branches to exercise heavy restraint in the growth of the program to make the strikes supported by new intelligence, and not to grow the numbers too quickly simply for political gain or morale boosting.
Who else uses Drones for strategic work?
Drones are not just for the CIA and the USAF, border patrol and customs use the drones produced for the military (and now being built for larger government agencies for their specific purposes) to monitor border crossing; identify trafficking lanes and to make sure we are never without “eyes on the ground”.
The DEA has used the drone variants extensively to monitor the movement of cartel leaders, key enforcers and to track drug activity around the world for a decade or more, and are improving their total benefit through judicious use of these unmanned aircraft.
The ALTUS variants are non armed variants used for weather monitoring and research by military and governmental agencies, piloting (no pun intended) the movement towards private industry use of “older” technology for more civilian applications.
Why CIA Drones and US Military Drones make sense.
The CIA Drones and the US Military drones are incredibly effective. No matter what we do, from a morale and human cost perspective they are hands down the most usable and real impact on the war on terror. The drone program has lifted the United States to a level of effectiveness unmatched (perhaps for at least a decade into the future) by ANY other government. Sure, several governments have some technology, but none have the experience, proliferation (in fleet or usage), or full technology developments like the United States does. It offers our country a distinct advantage over others, should we be moved into a regional or larger conflict that is more focused (unlike the somewhat convoluted “War on Terror”).
From the CIA’sperspective, their Drone program offers more than just strategic strike opportunity, it offers surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that they have never had access to, WITHOUT major risk to human life. Remember that drones were initially researched and developed by the CIA; in the 1980’s they were already experimenting with unmanned crafts using them for camera operations.
The drone program with all of its success, relative low cost and unmatched protection for human capital in the intelligence and military communities, is going nowhere. CIA drones and US Military drones allow our men and women to stay safe, while eliminating dangerous targets from anywhere on the globe. The technology that is evolving will allow a military strike for any target on the planet within a few years, something we have spent decades on with the ICBM program: that is impressive.
What the Government should focus on to ensure the future success of the drone strike program.
The government must take a realistic approach to the problems caused by drone strikes, the benefit of them and the future use of a more integrated approach to the program. Remember, the entire program is more than just a couple of airbases with qualified pilots and missiles taking out buildings. There are distinct morale and human protection benefits to the program both with the CIA drones and the US Military drones; it will be very important that politicians do not rely on that for short term boosts in popularity if it risks causing other concerns. As discussed above, the risk of losing real intelligence opens our people up to another 9/11 type incident; the collateral damage that can be caused by drone strikes can be not only a media nightmare, but may encourage fringe members of the “opposition” to turn against us, or new propaganda to endanger Americans in all capacities around the globe.
The complacency we risk by relying too heavily on the drone program will cripple us in future defensive measures; the Drone program is not the “be all end all” to our National Security protection and Military/Intelligence needs.
The government MUST be responsible in its usage of the drones it has at its disposal if it wishes to retain the long term viability of the program.
Newer Drone models.
General Atomics is working on a new drone focused on use as CIA drones and US Military drones: the Predator C Avenger: an unmanned aircraft launched in 2009, and finalizing its testing as we speak.
This newest iteration of the GA drones gives a bigger payload, less detection ability by opposing forces, more aerodynamics, faster travel, higher altitude abilities (53,000 feet) and a much larger loiter time (up to 20 hours). MSRP: Approximately $13 million
The Grey Eagle is a more versatile, lower altitude aircraft flying at nearly 30,000 feet, with a 30+ hour dwell time, and the capability of identifying and destroying IED’s from the sky, without ground forces input.
MSRP: Approximately $13 Million
The above aircraft are effective, cheap, and valuable: key in the fight against terror of all types. In fact, you might say that the CIA drones and the US Military drones are a dose of terrorism on the terrorists.