July 27, 2009

COIN 101: 2047

They call it vision - the vision of vision. Interconnected satellites wiring bases around the world in real time, merging human and machine, present and future. The United States Air Force unveiled its vision for 2047: “to figure out how to hit any target, anywhere on the surface of the Earth, all weather, day, night, rapidly and with precision.”

Actually, Lt. General David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (ISR), boasts, “We can do that today.”

The Pentagon fired up its media and rolled out its newest inventions in a news briefing with Deptula, Vice Chief of Staff for the Air Force General William Fraser, and Colonel Eric Mathewson, commander of the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) task force. Supplemental press releases praised the system’s potential to change modern warfare.

For those wondering how 1984 could become reality, the answer may lie on the battlefields of tomorrow. America’s future enemies better prepare themselves for a Truman Show theatre; its military is developing the most sophisticated Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) matrix the world has ever seen.

This isn’t the future, Operation Big Brother is in progress. An army of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle's (UCAV) just left for Afghanistan.

A “large fleet of missile-carrying Reaper drones are being readied,” according to Michael Vickers, Assistant Secretary of Defense and chief of Special Operations, who added that a Predator shipment just left. They will coordinate with what is only known as the "Kandahar Beast," a prototypical, high-altitude UAV that looks like a bomber.

During the briefing, General Deptula highlighted the synergy between the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned surveillance aircraft, and the Predator/Reaper combo. He raved that 95% of targets are hit and that UAV operations have increased 600% in last 6 years, a statistic with room to run.

“We're a 1920 equivalent,” said Deptula. “So I would suggest to you that there's still much discovery that lies ahead that.”

For examples into the near future, General Deptula explained, “we have a 1-G cockpit where I can always have a fresh crew, which enables any sort of persistence. I can design an aircraft that can stay airborne for five years, and I can man it that entire five years with little fatigue.”

Colonel Mathewson theorized on, “hypersonic, low-observable, made to be extremely long- endurance, you know, five years.” He discussed future refilling tankers and the nuclear capabilities of UAV’s. The officials admitted that while the option must be considered and is in design, the technology hasn’t progressed to that point.

Their enthusiasm for their project then evaporated when quizzed on Pakistan. During an interview session after the slide-show, Deptula and Mathewson shot down three separate questions on political backlash. Killing is their area of expertise, not politics or culture, and apparently the topic made them thirsty, as if in an interrogation room.

Why be nervous or skittish, aren’t UAVs a triumph?

Several reporters unsuccessfully pressured the officials on Pakistan and their insistence was warranted. Not only do current drone operations have political consequences that may run contrary to counterinsurgency, a whole new wave of operations is being planned. Afghanistan is evolving into the testing ground of America’s UAS for the next 5 years at the minimum.

According to the AP report, "A combination of unmanned aerial vehicles and sensor-laden aircraft with links to ground forces will give commanders an 'unblinking eye' over the war-torn country.”

“Systemically taking apart the network through intelligence-led operations is a very important feature of modern counterinsurgency,” Vickers said.

Is an "unblinking eye" really counterinsurgency though, or just counter-terrorism? Afghanistan needs nation-building no matter how much President Obama wants to wiggle out of it. America could monitor every inch of the country, but that blanket won’t matter if the country doesn't imrpove and Afghans continue to resist.

“We want to bring every available technology we can to bear,” said Vickers, before throwing in the necessary caveat, “but ultimately it will be won and lost on the ground, and it will be won and lost by the Afghan people.”

The question then becomes how will Afghans and Pakistanis react to being watched 24 hours a day. Americans disapprove of the Big Brother concept and relish privacy, yet the government is apparently willing to subject other countries to it. Oddly drones have operated over a period of Taliban resurgence.

How much longer will security be placed above individual rights, and how long before the individual fights back?

The all-seeing eye can be a dark path. The level of monitoring outlined by Secretary Vickers may violate cultural laws in Afghanistan and Pakistan, then again much of their populations may not know. They certainly won’t be told 2047 that is upon them.

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