Fine words, Few assurances: Assessing new MoD policy on the military use of Artificial Intelligence

Drone Wars UK is today publishing a short paper analysing the UK’s approach to the ethical issues raised by the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for military purposes in two recently policy documents.  The first part of the paper reviews and critiques the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) Defence Artificial Intelligence Strategy published in June 2022, while the second part considers the UK’s commitment to ‘responsible’ military artificial intelligence capabilities, presented in the document ‘Ambitious, Safe, Responsible‘  published alongside the strategy document.

What was once the realm of science fiction, the technology needed to build autonomous weapon systems is currently under development by in a number of nations, including the United Kingdom.  Due to recent advances in unmanned aircraft technology, it is likely that the first autonomous weapons will be a drone-based system.

Drone Wars UK believes that the development and deployment of AI-enabled autonomous weapons would give rise to a number of grave risks, primarily the loss of human values on the battlefield.  Giving machines the ability to take life crosses a key ethical and legal Rubicon.  Lethal autonomous drones would simply lack human judgment and other qualities that are necessary to make complex ethical choices on a dynamic battlefield, to distinguish adequately between soldiers and civilians, and to evaluate the proportionality of an attack.

In the short term it is likely that the military applications of autonomous technology will be in low risk areas, such logistics and the supply chain, where, proponents argue, there are cost advantages and minimal implications for combat situations.  These systems are likely to be closely supervised by human operators.  In the longer term, as technology advances and AI becomes more sophisticated, autonomous technology is increasingly likely to become weaponised and the degree of human supervision can be expected to drop.

The real issue perhaps is not the development of autonomy itself but the way in which this milestone in technological development is controlled and used by humans.  Autonomy raises a wide range of ethical, legal, moral and political issues relating to human judgement, intentions, and responsibilities.   These questions remain largely unresolved and there should therefore be deep disquiet about the rapid advance towards developing autonomous weapons systems.  Read more

Task Force 99: New US drone unit begins work in the Middle East

Task Force 99 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (Credit USAF)

A new unit tasked with field-testing aerial uncrewed systems and AI technologies has begun work in the middle east according to the head of US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT), Major General Alexus Grynkewich.  “It’s a small group of super-empowered airmen that I’m going to provide resources to so they can rapidly innovate and experiment in our literal sandbox that we have in the Middle East” the General told the US Air, Space and Cyber conference in September. It is unclear how the description of the Middle East as “our literal sandbox” was received by allies attending the conference.

Some of Task Force 99’s work will be focused on countering the threat of small drones from state and non-state actors, but it will also ‘experiment with off-the-shelf technologies’ in the ‘hope of harnessing new technologies in innovative ways’ according to reports in defence press.

The new Air Force unit is similar to the US Navy’s Task Force 59, which is based in Bahrain and has been conducting experiments with maritime drones for the past 12 months, (although the US has been using maritime drones in the region for a good deal longer). Tension flared in September 2022 between the US and Iran when two of Task Force 59’s surface drones were seized by an Iranian ship in the Red Sea.  After the US demanded that the drones be returned, the Iranian ship released them into the water the following morning.

The US Air Force’s Task Force 99 will mainly be based at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar but will also have a small ‘satellite innovation cell’ at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait, from where US and British Reaper drones operate. The Al Udeid unit will ‘experiment with variable payloads on small drones’ according to a report in ‘Air and Space Forces’ magazine.    Read more

Future War: The Shape of Things to Come

A day conference of workshops, discussion and debate on the impact new technologies
will have on future conflicts – and the challenges facing peace activists.

While terrible wars currently rage in Ukraine, Yemen, Ethiopia and elsewhere, preparations for future wars using new technologies is also underway.

New technology can be a spur for great social change, offering tremendous possibilities.  However, innovations in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous systems and biotechnology are also being used in the military and security realms in ways which will directly and indirectly affect global peace and security. Scrutiny of these developments and building towards peaceful ways to solve political conflicts in ways which do not threaten people and the environment is crucial.

This open public conference organised by Drone Wars and CND  will bring together expert speakers and campaigners to discuss these developments and debate how we can work together to challenge wars today and in the future.

Book your free tickets here 

Supported by Scientists for Global Responsibility, UK Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Peace News and others.  Read more

Pandora’s Box: Reflecting on 20 years of drone targeted killing

Online webinar: 3 November 2022, 7pm (GMT)

November 3rd this year will mark 20 years since a remotely-controlled drone was first used to carry out an extra-judicial killing ‘beyond the battlefield’. While drones had previously been used in warzones, this was the first time a drone had been used to hunt down and kill specific individuals in a country in which the US was not at war.

Since then, an untold number of such operations have taken place across the globe with a significant number of such strikes also causing serious civilian casualties.  Despite huge controversy the United States continues to engage in such killings (even while arguing publicly such actions are ‘limited‘) and the practise has now spread amongst other drone operators including the UK, France and Turkey.

In this important online webinar, Drone Wars has invited a number of experts to mark 20 years of drone targeted killings, to offer some reflections on the human, legal and political cost of the practice and to discuss how we can press the international community to ensure that drone operators abide by international law in this area.

