Aire Drone Lets You Control it With Alexa

As of right now, the Aire drone is still an ongoing project on Kickstarter. While we do have some impressive footage and a fairly convincing promotional video from the campaign’s site, we haven’t actually seen the drone operate in-person. However, according to The Verge, the Aire is actually all it claims to be—and that’s really impressive.

The Kickstarter campaign describes the Aire as a “self-flying robotic assistant for the home,” which essentially means that as of right now, it can navigate narrow territory thanks to a sophisticated set of cameras and sensors, can stay upright, and is quiet enough not to be more of a nuisance than a tool.

The Verge notes that the Aire also has a built-in speaker and microphone, and can be remotely piloted using your smartphone. You can actually ask this thing to take a photo of you using a voice command through Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa. If the photo you’re trying to take requires some repositioning of the UAV, that’s not a problem. You can simply grab it, move it around, and let go. It’ll simply keep hovering, stabilized and securely. That’s pretty cool. Not only that, but the Aire is reportedly much quieter than the typical drone, which lets out an unpleasant whirring sound.

The technology here is comprised of logical and creative combinations of parts. There’s a 3-D camera as well as several sonar sensors for Aire’s obstacle avoidance, and a camera on the bottom for positioning. All of that data is processed by the Aire’s Nvidia TX1 chip, which, according to The Verge, was “the first mobile chip to exceed 1 teraflop of throughput" in 2015.

This is a really exciting look at what everyday drones might look like in the future. It’s essentially a hovering home assistant, in ways that haven't been explored up until now. It’s a stereo that can follow you around the house, for example. An assistant you can ask questions while you’re working in your living room. This thing could patrol your house all night and relay any unusual activity to your smartphone thanks to its recording abilities.

This is still in its early stages, of course, but the Kickstarter campaign is aiming to ship the Aire in December 2018 with a retail price of $1,499 (If you’re ready to commit immediately, though, that price drops to $749.)

Let us know what you think below! Is this as exciting for you as it is for us? The Aire conjures a huge array of childhood images of the future, where robot assistants are common, and flying ones even more so. Stay tuned as the Aire nears completion.

Watch This Russian KA-52 Attack Chopper Accidentally Fire Rockets at Exercise Observers

Video footage has leaked on social media showing a Russian Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopter accidentally firing rockets at observers during a training exercise, reportedly part of the larger Zapad 2017 events happening along the country’s western borders. Though it acknowledged the incident occurred, the Kremlin has denied that it was related to the massive war game, but declined to give any other details.

The clips that initially emerged on Sept. 19, 2017, show a pair of Ka-52s flying toward a ground of troops and civilians apparently watching a military maneuver. One of them then unexpectedly fires a pair of rocket into the onlookers, damaging a number of vehicles, including a civilian car and what appears to be a mobile command center truck.

Another video subsequently appeared online, showing what looked like the view through the Ka-52’s Heads Up Display system. The exact circumstances of the incident are still unclear. One unconfirmed written statement said that the helicopter had inadvertently fired two S-8 80mm rockets damaging the car and truck, as well as wounding three bystanders, during a training mission on Sept. 16, 2017.

Officials from Russia’s Western Military District subsequently denied than anyone had gotten hurt in the accident and said that the training exercise was separate from the larger Zapad 2017 maneuvers. “All the reports on social media about a barrage of rockets hitting a crowd of journalist and a large number of casualties are either a deliberate provocation or someone’s personal stupidity,” it declared in an official statement.

“The targeting system of one of the helicopters erroneously locked on a wrong target,” the press release continued. “A hit by an unguided air-to-surface missile caused damage to a truck, but no people were hurt.”

The video from the HUD point of view does show a reticule move closer to the impact area before the rockets fly away, but we don’t know how or even if the helicopter’s targeting system meshes that information with a decision to automatically launch unguided rockets. No known version of the S-8 has any sort of guidance system at all, especially one that would require a positive lock-on before launch.

The Western Military distract didn’t say where or when the incident occurred if not at a Zapad-2017-related drill. That larger exercise, which began on Sept. 14, 2017, occurs only once every four years and simulates a major conventional conflict.

A Ka-52 attack helicopter.

