As the pace of drone operations has intensified in Djibouti, Air Force mechanics have reported mysterious incidents in which the airborne robots went haywire.
In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the "brains" of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem.
"After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely," an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. "Right now, I still think the software is not good."
The last moments of Predator #07-3249:
23:15:34- SENSOR -- Dude, look at this camera. Seriously, I can't do anything. There's nothing I can do. I just nuked it.
23:15:44- PILOT -- Yeah, see what you can get working and I'll plan on landing on this for now.
23:15:47- SENSOR -- There's seriously like something... This camera is completely [expletive].
23:16:41- SENSOR -- Did he say, "Cleared to land"?
23:16:42- PILOT - Yeah
23:16:44- SENSOR -- Ok. Checklist complete, links are set up, autopilots disengaged, cleared to land, try to mess with this picture.
23:17:01- SENSOR -- Yeah dude, I literally have.... No picture right now. This camera's like, completely messed up.
23:17:16- SENSOR -- Can you land on that?
23:17:17- PILOT -- Uh, I'm going around if I can't see it.
23:17:21- SENSOR -- What altitude are we at right now?
23:17:23- PILOT -- Oh
23:17:27- PILOT -- That was the ground
23:17:27- PILOT -- That was the ground.
To be fair, it seems that the Predator and Reaper drones have already been backdoored before, at least according to Sophos.
So, the other stuff seems unsurprising to me. What is more disturbing is the approach they are using to handling the fact that their systems have been compromised, which seems to me to be basically "oh, nothing to see here! move along".
What do you expect when an entire generation has grown up with the expectation that antivirus software is a necessity and that you will get infected anyway? Big deal, reboot and reinstall, who cares. Why should it be any different on hardware with lethal peripherals?
I don't know.
I think it is a reasonable expectation that more attention and more competent technicians would be involved with equipment that has lethal peripherals. And what happens if you have to reboot (or to use their words "nuke") the predator while it's airborne?
Or Peter Watt's "Malak."
Software bug. Dumbasses. Uh huh huh huh.
The Predator / Reaper can't land themselves; they require a human operator to fly the plane with joystick and camera, just like a very expensive video game. So if the camera craps out on final, the plane is screwed. Other drones have full auto land capability.
And that self-starting story smells like ground crew and/or pilot error to me...