DOD sends UAV, 80 Airmen to help Nigerian search

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — TheDefenseDepartment’sadditionofanunmannedaerialvehicleand 80 Air Forcetroops to U.S.effortssupporting Nigeria’ssearchforover 200 missingschoolgirls hasturnedthemissionintoanairoperation,Army Col.SteveWarren,the directorofPentagonPressOperations,saidMay 22.The UAV system and Air Force personnel were deployed not to Nigeria but to neighboring Chad under an agreement with the Chadian government, Warren said, because basing the air assets there, closer to the search area, allows the aircraft to spend more time overhead.

The Nigerian government has requested such assistance and, Warren said, “This is the third system that we’ve put into Chad in addition to (systems that have) been providing (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) up until yesterday.”

dronebase

The coordinated air operation is using a mix of manned and unmanned assets as the situation dictates, he added.

“I don’t know right now of any plans to send additional ISR assets, and all 80 Air Force personnel are not (yet) on the ground,” Warren said, adding that there are no plans now for a U.S. military operation on the ground in Nigeria.

It’s been five weeks since members of the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped the girls from the Government Secondary boarding school in the town of Chibok.

Boko Haram is a phrase in a language spoken in inland West Africa, according to academic linguistic texts, that translates figuratively to “Western education is a sin.”

The Airmen are joining 16 military personnel from U.S. Africa Command who earlier this month joined an interdisciplinary team led by the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria.

On May 21, as required by the War Powers Resolution, President Barack Obama notified Congress of the deployment of Air Force personnel to Chad in a letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate.

“These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” Obama said in the letter.

“The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required,” he added.

“The team in Chad is there in support of one of our ISR assets — an unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicle that is helping support the search for the students,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III told American Forces Press Service.

“The majority of the Air Force personnel are dedicated to the launch, recovery, and maintenance of the aircraft,” Caggins added. “They have a small security detachment to round-out the team.”

They are not infantry troops and will not conduct ground operations, he said.

“The weapons they deployed with are strictly for self-defense and local security at the airfield,” Caggins added.

ISR is one of the key DOD contributions to the search, he noted, and U.S. operations are around-the-clock, including time for aircraft maintenance and recovery.

The missions will take place over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area, Caggins said.

“Flying these aircraft from Chad significantly increases search time over potential Boko Haram camps in Nigeria and surrounding countries,” the DOD spokesman said, adding, “We’re thankful for cooperation from the government of Chad and our international partners for this basing agreement.”

On May 21, during a hearing on Boko Haram before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda J. Dory said DOD officials are taking action to help the Nigerian government find the students and address the growing threat posed by Boko Haram.

Initial DOD efforts involve working with Nigerian security personnel to identify gaps and shortfalls and provide requested expertise and information, including ISR support, she told the panel.

“We’re also working closely with the U.K., France and other international partners in Abuja to coordinate multilateral actions,” Dory said.

“Our intent is to support Nigerian-led efforts to safely recover the girls,” she added, “and help catalyze greater efforts to secure the population of Nigeria from the menace of Boko Haram.”

Ifsustainedsecurity is to beachieved,Dorysaid,thegovernmentof Nigeriamustdevelopandimplementimmediateand long-term solutions toproblemscreatedbytheextremistgroup.The Boko Haram threat has existed in its current form since 2009 but over the past several years has extended its geographic reach and increased the sophistication and lethality of its attacks, she explained.

“Along with other U.S. departments and agencies, DOD has been engaging for some time with the government of Nigeria to help build its capacity to respond,” the deputy assistant secretary said.

Beginning in 2011, DOD used the State Department-led U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission as a main forum to enhance counterinsurgency efforts and develop a civilian-centered approach to security, Dory said.

DOD supports creating a counter-IED and civil military operations capacity in the Nigerian army, she added, and it has supported creating a national-level intelligence-fusion capability to promote better information-sharing among Nigerian national-security entities.

In late April, DOD began working with Nigeria’s newly created counterterrorism-focused ranger battalion.

In addition, DOD and the State Department are working closely to enhance border security along Nigeria’s borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon, to counter the Boko Haram threat, Dory told the panel.

The idea, she said, is to build border security capacity and promote better cooperation and communication among each country’s security force to reduce the extremist group’s operational space and safe havens.

In the meantime, the search for the students in Nigeria is ongoing, Caggins added, and the Nigerians are in the lead.