More than 12,000 Russian and Belorussian forces are taking part in the vast drills, which stretch across an area from Belarus to the Barents Sea. The Kremlin insists that the event is purely defensive in nature, but NATO members and other European countries that share borders with Russia, particularly Finland, Sweden, and Ukraine see it as a provocative display of military force.

Given its size and significant, the Russians have been keen to downplay any incidents, including the “hard landing” of a Tu-22M bomber. If this friendly fire accident did happen at Zapad 2017, it would be particularly embarrassing.

It would hardly be the first time a major military has experienced a friendly fire accident during an exercise, though. In something of a reverse situation, in May 2016, a U.S. Army soldier playing the role of an enemy combatant during a training exercise shot live ammunition at an AH-64 Apache helicopter during a drill at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

Putin observes Zapad related exercises on the Luzhsky Range, near St. Petersburg,

Thankfully no one got injured and the helicopter only suffered “superficial damage,” according to the Army. In that case, the circumstances were especially confusing, since so-called “opposing force” units would not receive live ammunition during exercises.

We’ll definitely be keeping our eyes out for any new information or additional video from this incident in Russia.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Tesla’s Stock Will Plunge 27 Percent Within the Next Year, Analyst Says

Tesla’s stock price has famously been going gangbusters, but at least one Wall Street analyst thinks its party will be over soon.

According to CNBC, the most recent speculation comes from Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois, who encouraged his clients to dump their Tesla shares within the next year.

"It is with a bit of a heavy heart that we initiate coverage of Tesla at underperform," Houchois wrote in a research note. "Achievements to date and vision are impressive, but we don't think Tesla's vertically integrated business model can be scaled up as profitably and quickly as consensus thinks and valuation multiples imply," he wrote.

To put it simply, Houchois believes that Tesla shares are overvalued and that the market is going to fix that. Specifically, Houchois expects Tesla's stock will decline by 27 percent to $280 per share in 12 months.

"We appreciate the growth upside from a brand whose reach goes well beyond auto markets and that valuing Tesla today assumes some form of 'steady-state' that is unlikely to happen anytime soon," the analyst wrote.

There’s still some optimism about Tesla as a brand in Houchois’ notes. This potential steep decline isn’t being predicted by someone who just doesn’t like Tesla, but rather by someone who both knows the market and appears to be a strong supporter of the brand. That’s a sign that it might finally be time for Elon Musk to be worried about Tesla's future.

Verstappen-Vettel Feud Heats Up After Singapore Grand Prix Crash

For the seventh time this season, Red Bull F1's Max Verstappen couldn't finish a race on Sunday as a result of the crash that also retired Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.

Coming into turn one of the first lap on Sunday, Vettel seemed to squeeze in to secure his line, leading to significant damage on the grid and sending out an almost immediate yellow flag. This was enough to start controversy with Verstappen, who qualified for P2, as it kept him from what may have been his best chance at a Grand Prix victory this season.

Verstappen expressed his initial frustration after the Singapore GP, saying he didn't expect such a move from someone who was in a tight contest for the Drivers' Title.

"If you are fighting for the world championship, you shouldn’t take those risks squeezing someone that much," Verstappen explained. "You can see what happens. Lewis is leading the race and the three of us are out."

In the days following Sunday's race, tension still looms with Verstappen. When asked if Vettel had apologized for the incident, the young Dutchmen said no, quickly following up: "He did say something like, 'yes, in hindsight things could have been done differently.' But what's done is done."

He then added that if it were Hamilton in Vettel's shoes, it'd be a "completely different story."

Ferrari's social media page was prompt to suggest that Verstappen had been the root cause of the first lap crash. This was enough to cue in Max's father and former F1 racer, Jos, on the situation.

"If you look at the images, Raikkonen comes to the right and steers in," Verstappen senior said. "But if you look at the footage more closely, you can also see that Vettel comes to the left and Max is in between them."

"He can't go the left and he can't go to the right. You can hardly blame Max for any of this," he said.

The event was reviewed by race stewards afterwards, who eventually deemed it a racing incident. Jos says it's all a matter of politics given Vettel's earlier run-in with Lewis Hamilton at Baku.

