Pentagon Places New Orders for Assassination Mini-Drones
May 23, 2017
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Patrick Tucker / Defense One
It's no news that the Pentagon is open to using mini-drones on "kamikaze" missions to assassinate people on the president's "kill list" but it may come as a surprise to learn that the military "urgently" wants another 325 of the flying executioners. Now the military wants cheap kamikaze drones that troops could fire from handheld bazooka-like launchers.
Pentagon an Eager Customer of Assassination Mini-Drones
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(May 19, 2017) -- Fighting umpteen wars around the world, the US special forces (SOCOM) is forever offering "urgent operational needs statements" for its various weapons. This newest one is a real eye-opener, as SOCOM is seeking 325 more Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile Systems (LMAMS).
LMAMS are not actually missiles so much as single-use drones, designed to be small, fast, and carry large explosive payloads. The drones are created with an eye toward assassination attacks against "high-value targets," with US company AeroVironment, and some Israeli companies manufacturing various similar models.
That SOCOM is open to using mini-drones on "kamikaze" missions to assassinate people isn't the big story here, but rather that they believe they "urgently" need another 325 of them, as AeroVironment had very recently delivered 350 such drones to them already.
This suggests that SOCOM has either already burned through 350 assassination drones in a disturbingly short time, or they plan on assassinating so many people in the near future that they don't think what they have left is enough to cover it until they could order more through conventional channels. Either is a concerning sign, as the US has a questionable history of selecting targets for drone killings.
In Urgent Request, US Special Ops Adds 350 Kamikaze Drones to Fight ISIS
Patrick Tucker / Defense One
TAMPA, Florida (May 18, 2017) -- Here's how Mad Max the situation in Iraq is right now. Earlier this year, the military put out an urgent request for inexpensive kamikaze drones that special operations troops could fire from handheld bazooka-like launchers against ISIS, according to documents obtained by Defense One.
It's another sign that drone warfare is changing far faster than traditional military equipping can keep up, a fact reinforced this week by leaders with US Special Operations Command, or SOCOM.
In its Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement, SOCOM requested 325 "Miniature Aerial Missile Systems," or LMAMS, by summer. That delivery has already been completed. AeroVironment officials confirmed to Defense One that they recently delivered about 350 Switchblades, a tube-launched drones outfitted with cameras and cursor-on-target GPS navigation. The company bills the device as a "miniature flying lethal missile can be operated manually or autonomously." It can fly for about 15 minutes, at up to 100 miles per hour. The Pentagon put a similar request for Switchblades back in 2013.
Special operations forces have highlighted the need for new types of drones, or drone missiles, to strike rapidly adapting non-state enemies like the Islamic State. To help drive innovation, US Special Operations Command intends to open a hacker lab in Tampa as part of the broader SOFWERX initiative.
"The threat is really changing -- this explosion of commercial technology, of super-empowered commercial technology, of each individual technology path on an accelerated schedule," James "Hondo" Geurts, who leads SOCOM's acquisitions, technology and logistics efforts, said Tuesday at a National Defense Industry Association event here.
"When you start stacking accelerations on top of each other, pretty soon you've got autonomous swarms of drones with facial recognition attacking you on the battlefield. And so how do you get out in front of that?"
Army Col. John Reim, who outfits special operations troops as head of SOCOM's Warrior program office, said he needs missile drones that can blow up bigger targets.
"We have a good capability right now with the Switchblade. But it's got a smaller payload. How do you get a little larger?" Reim said. "We're trying to create organic firepower and situational awareness in so many of the places we operate in."
Basing becomes an issue, he said.
"In Africa, for instance, you can't rely on the high-end fast movers" -- large, expensive drones such as General Atomics' MQ-9 Reaper, he said. "You need a common launch-tube-type configuration, man-packable. You need to be able to throw it on a truck."
The US military isn't alone in rapidly experimenting with new types of drones. During a recent visit to Mosul, Iraq, SOCOM commander Gen. Ray Thomas said he ran into a pair of operators who had found an off-the-shelf rotary-wing quadcopter adapted by ISIS weaponeers to carry a 40 mm weapon.
"This is how adaptive the enemy was," Thomas said. "About five or six months ago, it was a day that the Iraqi effort almost came to a screeching halt. Literally in the span of 24 hours, there were up to 70 drones in the air. At one time, 12 'killer bees,' if you will, right overhead."
It was about that time that SOCOM began working with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab to take the devices troops use to detect and jam improvised explosive devices, and convert them into drone jammers.
"The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab was able to really help us out," said Reim. "We've made some initial progress. I've got an initial capability out now. How do I do a better job at the detection piece, the defeat piece?"
Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He's also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate.