Shadowhawk Drones: More than meets the eye (in the sky)

July 21, 2012 in News

shadowhawk drone uav surveillance technology eyes in the sky big brother privacy laredo texas border military drills helicopters traces of reality

Danny Benavides
Traces of Reality
July 21, 2012

On May 18, 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a “Certificate of Authorization” permitting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to be deployed for search & rescue and disaster relief missions. Of course, the slippery slope of Big Government vertical-integration always begins with the well-intentioned, but hardly convincing “it’s for your safety.”

As the pilot broadcast of Traces of Reality emphasized during discussion of a June 22, 2012 story from Pro8News titled “Shadowhawk Could Soon Be Used In Laredo,” this sort of militarization under the rubric of National Security is always rolled out slowly. In due time, UAV, formerly utilized for disaster relief, will be sicced on drug dealers and illegal immigrants. Then, UAV proliferation and frequency will intensify incrementally, until so-called targeted assassinations are reported indifferently between the local parade footage and the weekend weather. Today, an American citizen can be sentenced to death from above on merely a hunch and the agreement of a select few “officials” in Washington, D.C. It just hasn’t happened within the continental United States yet.

Curiously, pilotless aircraft are not exactly new. The advent of such technology occurred as World War I drew to a close, and was used exclusively for delivering explosive ordinance to specific targets up until World War II. In the 1940s, these unmanned aircraft were deployed with TV and video equipment on-board, yet they remained seldom used. During the Cold War, unsurprisingly, unmanned aircraft had shifted objectives from dropping bombs to photo and video surveillance. But now, Laredo may experience the worst of both worlds: eyes in the sky ready for combat.

A recent UAV demonstration promoting “Shadowhawk”, conducted by Vanguard Defense Industries, its Houston, Texas-based distributor, with ISR Group from Tennessee, seems to have wooed those in attendance. Congressman Henry Cuellar and Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas could barely contain the gloating. “Show Me the Money,” gushed Mayor Salinas, thereby green-lighting the government circle jerk that the National Security State has institutionalized with the Problem-Reaction-Solution dialectic. An examination of Shadowhawk’s introduction to Laredo provides an exceptional case study into a fragment of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex monolith.

Unbeknownst to almost all Americans, the United States House of Representatives actually has a Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus (CUSC). Its co-chairs Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-California, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, General Atomics, Boeing) and Congressman Henry R. Cuellar (D-Texas, Boeing, Honeywell) sit enthroned with enormous power, and they certainly know on which side their bread is buttered.

The “Defense” establishment will continue to hand over the dough as long as our elected “officials” continue to produce favorable legislation and a steady stream of taxpayer dollars to socialize the industry further still. The Shadowhawk itself carries a price tag of approximately $340,000 and if prior similar “defense” measures offer any insight, expect this quasi-lethal glorified RC helicopter to cost twice that much once Webb County gets the bill. “Cost-plus” pricing is the name of the game for the War Racket.

Government will always dream up an array of mechanisms to fund its pipe-dreams, and UAV prove no exception. In the past, Vanguard Defense Industries has been the recipient of Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) or Law Enforcement Assistance and Partnership (LEAP) grants, provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) via the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It’s enough acronyms, abbreviations, and alphabet-soup nonsense to send the average voter into catatonia.

If Rep. Cuellar’s remarks during the Pro8News coverage are any indication, the Webb County Sheriff’s Office may be taking advantage of federal money offered up (again) from Homeland Security as part of “Operation Stonegarden” (OPSG). OPSG is a Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) whose funding is directed overwhelmingly to the Southwest border region of the country, of which Laredo is the epicenter. The details of each of these federal grant programs are irrelevant: The problem is always drugs/terrorists/missing children, the public reaction is fearful and vindictive, and the solution is always more power and money for government apparatchiks. Beside the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, the UAV industry now has its own lobbyists and entrenched special interest groups soliciting our elected government, hat in hand. It’s all for our collective safety, the citizens are instructed to repeat.

Before Americans, and Laredoans in particular, casually accept Big Brother creeping across the sky, or Uncle Sam raining Hellfire missiles upon a suspected enemy of the state, consider the potential consequences of UAV technology. Drone advocates proclaim that this technology saves lives by eliminating the need for putting pilots and crew into risky, hostile territory. However, if there is one characteristic for which drones have become most notorious, it is the collateral damage precipitated by drone strikes.

Equally disturbing was last month’s successful UAV hijacking performed by students at the University of Texas Austin Radionavigation Laboratory with a $1,000 budget. Perhaps Homeland Security harbors some mild regret accepting the students’ challenge. UT Professor Todd Humphreys voiced his grave concern, “Each one of these could be a potential missile used against us”. Couple this with the hacking and leaking of the private email of Vanguard Defense Industries’ Senior Vice President Richard T. Garcia, and the risk factor of implementing Shadowhawk becomes evident.

Incidentally, bear in mind the fact that VDI’s Shadowhawk can be easily upgraded to achieve lethal status. The pedestrian version of Shadowhawk simply features on-board cameras with which to observe (Forward Looking Infrared and thermal vision is optional). The dystopic future model comes loaded with a grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun with which to do violence. The other Shadowhawk variant is only available to military personnel, though the specification sheet does not make clear whether foreign military groups will be purchasing and deploying these abroad as well. When all it takes is the whim of a few government “officials” to determine whether a squadron of drones above America can or cannot be lethally-armed for urban warfare, assurances of utmost safety and accountability ring hollow indeed.

Pilotless drones encroaching across America’s skyline will only become a reality if mindless drones shuffling across the American landscape remain apathetic and ignorant. Although advancements in geo-spatial mapping, GPS navigation, and photographic technology have rapidly accelerated in last few years alone, these do not substantiate the rationale for the utilization of UAV domestically. Local law enforcement, Congress, Homeland Security, and President Barack Obama have done little to earn the trust of the American people, to put it kindly. The immense risk posed by drones flying overhead is not mitigated whatsoever when taking into account President Obama’s “kill list” or the Department of Justice fiasco known as Operation Fast and Furious, for example.

The last month has been worrisome for Laredo indeed. Local elected representatives have expressed steadfast enthusiasm for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles patrolling the airspace above us. More recently, military drills of questionable utility have persisted in and around the Laredo area. These initiatives reveal — to those who are observing — the inexorable militarization of every aspect of American life and society; a phenomenon that author and historian Robert Higgs refers to as the “ratchet effect.” Step by step, government takes liberties in pursuit of absolute safety, and ends up delivering neither. Asking questions of those officials or agents placed in charge of these sort of operations yields little. If Americans along the Southwest have become alarmed by the presence of Homeland Security and its adjuncts, it is imperative that those involved in the decision-making and implementation of these programs be aware. Public concern or outrage may be the only thing that can repel the Police State from Webb County.