DOD, he said, continues to lend its unique assets and capabilities to help in the search.

“We’ll continue to evaluate the resources we might bring to bear in support of the effort in close consultation with the Nigerian government,” Caggins said.

Source: USAF 5/22/14

Missing Schoolgirls. Why U.S. Drones Aren’t Flying Over Nigeria?

Tough U.S. officials have offered to do everything possible to aid in the search for more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, the Nigerian government has yet to accept drone flights over its restive northeast corner, U.S. officials say.

The reason why the Nigerian government has not requested the remotely piloted U.S. surveillance drones is not clear.

 Frustration over the inaction was evident at a Pentagon briefing Friday.

“There are no active discussions” with the Nigerian government about the use of “unmanned aerial surveillance,” or drones, said Rear Adm. John Kirby.

In fact, Kirby said, the relatively small “coordination team” of U.S. military, law enforcement FBI and intelligence officials is the only offer of assistance that the Nigerian government has accepted. Kirby declined to say what else may have been offered and rejected by the Nigerians, saying only, “We urge them (Nigerians) to use all resources at their disposal.”

Privately, a U.S. official familiar with U.S. intelligence options in the region, confirmed Kirby’s statement to NBC News that no drones have flown in pursuit of the missing girls. “No, not yet,” said the official , speaking on condition of anonymity. “No permission, no flights.”

The U.S. would have to get permission as well from neighboring countries — Cameroon, Chad and possibly Congo – because the mission would also almost certainly involve overflights there, where Boko Haram troops also are active. “They cross those borders daily,” said one U.S. intelligence official.

Even without drones, experts and U.S. officials say, Washington has other hi-tech spy technology that could help in the search.

 Dr. Jeffrey T. Richelson, author of the forthcoming “U.S. Intelligence Community,” a compendium of Washington’s intelligence capabilities, said the drone is the ideal platform for tracking Boko Haram and possibly locating the girls, who were abducted on April 14 from a state-run boarding school in Chibok.

“Drones have both the loitering capability and the stealth capability for a mission like this,” said Richelson. “You can keep a location in constant view rather than intermittent surveillance that you get with satellites.”

The U.S. has an agreement with the government of neighboring Niger to fly drones out of Niamey airport — less than 1,000 miles west of the kidnapping site. But intelligence sources say it’s not clear whether any drones are currently at the airport. One official noted it would take some time to set up support operations in any case.

U.S. officials confirm that Predator drones have flown out of Niamey previously for missions to track members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a terrorist group based in nearby Mali.

The U.S. also could fly longer-range Global Hawks or MQ-9s on missions from as far away as the United Arab Emirates or England.

Eyes and ears in the sky

While some analysts have questioned the utility of using reconnaissance drones over the dense jungle where Boko Haram is believed to be holding the girls, Richelson said they have superior capabilities over aircraft or satellites.

“It’s possible to equip (drones) with a fairly large variety of intelligence-collection packages, including a variety of imaging sensors as well as eavesdropping equipment,” he said. Richelson said those could include visible-light sensors capable of picking out objects as small as guns; infrared sensors and phased array radar sensors, capable of observing movements or gatherings at night; and hyper-spectral image sensors, which can detect “when ground has been disturbed, vegetation has been cut.” The latter are “highly useful in forest areas” like the Sambisa Forest, a Boko Haram stronghold, said Richelson.

Electronic eavesdropping packages also could pick up communications that “travel by air … walkie-talkie traffic, cell or satellite phones” and other forms of communication.

Richelson said that Global Hawks would be the most effective drones, as they can remain aloft for long periods of time. During that period, they can image up to 40,000 square miles of the targeted area without being detected, he said.

Another expert said the flying abilities of second-generation drones are extraordinary.

“Global Hawk can loiter for 60 hours,” said William M. Arkin, co-author of “Secret America,” a book on secret U.S. intelligence bases around the world. “Same with the MQ-9. The Predator can loiter for 22 hours at 500 miles per hour.”

An MQ-9 Reaper drone flying at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.

 

They also have a longer range — up to 9,500 miles – and can fly as high as 60,000 feet, meaning, “It’s no longer a matter of having to be close in,” he said.

In other words, these “super drones” could be dispatched from their home base in al-Dharfa in the United Arab Emirates, or other bases where they have previously been stationed: Molesworth in England; Djibouti in west Africa; or Sigonella, Sicily, he said.