"If he gets a penalty now, then I think they would also need to suspend him for a race, so this might but be another political game and deemed a racing incident. But I don't think that would be fair," the elder Verstappen said.

US Army Opens Permanent Base in Southern Israel as Trump Slams Iran Deal

The United States and Israel have a long history of close military cooperation, but much of it remains secretive or under-publicized in nature. Now, however, the U.S. military has an officially acknowledged permanent base of sorts, a possible signal of an expanding air and missile defense partnership as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration continues to challenge Iran over its advanced weapons programs, including development of ballistic missiles.

On Sept. 18, 2017, the U.S. Army’s top command in Europe and the Israeli Air Force held a ceremony to officially break ground on what they described as a “life support area,” which generally refers to barracks-like facilities where personnel can eat, sleep, and bathe, among other things. The “LSA” will be situated within the Israel Defense Forces Air Defense School, located at Bislach Air Base near Beersheba in southern Israel’s Negev Desert, but will be an entirely American-run affair.

“I would like to note that this life support area represents the first ever stationing of a United States Army unit on Israeli soil,” U.S. Army Major General John Gronski, Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe for Army National Guard and a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, said in a speech. “The United States and Israel have long planned together, exercised together, trained together – and now with the opening of this site, these crucial interactions will occur every day.”

“A few dozens of soldiers of our American allies will be stationed here permanently,” Israeli Air Force Brigadier General Zvika Haimovich, head of the Israel Defense Force’s air defense arm, added. “They are part of an American task force that will be stationed here.”

US Army Major General John Gronski, left, and Israeli Air Force Brigadier General Zvika Haimovich at the ceremony announcing Site 883.

This announcement came on the same day that U.S. President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York. The two leaders talked about mutual security interests, including the situation in Syria and concerns about Iran growing influence in the region, according to an official readout of the meeting.

Trump has long criticized Iran and the deal his predecessor President Barack Obama struck with that country over its controversial nuclear program, especially intensifying his push to isolate the government in Terhan following a visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017. He has threatened to scrap arrangement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

A truck carries a locally modified S-200 surface-to-air missile during a military parade in Iran in 2016.

"We cannot let a murderous regime like Iran build nuclear weapons, and we cannot let them use a deal as a cover for nuclear warfare,” he told the United Nations General Assembly is his first ever speech before the body on Sept. 19, 2017. “The nuclear deal was an embarrassment to the United States.”

Critics warn that getting rid of the Iran Deal would only hasten Iranian nuclear and missile developments, unconstrained by any international oversight, no matter how limited or problematic. Their arguments often point to the example of North Korea, which the collapse of talks and an interim agreement has now led to a pariah state that possesses a working hydrogen bomb and an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching much of the United States.

Regardless, Israel said the opening of the American base in the Negev, also known as Site 883, was two years in the making, meaning the Obama administration had set the plan in motion. It makes sense, since the parties to the JCPOA did not structure the agreement to cover conventional weapons development, including long ballistic missiles that could potentially threaten Israel or other countries in the Middle East and beyond.

Though this new site may be technically permanent, it expands on an existing forward deployed base at the top of Israel’s Mount Har Keren, also in the Negev. For nearly a decade, members of the U.S. Army’s 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command have maintained a long-range X-band AN/TPY-2 radar, primarily associated with the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System (THAAD), at a so-called “cooperative security location” known as Site 512.

A map of American military facilities in Europe and the Near East as of 2015, showing Site 512 in Israel.

While the U.S. military has no THAAD interceptors in Israel at present, the radar helps provide additional situational awareness for both American and Israeli forces. It feeds information into at least one of the Israel Defense Forces’ command centers responsible for operating the Arrow 3 ballistic missile defense system.

On top of that, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has facilitated a significant amount of other construction projects in Israel through the Foreign Military Sales program, including at least two massive underground command and control bunkers. In 2015, the Corps told the author that it was awarding contracts for an average of 10 to 14 major building programs on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Defense each year.

Site 883 looks set to improve upon that existing cooperation, possibly helping to streamline the flow of data from Site 512, as well as other U.S. intelligence sources, such as Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) early warning satellites. Of course, its existence “would not hamper the IDFs ability to act independently against any threat to the security of the State of Israel,” Brigadier General Haimovich stressed.

