Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Warriors Slip in to Shadow


As the drone wars expanded and it became more clear how this was being fought - this was inevidable. Via Noah at DangerRoom;
When the Air Force activated its first unmanned aircraft wing in 2007, the military invited journalists out to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to come take a look at the robotic future taking off.

Today, that kind of openness would be unthinkable. The Air Force began to limit press access to Creech in 2009. In the last six months, they’ve closed it off almost entirely, turning down every American media request to visit the drone pilots. The only visit approved during that period was from a British outlet, involving Creech’s UK drone squadron, Air Force officials tell Danger Room.
...
The blue lights signaling the presence of journalists haven’t come on for a while. New guidelines put in place have made it harder for journalists to be let in. Starting in 2009, media requests to visit the base had to be run up the chain of command, first through Air Combat Command, which oversees the drones and all other Air Force tactical aircraft, and then relayed to Air Force headquarters, where they were “more or less denied,” said Staff Sgt. Dustin Holmes, Creech spokesperson.

“The change in guidance wasn’t a light switch that turned off all public access to information about [remotely piloted aircraft],” said Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, spokesman at Air Combat Command, but “it was a recognition of the sensitive nature of the mission and the risks involved in unrestricted media access to an operational unit.”
...
film producer Daniel Desure put up a Craiglist ad in desperation. Were there any drone operators who would talk to a group of artists about non-classified parts of their job? Dozens of responses came in. Desure filtered out the obvious fakes, found eight people who sounded legitimate, and set up interviews with four people.

But then, a call from the FBI spooked the team. Desure was warned that “there are a lot of people who don’t want this to happen.” Shortly after that, two drone operators who already agreed to talk to him went dark.

One of the pilots sent an apologetic email, excerpts of which were forwarded to Danger Room. “My commander just briefed the entire base that we are not to discuss details regarding our aircraft, or mission, with outside agencies and press offices,” the email reads. “Everyone is spun up over personnel releasing information to the public.”

Desure’s team eventually found one airman who agreed to speak, but wouldn’t allow himself to be identified. In the final product, 5,000 Feet Is the Best, a former drone pilot addresses the camera, his voice digitally distorted, his face cast in a blurry halo. We have to take the word of the filmmakers that he is who he says he is. He describes the heat patterns of the landscape that stretches out before him, and spots something that looks like a “white blossom.” He must be in his 20s. As he tries to make out the images on the screen, we too, try — and fail — to meet his eyes
It is a bit more than that. You only have to put on your red hat for a few minutes with the right people on your team to sketch this out.

We are engaged in a war where drones are killing a lot of high profile people on the other side. Many doing that killing are "civilian" while others wear the uniform. Some of those people are in theater - some are doing their job in CONUS. By any measure, they are legitimate combatants engaged in combat.

I can tell you what is on my Red Team's Top-3 planning priorities; that is easy.

Do I need to continue this line of thought, or does everyone get it now? Welcome to a secondary effect of the drone war.

47 comments:

FCC(SW) said...

Ah, yes, we are just scratching the surface.  "The Horror" of Joseph Conrad needn't only include being fired *upon.*  After all, there is no commandment "though shalt not be killed."

Adversus Omnes Dissident said...

And what do we have to show for the massive drone attacks?  We are kicked out of Pakistan, minimal boots on the ground presence, alienating allies and partners left and right, losing our ability to collect HUMINT, FACING ATTACKS AT HOME MORE TODAY THAN DURING THE IMMEDIATE POST 9/11 YEARS, and yet we are supposed to think that this is victory?

As we learned during Vietnam, body counts do not equate to victory, and you can't hold land with aircraft.

MR T's Haircut said...

It is a little too "clinical" when you can kill now from thousands of miles away.

War up front and close like a tank battle or a furball at 36,000 ft are becoming things of the past..  

war a dirty business....

(from a personal standpoint, OPSEC for UAV/RPA teams is critical, not so much for mission success/failure, but imagine if the Drug Cartels or Al Queda, figure out where the operators work from and can exlpoit that and injure or kill one of the operators?  that is how you stop our UAV/RPA effectiveness.

Spade said...

<span>"It is a little too "clinical" when you can kill now from thousands of miles away."</span>

Somebody probably said something like that after Crecy.

FDNF'er said...

There was an interesting report from NPR on the way into work today where they interviewed 4-5 Pred/Reaper "pilots" at Holloman AFB.  They allowed the media onto the base and even the flight line for the interview.  The "pilots" weren't allowed to give their last name but they did speak candidly about the training for their missions.  Current OPS were notably omitted except for some extrapolation by the correspondent. 

Actus Rhesus said...