Arkin also dismissed the idea that the U.S. would be reluctant to commit such a valuable asset to Nigeria.

“We have excess capacity now,” he said, estimating that the U.S. now has an inventory of two dozen Global Hawks alone.

Low-orbit spy satellites

As valuable as the drones would be, Arkin said there is a new class of tactical spy satellites that fly in orbits a mere 55 miles above the Earth’s surface that could prove even more useful.

The ORS and TacSat satellites, which are used regularly over Afghanistan, could be quickly repositioned over Nigeria, without the need to get permission to use airspace of countries in the region.

 “They do have hyper-spectral capabilities. They can give you data on where the ground was disturbed,” said Arkin, adding that he believes the U.S. currently has six such satellites in orbit. “They also have an interesting feature that allows them to slow down (in orbit).They are game changers. Compared to them, drones are limited.”

Richelson agreed, but said traditional higher-altitude spy satellites would be required to “get close to continuous coverage, reduce the gaps between (when) something is overhead.” But he that would require cooperation among a variety of countries, he said, including Russia, France and Israel, among others to maximize coverage.

Arkin and Richelson also said spy satellites, both conventional and the new lower orbit models, come with archives. If the U.S. had any positioned over west Africa at the time the girls were grabbed, for example, analysts could go back and see if the satellite’s data might provide valuable clues as to the hostages’ fate.

Richelson noted that spy satellites also have played a role in unmasking war crimes. In 1995, CIA analysts found photographic evidence from satellites of Bosnian Serb military units lining up 8,000 men and boys in front of mass graves in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica.

Source: NBC News

Why flying ‘Internet drones’ over Africa is a dumb, libertarian fantasy

This undated image released by Titan Aerospace shows the company’s Solara 50 aircraft. Facebook is in talks to buy Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drones, to step up its efforts to provide Internet access to remote parts of the world, according to reports released Tuesday, March 4, 2014. (AP/Titan Aerospace)

When I arrived in a West African newsroom last year to help with a journalism training initiative, one of the first things to come up was my BlackBerry Bold.

Despite what the foolish #firstworldproblems hashtag on Twitter would have you believe, my phone was probably the most out of date there. Everyone else in this Ghanaian newsroom was using Android smartphones from Samsung and HTC. A few people had cheaper Nokia Asha smartphones. There were a couple of iPhones and when the Samsung S4 came out a few months later at least one popped up. That’s not to say everyone had a smartphone, or that there wasn’t hardship. But mobile Internet connectivity – with the exception of our unstable WiFi – was not the issue. Indeed, everyone was constantly connected with the now Facebook-owned WhatsApp – to the extent that journalists would update their editors with it.

There were plenty of mobile carriers offering decent service: Vodafone, MTN, Glo, Airtel and Tigo. In fact, I’d even say it was more competitive than the situation we have in Canada, which has foreign ownership restrictions and an unstable regulatory environment for overseas investors. In Ghana, well-resourced foreign providers came in, did the gritty work of building up infrastructure (in a power outage-prone region where sometimes each cellular tower needs to be powered by trucked-in diesel) and genuinely tried hard to win customers from other providers. That’s not to say they were always successful: Some dropped service occasionally or had billing problems, and some carriers were better known for providing coverage outside of the bigger cities, but those problems are global. (The worst, most borderline-racist part of the #firstworldproblems hashtag is the implication that somehow Africans don’t complain about wireless service or smartphones or laptops. Trust me. They do.Loudly.)

Let me be even more clear: The Internet already exists in Africa! With few exceptions, no matter where I went in Ghana, I got wireless service – and was even able to tether my laptop to my BlackBerry. All of these experiences, as well as quickly signing up for a pre-paid wireless service in nearby Nigeria, make me deeply skeptical about the much-hyped attempts by massive Western corporations to “bring” Internet service to Africans. Google is planning on floating balloons over unconnected parts of the continent. And now Facebook, according to Techcrunch, is looking at buying a drone company called Titan Aerospace to do much the same thing: Toss up solar-powered unmanned flying craft that will beam down Internet to remote areas – like something out of a remake of The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Now, there are several things that strike me about this.

First: I don’t trust people in Silicon Valley to tell me what’s happening elsewhere in California, let alone what’s happening (or should be happening) in Africa. The steady stream of idiotic products that accompanies every sliver of innovation from the tech world is evidence enough of this. But every once in a while, international aid in the form of technology metastasizes into something particularly stupid – likeKony2012 – and the ideas gain outsized attention (and funds and credence) by playing on simplistic assumptions by people who know absolutely nothing about the situation on the ground. There are thousands of smart Africans already working in technology in Africa, and doing amazing things, and I don’t hear many of them talking about balloons and drones (except those other sorts of drones).