At the same time, the United States is continuing to facilitate the development of the Arrow 3 interceptor. In June 2017, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral J.D. Syring, head of the Missile Defense Agency, said the next test of that system would occur at the contractor-operated Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska (PCSA) in Kodiak, Alaska, in 2018.

Separately, the U.S. Army has been testing the Israeli Tamir interceptor, the weapon behind the country’s much touted Iron Dome system, as a possible load out for its truck-mounted Indirect Fire Protection Capability launcher. Iron Dome is a short range system that Israel primarily uses to knock down incoming rockets that militants often fire into the country or disputed border territories.

It is possible that Tamir could have a role in defeating the increasing threat of small unmanned aerial vehicles, as well. Earlier in September 2017, State-owned Israeli defense contractor Rafael announced it was planning to demonstrate the full Iron Dome system for the U.S. Army as a possible interim solution to the service’s glaring short- and medium-range air defense gap, an issue that The War Zone’s own Tyler Rogoway has recently explored in depth.

The U.S. Army’s Site 883, along with Site 512, within Israel seem primarily focused on the growing threat of ballistic missiles, though. In June 2017, Iranian forces launched a short-range ballistic missile strike against ISIS terrorists in Syria, which served to demonstrate the capability against a real world target for all to see.

The next month, it officially opened the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Semnan with the launch of a space launch vehicle, which critics of the country argue is simply a cover for the development of a long-range ballistic missile. In an Email to The War Zone, the U.S. Strategic Command said its Joint Space Operations Center did not record any new satellite entering orbit after the launch, suggesting the Simorgh or its payload had failed to function as intended.

Perhaps more worrisome, there is compelling evidence that Iran has been working with the Syrian government to establish new ballistic missile production facilities within Syria. These could supply either Bashar Al Assad’s regime or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Underscoring the potential danger, on Sept. 19, 2017, Israeli air defense forces said they knocked down a Hezbollah drone over the Golan Heights region along the border with Syria using a Patriot surface-to-air missile.

An Israeli Patriot surface-to-air missile launcher.

Israel has been interdicting deliveries of advanced weapons bound for Hezbollah via Syria for some time, prompting Assad to threaten a massive ballistic missile volley in response in March 2017. Israeli aircraft have not stopped their strikes, though, launching an especially notable mission against a Syrian facility linked to both its chemical weapons and ballistic missile development programs earlier in September 2017.

As conflicts in the region, especially in Syria, continue to evolve, it’s entirely possible that new threats may emerge connected to Iran or not. Ballistic missile technology has steadily proliferated in the region in recent years, being an important factor in both the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts.

Though small at present, Site 883 is a clear signal that the United States is taking these issues seriously, especially as it looks to continue putting pressure on Iran and its proxies, and is seeking even closer coordination with its allies in the region.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

This 1983 Honda Accord Is Well Worth $20,000

There were only two 1983 Honda Accords for sale on eBay at the time this story was published. One is an automatic sedan with more than 200,000 miles, and it's currently listed for $1,750. The other, a manual Accord hatchback with only 32,031 miles, has a current bid for $20,000. Not only is that more than double the original price of $8,549, it's more than many brand-new economy cars available today.

But this Accord LX is in amazing like-new condition. It's also fully loaded, with air conditioning, power steering, and of course the '80s-tastic louvers over the back window.

The bright-red interior is also in immaculate condition. The dashboard is not cracked or faded and the seats show no wear or tear. It also includes what appear to be dealer-installed voltage and oil pressure gauges. This car was clearly owned and maintained by someone who cares about cars.

The clean interior continues under the hatch, with the carpeting, wheel wells, and privacy cover looking to be in perfect condition. But here we see the most glaring wear item on the entire car: the plastic trim surrounding the back seat release lever which has faded to a strange purple color. That this is the most glaring problem with the car says a great deal about the excellent condition it's in.

The spare tire and shiny jack look like they've never been used in the car's life. And the surrounding metal, which can get dirty and rusty on these cars, looks like it just rolled out of the factory.

Even the engine bay, with its unique forward opening hood, is clean. This particular EK1 engine is carbureted, but future second-generation Accords like this one would be the first to get fuel injection.

