Photo: via TheGrumpyOwl
A group of Ohio-based air national guardsmen had to crash their $3.8 million Predator drone into an Afghan mountain when they lost control of the vehicle mid-flight in April.The crash was blamed on “mechanical failure,” says a recently released official Air Force Report. Apparently, the crew couldn’t safely return the aircraft, and were ordered to destroy the drone by ramming it into the ground.
Later, a recovery team was able to locate and sequester any sensitive pieces of equipment, to include the drone’s weaponry.
This is the 100th drone lost since 2007, according to a leading drone tracking blog. Chris Cole, a leading drone tracker, told the British Online Journal Defence Management, that mechanical failure and engine failure were the most common causes of drone crashes. But, Cole said that “lost links” were next highest on the list of failures.
A lost link is when the data connection to the drone randomly fails, kind of like a dropped call or briefly losing your web connection.
“Lost links are likely to be a big problem if the predicted opening up of civilian skies to UAV’s actually happens,” Cole told Defence Management. “It may be that the cause of the crash of the secret US Sentinel drone in Iran [in December 2011] was due to a lost link,” he added, “although the Iranian government claimed that it spoofed the aircraft’s GPS – which also may be true.”
Spoofing is when hackers successfully copy the code or frequency used to control the drone. They then overload the drone’s system by bombing it with that frequency. Essentially, the drone becomes confused, and hackers can ‘convince,’ for lack of a better word, the drone that they are the true operators, thus hijacking the controls.
Researchers say this is highly unlikely in the case of military drones, which use encrypted signals and don’t operate on standard GPS.
Lost links, on the other hand, could become more common due to civilian agencies, in particular news agencies, starting to use their own drones, as the technology becomes affordable. All those signals in the air and space could interrupt signals to Coalition military drones, which fly in restricted air space, Cole said.
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