 

Speakers:

  • Agnes Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International. Ex Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions (2016-2021)
  • Chris Woods, Founder of Airwars, author of ‘Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars’
  • Bonyan Jamal, Yemen-based lawyer and Legal Support Director with Mwatana for Human Rights, Yemen
  • Kamaran Osman, Human Rights Observer for Community Peacemaker Teams in Iraq Kurdistan

Chair:  Chris Cole, Director, Drone Wars UK

 

Tickets for the webinar are free and can be booked at the Eventbrite page here.

 

See also  ‘Twenty years of drone targeted killing

A deadly legacy: 20 years of drone targeted killing

On the 3rd November 2002,  a US Predator drone targeted and killed Qa’id Salim Sinan al-Harithi, a Yemeni member of al-Qaeda who the CIA believed responsible for the attack on the USS Cole in which 17 US sailors were killed. While drones had previously been used in warzones, this was the first time the technology had been used to hunt down and kill a specific individual in a country in which the US was not at war – ‘beyond the battlefield’ as it has become euphemistically known. Since then, numerous US targeted killings have taken place in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, while other states who have acquired the technology – including the UK – have also carried out such strikes.

At first, the notion of remotely targeting and killing suspects outside of the battlefield and without due process was shocking to legal experts, politicians and the press.  In an armed conflict where international humanitarian law (the Laws of War) apply, such strikes can be lawful.  However, outside of the battlefield, where killing of suspects is only accepted in order to prevent imminent loss of life, such killings are almost certainly unlawful. Indeed in early reporting on the first such attack 20 years ago, journalists noted that the US State Department has condemned targeted killing of suspects by Israel (see article below).

New York Times, 6 November, 2002. Click to see original.

However, the US argued – and continues to argue today – that its targeted killings are lawful.  It has put forward a number of arguments over the years which are seriously questioned by other states and international law experts.  These include  the notion that whenever and wherever that US undertakes military action international humanitarian law applies; that because states where the US engages in such strikes are ‘unable or unwilling’ to apprehend suspects its lethal actions are lawful; and that there should be greater ‘flexibility’ in interpreting the notion of  ‘imminence’ in relation to last resort.

Here are a small sample of drone targeted killing operations undertaken by the US and others.

November 3, 2002, US drone strike on a vehicle in Marib province, Yemen. 
  • Target: Qa’id Salim Sinan al-Harithi

The first drone targeted killing saw a CIA Predator drone operating out of Djibouti launch two missiles at a vehicle travelling through the desert in Marib province, Yemen. The drone’s target was ostensibly al-Qaeda leader Qa’id Salim Sinan al-Harithi, said by the US to be behind the lethal attack on the USS Cole two years previously.  However, also in the vehicle was  US citizen Kemal Darwish and four other men, all believed to be members of al-Qaeda.  As Chris Woods wrote in 2012, “The way had been cleared for the killings months earlier, when President Bush lifted a 25-year ban on US assassinations just after 9/11. [Bush] wrote that ‘George Tenet proposed that I grant broader authority for covert actions, including permission for the CIA to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives without asking for my sign-off each time. I decided to grant the request.’”

Online webinar: Pandora’s box: 20 years of drone targeted killing

Drone Wars has invited a number of experts to mark 20 years of drone targeted killings by offering some reflections on the human, legal and political cost of the practice and to discuss how we can press the international community to ensure that drone operators abide by international law in this area.

  • Agnes Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International. Ex Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions (2016-2021)
  • Chris Woods, Founder of Airwars, author of ‘Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars’
  • Bonyan Jamal, Yemen-based lawyer and Legal Support Director with Mwatana for Human Rights, Yemen
  • Kamaran Osman, Human Rights Observer for Community Peacemaker Teams in Iraq Kurdistan
  • (Chair)  Chris Cole, Director, Drone Wars UK

Tickets for this online webinar are free and can be booked at the Eventbrite page here.

Read more

Join us to protest the Cornwall space launch and #KeepSpaceforPeace

 

Monday 24th October: 7pm, Online briefing meeting – Click here to register 

 

Saturday 29th October, Noon – 2pm: Protest outside Newquay Airport

St Mawgan, Newquay TR8 4RQ
Meet at West Car Park entrance. Public transport details here.  Car parking costs £5 for 2 hours.

The first space launch from UK soil will take place sometime during the first two week of  November with a ‘launch window’, granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) opening on  October 29.

Unlike traditional vertical launches, the Launcher One rocket will begin its flight strapped to Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ aircraft, a converted Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet.  Once the plane reaches 36,000ft the rocket will separate and then ignite, with its engines firing it through the earth’s upper atmosphere till it reaches orbit.

While the launch is being presented as a step forward for the civil space industry – with Virgin’s commercial space ambitions being heavily promoted – the rocket will launch two military satellites (that we know about) alongside commercial ones: Prometheus-2 and Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment (CIRCE).  The mission is being led by RAF Squadron Leader Matthew Stannard.

Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin told the Defence Space 2022 conference in London earlier this year that Prometheus-2 is a CubeSat intended as a test platform for monitoring radio signals including Global Positioning System (GPS), conducting sophisticated imaging, and paving the way for a more connected space-based communication system. It was built in collaboration with Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), In-Space Missions, and Airbus Defence and Space, with DSTL owning the satellite.  Read more