Editor’s note: Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin is an online, subscription intelligence news service from the creator of WorldNetDaily.com – a journalist who has been developing sources around the world for the last 25 years.
Cheap, robotic, miniaturized drone aircraft Homeland Security officials would like to ban in the United States are being sold by U.S. military forces, according to a report in the latest edition of Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
While U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan made good use of the drones to spy on enemies and occasionally even target terrorists for destruction, Middle East terrorists have also begun experimenting with the inexpensive equipment, the online intelligence newsletter reported in February.
In the first defense budget proposal written wholly by the Bush administration, Pentagon officials seized on lessons from the Afghanistan conflict to ask Congress for more money for robotic weapons.
The administration’s $380-billion defense budget for 2004 would spend a record amount on remotely controlled robotic weapons, $1.4 billion in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, an increase of $400 million. The bulk of the money – $860 million – would go to buying Air Force Global Hawk and Predator unmanned airplanes, which are mainly used for spying.
With all this new, expensive equipment at its disposal, some branches of the U.S. military are getting rid of less-sophisticated and not-so-expensive models of UAV.
Newsweek is expected to report this week the U.S. Marines are selling some older-model UAVs to the general public, which is raising national-security concerns. The Marines say they won’t sell the equipment to foreign nationals, but that is not much of a restriction, say sources in Homeland Security.
According to Israeli sources, terrorists in the Middle East have already begun assembling unmanned aerial vehicles and are attempting to equip them with bombs and surveillance equipment for use against Israeli targets.
Homeland Security officials are concerned about how such aircraft could be used against domestic targets inside the U.S. and are writing model legislation to restrict their sale.
Because of its ability to launch missiles, the Predator UAV was in high demand in Afghanistan as a way to secretly find Taliban and al-Qaida forces. In November, a CIA-operated Predator armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles destroyed a car carrying alleged al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
The following UAVs have been used recently by U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf:
- The Navy and Marines are using the venerable propeller-powered Pioneer drones to help spot targets to strike, both for artillery and aircraft. Pioneers have a wingspan of 5 1/2 meters and a length of 4 1/2 meters.
- The Marines also have deployed what are known as Dragon Eye drones. About the size of a large bird of prey, these flying robots fit in a backpack. They are fitted with cameras to allow a Marine squad to see what is beyond a nearby hill or around a corner, should troops get drawn into urban combat.
- The Army has deployed Shadow and Hunter drones. The Hunter has a wingspan of 10 meters and a length of eight meters. It can stay aloft for 12 hours, taking pictures and relaying them to commanders. The Shadow, with a wingspan of four meters and length of 3 1/2 meters, is used by army brigades to provide reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle-damage assessment.
- The Air Force has Predator and Global Hawk drones. The propeller-powered Predator can stay aloft for over 20 hours. With a wingspan of 15 meters, the aircraft is smaller than many Cessna-type general aviation aircraft, flies up to 7,500 meters and uses sophisticated sensors to track targets. While the Predator is a medium-altitude robot, the Global Hawk can fly up to 20,000 meters and spy on the earth below.
With a wingspan of more than 35 meters, the jet-powered Global Hawk is nearly twice as large as the Predator. The Global Hawk’s spy capability includes cloud-penetrating radar and other sensors.
But terrorists, too, have recognized the value of drones. A number of Hamas terrorists of the “technical department” were killed or injured in February while assembling an explosive device to be mounted on just such a radio-controlled model plane.
Israeli intelligence sources say they have had information dating back to October 2001 about Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations’ efforts to collect data concerning remote-controlled airplanes. Most of the knowledge obtained by Hamas and other terror organizations comes from the Internet. Online information offers detailed instructions on how to build “mini-flying machines.” These vehicles can be used to carry explosives aimed at civilian and military targets.
Other applications of such devices include intelligence-gathering through small cameras, as well as explosive charges designed to detonate near hovering military helicopters and low-flying civilian airplanes. Hezbollah forces in Lebanon have also experimented with these devices. Indeed, Hezbollah has access to information and test facilities in Iran, including Iranian technology and material essential for building a “flying mini-bomb” or rocket.
Terrorists affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida have been known to be involved with similar plans, aimed at hitting targets in the U.S. Al-Qaida has planned attacks on U.S. vessels off the shores of the Persian Gulf states, the Horn of Africa and even in Latin America. The initiative to strive for a flying terror device is influenced by the growing military research and intelligence use of unmanned aircraft.
While the U.S. government fears terrorists may be ready to assemble larger drones already smuggled into America, it’s much easier for terrorists to build and use these smaller models. The sophisticated military vehicles can perform at higher altitudes and their specifications enable them to fly for many hours and far from the controllers. Payloads of such crafts in use by the military include cameras, electronic surveillance equipment, even missiles. The terrorists, therefore, are looking at small, cheap and easily available radio-controlled airplanes of the type requiring visual contact between the operator and the mini aircraft.