Second: This is an international export of the libertarian ethos that tends to afflict innovators elsewhere in the Valley, such as PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who wants to build an independent island country (coincidentally, with someone who used to work at Google) or those promoting Bitcoin. Why do Google and Facebook want to soar over extremely complicated but opportunity-rich countries such as Nigeria, Mali and the Central African Republic? The answer is obvious: They want to avoid the messy realities on the ground. Presumably, they also want to avoid paying taxes. I spoke to a telecom infrastructure executive in Lagos, Nigeria, who was getting his towers blown up by Islamist extremists in Northern Nigeria. That’s an unacceptable risk to most established corporations, outside of the energy sector. That’s why most handset and Internet companies tend to do their encouragement of Internet adoption in Africa indirectly, such as funding innovation hubs like the Co-Creation Hub (CCHub) in Lagos, where I saw awesome developers making apps and software tailored to their country. Essentially, these companies are trying to reap the reward of encouraging more people to use their services, such as WhatsApp, without doing the messy work that carriers and handset makers such as Nokia and Samsung do; that is, actually setting up businesses on the ground, paying taxes that help fund development and social services, employing and training that nation’s citizens, not to mention building real relationships.

Third: Like with the one-laptop-per-child idea and other lofty “connectivity” schemes, the ideas and goals of these types of ideas tend to misdiagnose the problem and then dramatically over-promise on results. By the time these plans come to fruition, everyone has generally moved on to something else, and the original euphoria is forgotten; in the cheap laptop case, the world moved on to tablets, and even that ended up being more complicated than originally promised. Elsewhere, people have already wondered whether the 3G wireless speeds on offer from these mystical balloons will even be able to compete in countries like Kenya, where most places already have 3G. That’s not to say that these schemes aren’t without merit. Surely, there are some people living in remote villages in certain parts of particular African countries who don’t have Internet access. But do they even have a cellphone? Is their problem really connectivity? As Bill Gates suggested, “When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you.” And though that’s a tad paternalistic (he probably thinks the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help them), how soon until a tower is built up on the nearest hill? Will the addition of free connections kill the business case and drive off wireless companies operating in or looking to expand to countries where risk is already extremely high and the margins already assumed to be low? Will those connections be secure, reliable and fast-enough for African businesses to rely upon, or simply for the odd WhatsApp message that will help no one but Facebook? It just sounds like the U.S. technology industry has begun to ape the international development sector, which often acts with good intentions but generally accomplishes less than they set out to, and sometimes actually distorts and kills market conditions that would have otherwise provided that service.

Four: To wireless carriers, this must seem like the telecom equivalent of dumping a bunch of excess grain into a poor country’s marketplace and putting that country’s farmers out of business for good, leading to more shortages and eventual dependence. Carriers, some of them foreign but some of them local, have been in many of these markets for years, providing for a fee services that companies such as Google and Facebook now want to provide for free. And they are big local employers (in Ghana, I was told Vodafone was the largest private employer), as well as taxpayers. Content companies and carriers have always had a complicated relationship (just look at the amount of traffic Netflix chews up on most networks), and this seems like a continuation of that tension. I doubt many global wireless executives operating in emerging markets are shaking in their London or Johannesburg headquarters at balloon and drone schemes. But it must strike some of these grizzled industry veterans as rather too-sweet-of-a-deal, to drift by in the skies at the last moment and hoover up the purer profits without having to tell shareholders that you lost a tower or two because of terrorists or lost a whack of money because the currency collapsed or had to do something truly crazy like pay taxes.

Again, don’t get me wrong. If this enfranchises people with connectivity that they never had before (and can actually utilize), then this could be a great opportunity – either for Facebook and Google to provide the connectivity on their own, or to startle carriers on the ground into extending service deeper into rural areas, more rapidly, thereby achieving the same thing. But we’ve heard ideas like this before, and they almost never turn out to be more than a catchy headline. And this time it’s coming from companies that are trying to convince the financial markets that there is growth out there, beyond the hills in the places where none of them have ever travelled – in the lands where people use WhatsApp.

The Globe and Mail

Source: TheGlobeandMail