Actually, Sal...the civilian pilots are not only legitimate military targets, but they would likely be classified as "civilians taking a direct part in hostilities" whic means that under the laws of war they are illegal combatants (on the lame legal plane as spies) and are not entitled to many of the protections of Geneva.  Wonder how many of them have been briefed on that.

sid said...

"Secret Wars" are only secret from the people who unkowingly -or as some Pakistanis found out the other day, knowingly when somebody doesn't come home- pay for them....

This love affair with drone warfare facilitates the myth that you can wage war on the down low...

And still look like the cool pacifist hangin' with the sophisticated elite.

Some folks need to reevaluate.

Byron said...

If I were your Red Team S-3, I'd be telling you that Creech AFB is a big fat target...and the operators an even bigger target.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

AR, you get the Gold Star. 

They are indeed on the same plane as spies, as illegal combatants.  (I presume you meant "same" and not "lame".)

We sometimes presume that we are the only ones skilled at snatching people and having them vanish, or having them succumb to unfortunate accidents.  We aren't.  I would venture that the number of Pakistanis or Iranians or other AQ affiliates in this country outweighs the number of Americans on their respective home real estate. 

Against a near-peer adversary, these bases will be targeted with myriad weapons systems.

MR T's Haircut said...

yea maybe so but the Arrow and the UAV are both revolutionary.. the UAV is the both the Archer and the Bow

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Byron,

I believe the Red G-2 would be taking the lead on that short of full-spectrum ops.

Adversus Omnes Dissident said...

place an operator under duress and force a blue on blue engagement...

Adversus Omnes Dissident said...

if you can reach a ship with a cyber attack, guaran-damn-tee you can reach a UAV / UAV base.

MR T's Haircut said...

I know that my friends that are deployed as contractors operating RPA/UAV systems are classified as GS employees in the sand box and are treated as Lawful Combatants.  A few are even armed.

in other locations, they are afforded no security and no protection under the law except what the SOW says for the Contract.    They also are on their own if the Shumer hits the Fan and there is bad push back from any bad guys...

MR T's Haircut said...

Skip the Air Base and the UAV, you go after the Operators.. and yes they are very aware of the danger.

ewok40k said...

AQ is less of an worry for me - they have been reduced to propaganda machine for the lone wolves - or rather stray dogs . Iran with their sophisticated secret services machine and proxies galore is entirely different... and then there is distant but not impossible case of hostilities with China. Though Chinese would probably just shut down EM spectrum via ASAT, EMP etc.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"<span>they have been reduced to propaganda machine for the lone wolves"</span>

For now.  Nothing remains in stasis.  They may be willing and able to work with nation-state services, as they have in the past.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Good thing they will have gummint health care!  >:o

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Not with the Defense Department guarding your networks!  What with the skill and daring shown in their operation and security of NMCI, what could go wrong?

AW1 Tim said...

MTH:  I've been saying all along, in comments here and elsewhere, that there are two weak links in the chain: the data stream, and the pilots. You can attack either or both and shut down the system, or at least cause some significant disruptions.

In fact, considering the ruthlessness of our enemies, I'm surprised that they haven't tried to hit the operators and/or their families off base.

MR T's Haircut said...

concur.  I would expand the Operators to the Pilots, the GCS techs and Analysts and of course the Maintenance teams.. it doesnt take long to figure out who is coming and going.. OPSEC, OPDEC and Security... often overlooked... too often...

MR T's Haircut said...

yea most are on Tricare anyhow... came with the blueish ID Card...

Stu said...

<span>This sort of "warfare" is going to bite us in the ass. </span>

ewok40k said...

this is thread hi-jack! meanwhile elsewhere... http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/nov/29/iran-protesters-attack-uk-embassy-tehran-live

pk said...

AOD:

you seem to forget the psychological problems of the home folk when pilots are in nasty little dungeons with the bad guys standing guard over them.

don't you remember viet nam or some of the iron curtain fun and games.

C

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Yeah, and the mob looked like the perfect target for the beaten zone of a pair of .303 Vickers guns....  damn shame the Brits didn't think so.

Keep an eye out.  We shall see who's next.

MR T's Haircut said...

Brits are still trying to get the RHIB back that the Iranians took back in 07

Retired JAG said...

