Thursday, August 09, 2007

An Inch of Space

Danger Room reports on DARPA's plan to deploy a stationary surveillance drone that will watch over a target area for months or years:

Today's Global Hawk reconnaissance drones can stay in the air for up to 40 hours. DARPA program manager Wade Pulliam would like to increase that by 1,000 times, or more -- getting a robotic surveillance plan [sic] that can stay in the air for 5 years, or 44,000 hours, straight. The project is called "Vulture." And it won't be easy, Pulliam admits.
One of the major problems is finding an energy source, though Pulliam looks forward - as who wouldn't? - to the tantalizing possibility that 'the machine could power up by "consuming organic material from the surrounding environment."'

Ideally, the drone would also dispense instant, white-hot death to evildoers. But either way, we can take a quasi-pornographic pleasure in the thought that the Vulture will "not allow potential foes "an inch of space, not allow them a moment's rest, not allow them to have an easy breath."

In my Friday Hope Blogging posts, I often mention ideas that seem to me to be unrealistic, on the assumption that trying to achieve them may lead to unexpected advances. Obviously, one could make the same argument for research into the Vulture. (Chinese alchemists may not have discovered the elixir of life, but they are credited with inventing gunpowder.)

As I've argued before, weapons like the Vulture "engender those to whom punishment is due." By opposing such a system (or living in the same building, or neighborhood, or city, as someone who does), one potentially becomes its target (and thus, its justification). In an interview with Bryan Finoki, Stephen Graham discusses the increasingly problematic role of urbanization in TSAIEWDNBIFSWHTUTAAWTTTSTCOTFW:
[H]igh-tech military dominance is assumed to directly fuel the urbanisation of resistance....[I]t is as though global urbanisation is a dastardly plan to thwart the U.S. military gaining the full benefit from the complex, expensive and high-tech weapons that the military-industrial complex has spent so many decades piecing together. Annoyingly, cities, as physical objects, simply get in the way of the U.S. military’s technophiliac fantasies of trans-global, real-time, omnipotence.
Since unregulated urbanization and sprawl (and the centralized and inflexible infrastructure that supports them) are desiderata of the "free market," the neoliberal project will inevitably make it harder to fight the extremism that its own extremism creates. Speaking of which, Arms and Influence points out that what makes Iraq's electrical grid an effective tool for social control is precisely what makes it vulnerable to attack:
The Ba'athist regime under Saddam Hussein built a centralized electricity grid, in part as a instrument of political control; now, that centralization works against the government that replaced the Ba'athists.

Insurgent groups know that they can easily disrupt the highly centralized electricity distribution network, undermining the "civil affairs" side of counterinsurgency, with very little effort.
We can only hope that if we divert enough money from our own public health and infrastructure, the Vulture will someday guard Iraq's centralized, privately owned electrical grid. In the meantime, we can exercise that famous conservative fiscal restraint by outsourcing our war on Iraqi malcontents to Central American malcontents:
Herard von Santos Mendes, a Salvadoran army veteran who fought against guerrillas there in the 1990s, said he went to Iraq in 2004 ''as a soldier of fortune.'' Santos Mendes said he and 40 countrymen were asked to sign a legal liability contract in English -- while airborne to Iraq -- that they didn't understand.

''The only thing the U.S. company wanted was cheap labor,'' Santos Mendes said by telephone from El Salvador.
(Illustration: "This Victorian version of a print from 1621 shows how Protestants believed that God helped to protect England from Catholic plots. As Guy Fawkes goes to set fire to the gunpowder fuse, the eye of God is on him; the message of the print is that it is God who will shortly reveal the conspiracy and save the Protestant religion.")

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