Solutions to the terrorists’ quest can be found on the Internet, where companies offer mini-planes and helicopters as carriers for cameras, research equipment and crop dustings. Such equipment, for example, is offered by Bergan R/C Helicopter in the U.S. These machines are offered at a price tag ranging from $4,000 to $5,000 and are said to operate at low level – if necessary, even skimming the ground – while carrying a payload of approximately 40 pounds.
Israeli troops from time to time raid Palestinian workshops in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. On several occasions, they discovered evidence of Palestinians collecting from the Internet information on how to build mini-planes and rockets. Some of these rockets have been code named by Hamas as “Kassem.” These are short-range, primitive devices, but their designers learned from the Internet how to create or purchase the propellant for their engines. An example is a website called “System Solaire,” with offices in Canada and the U.S., offering various do-it-yourself rocket models such as the SS67B-1 Liquid Fuel Rocket.
Israeli patrols captured a shipment of ready-to-use rockets as well as plans to build another type of weapon aimed at attacking low-flying planes. A technical analyst of Israeli intelligence was quoted by Chief of Army Intelligence Gen. Amos Gil’ad as saying that “although these are primitive products, there is no doubt they can be fired at a civilian plane during takeoff or landing, and even with a chance of a hundred-to-one hit probability, their sheer existence may cause panic in the air-transport industry.”
In addition, Hamas and other Palestinian organizations recently introduced primitive anti-tank rockets called “El Bitar” (The Sharp Edge), or “Anjara” (The Wood Chipper), both simple, short-range unguided weapons.
The U.S. intelligence community, aware of such developments worldwide, collected an abundance of information on the threat. Before Sept. 11, the threat was regarded as unrealistic, but it is now considered much more real. The issue is of great importance to the new Homeland Security Department, which already has been advised by the FBI to look into the legal ramifications of building and marketing model mini-airplanes and mini-helicopters for commercial use.
Some of the information on the Net shows that universities and colleges teaching aeronautics, engineering and computer sciences are involved with the development of similar products. A case in point is the Berkeley Aerobot program, designed to develop a mini-helicopter with civilian and military applications. A laboratory, under engineer John Koo, was in the forefront of such experiments financed, among others, by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Soft Ware-Enabled Control Program. David Paskovitch, reporting in the department’s Lab Notes magazine, published by the University of California in Berkeley, described the project as an “Eye in the Sky.” He quoted John Koo on the many applications of the Aerobot, both civilian and military.
Scientific and other information about most of these projects is easily transferred through the Net. An Israeli bomb disposal expert described the situation by saying that “the Internet is the supermarket of terrorists.” The expert, a member of the Israeli police, pointed to information sites that teach how to blend materials available in a hardware store, such as fertilizers, gasoline and epoxy, to reach the right formula for a rocket-engine propellant. The officer went on to say, “When you think about 40 pounds of plastic explosives carried by a mini-helicopter, remember that the average suicide bomber destroying many lives on a bus or in a store carries on his body much less than this.”
Another aspect for the use of mini-aircraft, and even short-range rockets, is the ability to use them as carriers for delivering dangerous chemical and biological agents. Many of these can be easily sprayed by a mini-helicopter designated for crop-dusting. For example, an attempt by the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo in the late 1980s to use such a method failed when the machine crashed during tests. However, this possibility still remains very attractive to terrorists, especially when they know such an aircraft can be purchased for a very low price or built from scratch with simple instructions.
British intelligence analysts, until recently concerned mainly with the threat of the Irish Republican Army, now take chemical and biological threats by Muslim terrorists much more seriously. A Scotland Yard official commenting on the recent arrest of a North African bio-terrorist group in London was quoted as saying, “If we once thought that this was a far-fetched terror dream, we now realize that it could become a real nightmare.”
Scotland Yard, which in the 1980s and the 1990s dealt with improvised IRA mortars known as “barracks busters,” recalls that they were operated from the back of parked trucks. The targets for those operations were the Gatwick and Heathrow airports. Another British analyst warned, in a paper distributed to the intelligence community, that mini-helicopters can be launched from a backyard, a balcony, a roof top, a truck and even vessels. “They can hover over a site for at least 30 minutes and sprinkle death and mayhem,” he said.
In most cases, the assumption is that commercially oriented radio-controlled crafts, or terrorist knockoffs, can stay in the air for about 30 minute and that the operator needs to have constant eye contact with the craft. This is going to change. Hobby clubs and other amateurs are already developing radio-controlled mini-aircraft carrying real-time video cameras and transmitters, which allow the operation of more than one vehicle. The first radio-controlled aircraft would be carrying the cargo, and when it moves beyond the sight range of the controller, the second aircraft takes over and transmits the necessary information.
One of the major problems for homeland-security planners is how to control this ever-growing market. An Australian intelligence official suggests such an effort will “have teeth” only if and when it will become an internationally coordinated effort. He also commented on the fact that radio-controlled amateur clubs are now emerging in such Muslim countries as Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran.
A provision deep within the regulations of the new Homeland Security Act is threatening to shut down the popular hobby of model rocketry because the propellant used to make the rocket’s solid-fueled motors is now classified as explosive material.