Hopefully they are already in plans to disperse this function much more widely.  I am more worried about things like Craigslist with regard to this kind of operation.  Who says the filmmaker is not someone else just fishing for information from somewhere over in PAK?  I am also somewhat concerned with constantly keeping the operators undercover, it makes it look like they have something to be ashamed of.  We need to carefully guard the psychological well being of these people.  They are doing a valuable mission and should not be made to feel like pariahs.  I know that is not the intention, but leave someone with such strict guidance regarding their mission and identity and I think that is how they will end up feeling, albeit inadvertently.  I am making that comment cognizant of the security precaautions that we place on our SPECWAR people, but they have some distance and geography and kinetics that allows them to separate a home life and a deployed life.  I worry about these USAF people floating between their Ops center one minute and a civilianized world that can know nothing about them ten minutes later.  I am not sure how psychologically healthy that is and what kind of a mental state it leaves them in. 

The Usual Suspect said...

It is akin to the way German submariners were viewed during their unrestricted warfare phase of WWI. As with all media inquiries, you have to question/verify if they are indeed legitimate and what is their motivation for doing a story.  Maybe this type of operation would be best handled in a restricted area outside of LV accessible only by a certain commuter airline.

Sean said...

<span>George Wittow: [after Handcock has admitted to murdering the missionary] Major Thomas has been pleading justifying circumstances and now we're just lying. 
Peter Handcock: We're lying? What about THEM? It's no bloody secret. Our graves were dug the day they arrested us at Fort Edwards. 
George Wittow: Yeah, but killing a missionary, Peter? 
Harry Morant: It's a new kind of war, George. A new war for a new century. I suppose this is the first time the enemy hasn't been in uniform. They're farmers. They come from small villages, and they shoot at from behind walls and from farmhouses. Some of them are women, some of them are children, and some of them... are missionaries, George. </span>

Sean said...

Holy BatGuano .... did I miss the memo where we outsourced military functions like killing our adversaires to civilians??

AW1 Tim said...

"All rioters are subject to rule .303" 

Anonymous said...

All too true.  And the situation isn't helped by the civil authorities and base COs, who are happy to make sure these expensively trained combatants are unable to defend themselves.

Anonymous said...

TUS, you crack me up.

Anonymous said...

Roger.  Understood.  But if victory is your end goal and nukes are off the table, then you have to fight dirty, nasty wars.  There is no quick way out.  Why is it that the "most militant, war mongering administration" in modern history did not use nearly as many UAV strikes as the Obama administration?  And the answer is not that we simply did not have the UAV capacity...

Adversus Something something said...

AOD here, the above was me.  I'm too tired to remember my own name.

Mike M. said...

I'm not sure that I'd put it as "can know nothing".  More like a lack of publicity.  Laying low, like a good part of the SPECOPS community.  Damned annoying if you have a pilot-sized ego.

I will say that picking up a gallon of milk on the way home from the war takes getting used to.

LCDR Black said...

Roger that.  I work on a site that is definitely a target.  The fact that we worry about the harm done to diversity when a crazed religious zealout (who belongs to a religion that shall remain nameless) goes and shoots up a base.  We have had military guys shot at by members of the same religion, and yet we STILL refuse to let the troops carry.  It is harder to get a license for my state than it is to get onto a number of military bases I have looked at.  Blinders and hubris, really.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Guest, please, please say that LOUDER. 

It is perhaps the point of the day.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Wait, nukes are out?  You never let us have ANY fun! >:o

Someone_Blogged said...

No need to Red Team or be concerned about our security:

- Uniformed military security forces are at their optimal manning levels

- 0083 Federal Police Officers are compensated so well they mirror state & local counterparts

- 0083s are also treated as professionals and training mirrors state & local LE units

- 0080s are uniformly trained and have equal KSAs across the DoD

- Military CoC has a perfect understanding of AT/PS/LE efforts and are always qualified to lead said efforts

- ATOs and LE chiefs aren't hampered in executing their job functions by military CoC

- Every DoD installation has ........................


=====NEVERMIND======

You don't want me Red Teaming anything

Anonymous said...

You don't go after the operator.
Didn't you notice the photo?

Therapist1 said...

Psychologically speaking they should be testing these folks before hand to see if they fit the profile for someoen who will be able to stand that kind of pressure, but you have to talk about it in terms of protection of family and themselves.  If you make it seem dirty, they will feel that way.  However if you surround it in a feeling of noble self sacrifice, they buy in!

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Noble self-sacrifice?  Tell that to the squad leader who lost two killed last week and has walked combat patrol twice a day through hostile villages every day since. 

Mike M. said...

I think you'll find that the actual release of the weapon is being done by someone in uniform.

The civilians involved are in a situation similar to the crews of USNS vessels.

Anonymous said...

Funny you say that Sal, I've come to the same conclusion myself over the past month. We've raised a generation of company and feild grade officers that think having civilians at their side, unarmed during a firefight is a necessity. Maybe we could dispense with the uniform altogether and got all volunteer mercenary....

Aubrey said...

Spot on AOD