The windshield also sports a shiny inspection sticker from 1988, the last year this car was on the road. Yet all of the important things, new tires, front rotors, brake pads, tune up, wiper blades, fresh oil and filter, have been taken care of.

This car is a literal time capsule, frozen from when an enthusiast owner took it off the road five years after it was new and preserved ever since. The ad says, "This car may be the nicest 1983 Honda Accord left in the world that is still in private hands and not in a museum." We agree.

Four Big Takeaways From Day One Of The Air Force Association’s Big Annual Bash

It’s a quirk of fate that I happen to share a birthday with the U.S. Air Force, but it’s one that only helps drive home Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson’s comment that the service has been constantly flying combat missions for 26 years, since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. That’s more than a third of its 70 year history and nearly four fifths of my entire life. Wilson made her remarks on the first day of the Air Force Association’s (AFA) annual Air, Space, and Cyber Conference in Maryland.

Wilson went on to stress the need to restore the Air Force’s readiness, stabilize its budgets, and completely rethink how the service goes about conducting science and technology research. Her comments, as well as those of other senior leaders and industry partners who spoke at a number of panels, depicted an organization heavily engaged in present matters of national security – from tensions with North Korea to the ongoing fight against ISIS – as well as looking to transform itself to stay superior to any potential foe. Here are four takeaways from the opening day of the conference we at The War Zone think are especially important.

Readiness and budgets

Heather Wilson spent considerable time during her speech detailing a readiness crisis within her service. She said the Air Force was doing all it could to meet its operational demands, especially in the Middle East, as well as keep proficient in core national defense missions, such as nuclear deterrence.

“It is not fair for this nation to ask our commanders to keep saying ‘We got this’ right up to the point of failure, because we don’t got this,” Wilson declared. “Low readiness for a crisis doesn’t mean we won’t go. We will go. What it means is that fewer will come back.”

Wilson highlighted the issue with an anecdote from a recent trip to visit Air Force units service in the Middle East in the fight against ISIS. She noted how some B-52 bombers had flown more than 570 sorties without any routine maintenance and performed more than 700 "danger close" strikes that could potentially put the friendly forces they're supporting at risk. She explained it was a mission Boeing never intended the aircraft to perform when it finished the design in the 1950s and that the same crews would have a nuclear readiness review upon returning to their home station at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

A B-52 bomber touches down at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar in 2016.

It’s no secret that the tempo of operations, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks have put a serious strain on the Air Force in general. There are no shortage of reports about low morale and an increasingly severe shortage of pilots.

In August 2017, the Air Force announced it would increase monetary incentives and bonus payments, along with looking to ask retired personnel to return to uniform, to try and make up the shortfall. As of the 2016 fiscal year, the service was in need of more than 1,500 additional pilots, the bulk of which it needed for its fighter squadrons.

Wilson said the shortage had a cyclical impact on readiness, reducing overall dwell time and opportunities for both vital training and leave. She laid the blame for this at the feet of the inability of Congress to pass a traditional budget, instead relying on 31 continuing resolutions over nine of the past ten years, as well as the spending caps the 2011 Budget Control Act imposed on the U.S. military as a whole, commonly known as sequestration. It is also fair to note that the law forced all of the services to make hard choices and the Air Force's own decisions often exacerbated the situation.

“This is how we lose the warfighting advantage for the citizens we seek to protect,” she added. “The United States must get beyond the Budget Control Act in order to protect the country.”

An F-16 fighter jet on a mission against ISIS over Iraq.

Science and technology review

At the same time, Wilson stressed that the service was working to modernize and transform to meet emerging threats in the air and on the ground, in space, and in cyberspace. To that end, she announced that there would be a year-long review of the Air Force’s overall science and technology strategy.

The Air Force Research Laboratory would lead the effort, but in cooperation with other organizations, including Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. The overall objective would be to begin exploring what the Air Force might look in the next decade or two and put the service on a steady course to still over-match its opponents.

“We will listen broadly and engage those who are on the cutting edge of science so that we can focus our research efforts on the pathways that are vital to our future as a service,” Wilson explained. But, most importantly, the service’s top civilian leader explained that she wanted to reinvigorate cooperation with America’s top research universities.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks at another AFA event in June 2017.

