The next time a hurricane strikes Florida or Texas, relief may come from robots in the sky.
The Pentagon wants drones to transport supplies for disaster relief. And not for overseas disasters, but when bad things happen on American soil.
The Defense Logistics Agency recently put out a Request for Information on the feasibility of using drones "to provide disaster relief support on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States."
That support includes items that victims of natural disasters need most: food and water. The Pentagon wants to conduct an experiment using off-the-shelf drones that can carry "payloads of 250-500 pounds to support warfighters deployed to assist with disaster relief efforts," according to the RFI. "Payloads shall be mechanically affixed to, and released remotely without damage from, the UAS and will typically consist of cases of 16.9-ounce bottled water as well as cases of Meals-Ready-to Eat (MREs) or other similarly packaged Operational Rations end items."
The RFI lists the dimensions of a case of MREs at 16 inches long x 11.5 inches wide x 10 inches high, and weighing 26 pounds. While the RFI does not specify the desired physical dimensions of the drone, the 250- to 500-pound payload requirement suggests an unmanned vehicle that can carry almost 20 cases of MREs or hundreds of bottles of water.
For purposes of the research project, the drone's range should be twenty miles. It must be capable of carrying supplies from ships to land – which would be coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard—returning to the ships, or hauling supplies from land to land. It must be able to "operate beyond visual line of sight, contain safeguards in order to meet or exceed DoD Cybersecurity standards, and operate in potentially austere weather conditions (wind/fog/heat/cold/light precipitation)." Demonstration flights will be conducted at the U.S. military's Warren Grove Gunnery Range in New Jersey, with the assistance of drone experts from the New Jersey Innovation Institute at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
The concept of a military disaster relief drone makes a lot of sense. When natural disasters destroy roads, rails and airports, it's often the U.S. military that has the capability to bring in aid. In this case, the research focuses on devising a system that can deliver supplies to the East and West Coasts, with the drones likely operating from Coast Guard vessels.
In addition, the Pentagon frequently participates in overseas humanitarian relief efforts such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Using drones to haul supplies, instead of wearing out manned helicopters and aircrews on repeated flights into ravaged areas, is more efficient. And if the conditions are hazardous, such as bad weather or armed looters on the ground, better to let the machines take the risk.
What's also interesting is the size of the delivery drone. In 2015, Australian drone company Flirtey made headlines when its helicopter-like machine made the first drone cargo delivery in the United States, bringing medicine from an airfield to a Virginia clinic. The drone that did it weighed just thirteen pounds.
The Pentagon wants an unmanned aircraft that can carry five hundred pounds. That sounds like a machine that is smaller than a missile-armed U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper, which carries almost four thousand pounds (and a cargo much less benign). In 2018, Boeing unveiled an eight-rotor robot copter that can carry five hundred pounds.
NEWPORT — The explosion and sinking of the ship in 1943 claimed at least 1,138 lives, and while the sea swallowed the bones there were people, too, who also worked to shroud the bodies.
The sinking of the H.M.T. Rohna was the greatest loss of life at sea by enemy action in the history of U.S. war, but the British Admiralty demanded silence from the survivors and the tragedy was immediately classified by the U.S. War Department.
Michael Walsh of Newport is working to bring the story of the Rohna to the surface with a documentary film, which includes interviews with some of the survivors of the attack. Walsh has interviewed about 45 men who were aboard the ship when it was hit.
Editor's note: this story originally appeared in 2018
How you die matters. Ten years ago, on Memorial Day, I was in Fallujah, serving a year-long tour on the staff and conducting vehicle patrols between Abu Ghraib and Ramadi. That day I attended a memorial service in the field. It was just one of many held that year in Iraq, and one of the countless I witnessed over my 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Like many military veterans, Memorial Day is not abstract to me. It is personal; a moment when we remember our friends. A day, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth."