Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bad Bugs: Micro Air Vehicles as a Delivery System for Biological Weapons

Authors note: In a recent search for articles on 'smart dust' I came across this on the Ministry of Defence website for Singapore. It closely mirrored one of my recent publications, so I thought I should share it here instead. It appears Mindef Singapore has updated a version of a previous paper I published. Their statementfound at:

As somewhat of a stickler for attribution, I've included the MINDEF Singapore link

"With the rapid development and convergence of the three technologies; biotechnology, nano-sensors and unmanned systems, a new employment concept for biological warfare could emerge. Biological weapons could be the future precision weapon while retaining its capability for mass destruction. The precision would be two-fold in that it would be released at the most favorable conditions to ensure success while inflicting casualties confined to a specific target group. Unmanned "Smart Dust" sensors occupying the battlefield space would allow real-time, undetectable reconnaissance of targets and weather conditions of the area. Coupled with the delivery system of miniature unmanned vehicles with their genetically modified biological payloads, a timely attack with a high probability of success could be executed. The biological payloads would inflict casualties on a certain target group, preventing fratricide as they would be modified to act on a gene predominantly present within a particular population. Compared to current kinetic precision weapons, the price tag would be substantially lower, thus allowing once excluded parties or nations to acquire such a weapon. Its destructive effects would be precise and yet also much more widespread than kinetic precision weapons due to its infection-proliferation-infect cycle which can only be broken by quarantine. Collateral damage or fratricide often associated with both asymmetric warfare and precision warfare would be reduced or even negated. " Mindef Singapore

Micro Air Vehicles or MAV's may be modified to be a highly complimentary deployment platform for weaponized biological warfare agents. In contrast to chemical weapons for which a significant payload is required and volumes which would not, baring perhaps toxins be well suited for this delivery platform, BW would be.  A 2011, Popular Science article by Clay Dillow, entitled: Bug like Robotic Drones Becoming More Bug-Like With Bulging Eyes and Tiny Sensing Hairs (see: noted: 

"Micro air vehicles or MAVs, make for a tantalizing option for intelligence and surveillance agencies looking to surreptitiously gather information or deliver surveillance devices without being seen. But MAVs usually modeled after small birds or insects--are notoriously unstable in flight and difficult to maneuver in cluttered environments. So the Pentagon is handing out research contracts to make the DoD's little robotic bugs more stable by making them more bug-like. Specifically, the DoD wants big bulging bug eyes and hairy wings for its MAVs. The main problem with MAVs has to do with the way they respond (or don't respond) to dynamic environments--things like shifting or gusting winds, moving bodies, and other variables that have to be accounted for in real time. MAVs are tiny, so there's  not a lot of space for computing assets or sensor payloads, and that leads to a sort of intractable problem: how can engineers make these things smaller and more capable while also adding increased situational awareness and better in flight processing?"  

This is apparently being adjusted for according to a Wikipedia piece which contends: 

"A new trend in the MAV community is to take inspiration from flying insects or birds to achieve unprecedented flight capabilities. Biological systems are not only interesting to MAV engineers for their use of unsteady aerodynamics with flapping wings; they are increasingly inspiring engineers for other aspects such as distributed sensing and acting, sensor fusion and information processing. Various symposium bringing together biologists and aerial roboticists have been held with increasing frequency since 2000.Although there are currently no true MAVs (i.e., truly micro scaled flyers) in existence, DARPA has attempted a program to develop even smaller Nano Air Vehicles (NAVs) with a wingspan of 7.5 centimeters.[17] However, no NAVs meeting DARPA's original program specification were forthcoming until 2009 when AeroVironment demonstrated a controlled hovering of DARPA's flapping-wing NAV.[18] the difficulties in developing MAVs, few designs adequately address control issues. The MAVs' small size makes teleoperation impractical because a ground station pilot cannot see it beyond 100 meters. An onboard camera allowing the ground pilot to stabilize and navigate the craft was first demonstrated in the Aerovironment Black Widow, but truly micro air vehicles cannot carry onboard transmitters powerful enough to allow for teleoperation. For this reason, some researchers have focused on fully autonomous MAV flight. One such device, which has been designed from its inception as a fully autonomous MAV, is the biologically-inspired Entomopter originally developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology under a DARPA contract by Robert C. Michelson (19).

Clostridium Botulium 
Although one might consider that the lack of space on the very small MAV's could inhibit its use as an effective platform for BW deployment, considering that something like modified botulinum toxin or a synthetic version might be aerosolized beyond the 0.1-0.3mcm  and then merging this with swarm technology could well prove to be a formidable biological weapon deployment platform in a theatre of combat or even in civilian population centers. I will make the point that we are way beyond silica coatings which make anthrax weaponization almost obsolete. While my preference within the field of Category A highly pathogenic agents and toxins has always been those which are highly virulent and transmissible, such as smallpox, one could imagine anthrax or botulinum toxin deployed in this way could be effective and could result in high kill ratios. Its an interesting concept, the scenarios one can imagine are almost limitless. Note: 'Some contemporary analysis discount the potential of botulinum toxin as a bioweapon because of constraints in concentrating and stabilizing the toxin for aerosol dissemination. However these analysis pertain to military uses of botulinum toxin to immobilize an opponent (William C. Patrick unpublished data, 1998). In contrast, deliberate release of botulinum toxin in a civilian population would be able to cause substantial disruption and distress. For example, it is estimated that a point source aerosol release of botulinum toxin could incapacitate or kill 10% of persons within 0.5 km downwind (William C. Patrick, unpublished data, 1998) see:  Just as a personal note and to be complete, Botulinum Type H has recently been discovered in the feces of a child suffering from botulism. The toxin's DNA hasn't been released to the public as it has no antidote, which clearly makes it a good BW candidate. See

Countering BW MAV Payloads Converged with Swarming  (To be Continued in Part II)

Intro: No doubt there is already research being done to assess the risks such technology pose, should it be used offensively against our own forces and civilian populations.
Dragon voice recognition

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