The U.S. military as a whole has made a big show of its partnerships with industry, in particularly the tech sector, through organizations such as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), as part of a strategy known as the "Third Offset." Similar work to expand on long-standing links with academic institutions has received less attention.

That doesn’t mean it has been any less significant, though. In 2014, the SCO organized an experiment where Air Force pilots in F-16 fighter jets deployed miniature drones from modified flare dispensers. In 2016, U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets conducted a similar exercise, dropping more than 100 of the miniature unmanned flying machines, which then acted as a single swarm. The concept and the basic design of the remotely operated craft, the Perdix, had originally come from a group of students at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wilson said that she wanted the Air Force to become “the sponsor of choice” for these kinds of cooperative developments with university faculty and students following the 12-month review of science and technology priorities. She has previously suggested she is unfamiliar with the Third Offset concept and did not mention the term specifically during her remarks.

The Air Force hasn't given up on the ICBM

Wilson stressed that none of this meant the Air Force will abandon its present modernization priorities, including continued development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, B-21 Raider stealth bomber, and KC-46A Pegasus tanker. At a separate panel on the service’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, U.S. Air Force General Robin Rand, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, along with other senior leaders and members of industry signaled unequivocal support for the third leg of the so-called nuclear triad, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In August 2017, the Air Force awarded both Boeing and Northrop Grumman contracts to mature their GBSD proposals and reduce potential risks in their respective designs. At the 2017 Air, Space, and Cyber Conference, General Rand and his other panel members, including representatives from both firms vying for the final deal to build the new missiles, argued that ICBMs still offer a cost-effective and survivable component of America’s nuclear deterrent, which has seen renewed relevance of late.

“The men and women who are performing this ICBM mission, I believe, are what’s keeps the world from completely spinning off its axis,” Rand said. “We are dealing with craziness in the East and the South China Sea, with what’s going on in Iran, certainly with what’s happening in Russia is they’re proliferating their nuclear and conventional enterprise, [and] everyone’s well aware of the challenges we’re facing now with North Korea.”

Rand called the Air Force’s nuclear deterrent forces, both the ICBM and nuclear-armed bomber components, as well as their support elements, “silent assassins,” suggesting that like assassins, they don’t brag about their work. Retired U.S. Air Force General Roger Burg, who was previously in charge of 20th Air Force, which controls the esrvice’s entire strategic missile force, argued that the land-based portion of the triad is the only leg where every single weapon system is on a state of alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

US Air Force personnel prepare to remove an ICBM from its silo as part of the terms of the New START Treaty in June 2017

In contrast, Burg said that the U.S. Navy’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines effectively take shifts sailing secretive deterrence patrols, and can only spend approximately 70 days under water – insulated from enemy observation and potential attack – at a time at maximum before needing to return to the surface. He also noted concerns about the idea of keep planes loaded with hydrogen bombs sitting behind a protective screen of little more than a barbed wire fence and a dozen airmen with M16 rifles in today’s “threat environment.”

In addition, Burg added that the visibility of the ICBM made them a stabilizing deterrent force in the eyes of many potential opponents, including Russia and China. Those countries, he said, saw the ballistic missile submarine force as a destabilizing factor since it had the capability to launch a virtually no-notice first strike.

Rand, Burg, and the others aren’t making unusual arguments, either. After recently suggesting he might be considering dropping the missile leg of the triad, Secretary of Defense James Mattis now appears to be on board, as well.

“I’ve questioned the triad,” Mattis told reporters earlier in September 2017. “I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing it from a triad. If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is the right way to go.”

Of course, we at The War Zone have written at length about the potential benefits of reducing the triad to a diad, debating how survivable the ICBM force really is and challenging its ability to respond to rapidly changing situations, including emergency orders to stand down. Still, these issues, especially the one Burg raised about promoting a stable deterrent environment, are interesting to consider in the wider debate.

A Minuteman III ICBM blasts off during a test in 2008.

A new world of intelligence

Effective deterrence, just like any of the Air Force’s missions relies on effective intelligence gathering about just what enemies and potential enemies are actually planning to do. So it’s no surprise that another panel focused on the future of service’s so-called “Iron Triad” of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, the E-3 Sentry airborne command and control platform, the E-8 JSTARS radar plane, and the RC-135 spy plane family.

The basic airframes for all three of these are derivatives of the Boeing 707 airliner, just like the Air Force’s KC-135 tanker fleet, and many of which first rolled off the production line more than a half century ago. Despite continual upgrades over the decades, the need to either overhaul or outright replace these planes has become ever more apparent.

There is already a project in the works to develop a JSTARS replacement, a fleet that has already provided more than 130,000 combat hours of support in the Middle East and Central Asia since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. As that and other programs get underway, though, the Air Force has to consider how best to improve and expand its mix of platforms and sensors to meet the evolving needs of commanders in the air and on the ground.

“Modern conflict will likely involve far more dynamic, rapidly evolving problem sets than those posed by the former Soviet Union,” retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General David Deptula, who is now the Dean of the AFA’s Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies and was the panel’s moderator, explained in opening the talk. “Furthermore, recent and future developments conceive nearly every aircraft in the Air Force inventory able to gather data and fuse it with a host of actors.”

An E-8 JSTARS.

The War Zone’s own Tyler Rogoway has talked about how this could easily be the case with regards to the F-35’s on board sensor suite. On top of that, the near future Deptula described might require the Air Force to have systems and units focused on gathering intelligence that previously have no even been there to capture, including in cyberspace.

“Regardless of the operation, whether it’s highly contested such as North Korea, whether it’s the humanitarian relief operation that we have just conducted in Texas and in Florida, or whether it is on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, we have harnessed publicly available information,” Lieutenant General VeraLinn Jamieson, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, said. “Some call that social media, blogs, newspapers, discussions – and [we have] been able to use that data to get decision making quality information to the tactical edge to create the desired effect that we want.”

Jamieson wasn’t talking figuratively about the benefits of combing through this information, either. In June 2015, U.S. Air Force General Herbert Carlisle, then head of Air Combat Command, revealed that an air strike had killed ISIS members in either Iraq or Syria after intelligence analysts figured out the location of a command center from pictures one terrorist fighter had posted online.

The growing ubiquity, and therefore importance, of social media is just one small, but significant factor the Air Force will need to incorporate into its future plans. From what we saw at the first day of the AFA’s 2017 Air, Space, and Cyber Conference, after 70 years of war and peace, the service seems to be in the midst of an important and broad watershed moment that could potentially define it for the next seven decades and beyond.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Toyota Launches New Performance Sub-Brand, GR

Toyota is a very conservative automaker. We've said that the brand is the purveyor of the beigemobile, but that's not a bad thing if you consider your car to be an appliance. It's important that we not forget Toyota's deep roots in motorsports, as it continues to bring its name to the track time and time again. As a homage to its ongoing commitment to enthusiasts, Toyota announced a new performance sub-brand: GR.

This announcement doesn't come as a surprise, as some have predicted the move based on Toyota's actions over the last few months. The acronym might sound familiar to those who enjoy motorsports, as the brand scavenged the name from another existing division within Toyota, Gazoo Racing.

The approach to GR starts broadly, to customize the brand's entire lineup and eventually tighten up to tailor very specific models from the factory with OEM performance parts. The company itself describes the divisional approach like a pyramid and will be pricing models from an entry-level $20,000 to just shy of $40,000 on the window sticker, depending on the trim and configuration.

GR Sport will be Toyota's entry-level performance trim, which surprisingly extends to models like the Prius and even minivans. The GR trim undergoes a few more changes that might interest the kid at heart. Depending on the model, the GR trim may include a full aero bumper kit, sport-tuned suspension, structural brace, RAYS forged wheels, big brakes, a limited slip differential and bolstered Recaro seats.

Lastly comes GRMN, Gazoo Racing Masters of Nürburgring, which will aptly receive a slightly more robust power plant, likely just through software tuning, though there's no official word on what performance parts will be offered.

What isn't mentioned above happens to be the bottom tier of the pyramid, GR Parts. Specifically because this is an extension of the GR brand that offers parts for ordinary drivers to customize their cars, likely similar to light changes or universal parts across the manufacturer's lineup.

Toyota said it will be rebranding all existing Area 86 garages and opening 39 "GR Garages." Likely similar to the concept of its predecessor, the GR garage will continue to be an enthusiast-backed gathering place for the brand. Think of it like your local parts counter, but with a bunch of cool OEM+ parts.

Toyota has said that it plans to eventually bring the brand outside of the country, first to the European Union. This likely depend on the success of the brand in Japan, since no date has been even tentatively set for expansion. Surprisingly, there was no mention of the upcoming Toyota Supra included in the releases by Toyota or Gazoo.

Maybe this shows that Toyota isn't so beige after all.

Lyft Wants Streets With Fewer Lanes, So More People Will Use Ride-Sharing

If more people use ride-sharing services instead of driving their own cars, traffic will be reduced, according to Lyft. Less traffic means less need for wide city streets with multiple lanes, and the company has an idea of what to do with that extra space. To that end, Lyft teamed with architecture firm Perkins+Will and transportation consultancy Nelson/Nygaard to remodel Los Angeles’s Wiltshire Boulevard for a hypothetical future full of autonomous ride sharing.

The concept, shown to CNN, reduces the street’s 10 lanes down to three narrower lanes for cars, and adds dedicated lanes for self-driving buses. Lyft thinks this will incentivize the use of shared autonomous vehicles.

What did designers do with the extra space? Some of it is taken up by wider sidewalks; there’s also added green space and bike lanes. It’s not too far off from the remodeling of New York City’s Times Square, where traffic flow has been reduced to make room for pedestrian plazas and bike lanes.

Indeed, the idea of reclaiming street space for other uses isn’t really new. Lyft is just putting a new spin on it by claiming that so many lanes dedicated to cars won’t be necessary in a future where autonomous driving makes ride sharing more convenient than owning a car.

But it’s a little early to be taking that as a foregone conclusion. A study published in June found that self-driving cars may not reduce traffic at all. Researchers concluded that the convenience of self-driving cars might actually lead to more trips, and could even create a new kind of potential traffic problem: empty self-driving cars sent out to run errands or pick up passengers. (It’s worth noting that most scenarios for autonomous ride sharing don’t include multiple passengers in the same car, so rush hours will likely see the same number of cars on the road.)

The time when self-driving cars displace human drivers is also years, if not decades, away, so it’s probably too early for cities to begin tearing up streets in anticipation of a utopian future.

Uber Admits It Doesn’t Base Driver Pay on Rider Fares

Uber is fighting a class-action lawsuit that claims it underpaid drivers and overcharged riders. In its defense, the ride-sharing company said the amount it charges riders and the amount it pays drivers don't have to match up, under its terms of service.

"Plaintiff's allegations are premised on the notion that, once Uber implemented Upfront Pricing for riders, it was required under the terms of the Agreement to change how the Fare was calculated for Drivers," an Uber court filing (via Ars Technica) said. "This conclusion rests on a misinterpretation of the Agreement."

The lawsuit alleges that the Uber app displays fares to customers based on slower and longer routes that what it shows drivers. Uber said this wasn't exactly a secret, noting there was nothing stopping drivers from asking riders what they were being charged. It also said it was under no obligation to show drivers and riders the same rate.

That may sound cold, but that's the reality of working in the so-called "gig economy." Since its drivers are technically contractors, Uber doesn't have the same obligations to them that a regular employer would to its employees. As such, drivers are simply allowed to keep whatever fare the Uber app calculates for a trip, after Uber subtracts its service fee. When Uber introduced Upfront Pricing last year, the calculation became unfair to drivers because it raised the rates customers were being charged, without an increase in driver fares. Uber said its driver contract allows that.

"Drivers disclaim any right to receive amounts over and above the Fare produced by the Fare Calculation," the company said in its court filing.

The company also said that the driver contract allows it to adjust fares based on a number of factors, including "inefficient routes, technical errors, or customer complaints," as well as "local market factors."

Uber even argued that it took a "significant risk" with the Upfront Price feature. It noted that even if a trip takes longer than expected, the driver's fare remains the same. But that attitude probably won't win the company many points with drivers or the public, even if it hasn't technically done anything wrong.