The growing use of unmanned drones in armed conflicts around the world seems set to continue into the future despite calls for restraint and regulation. As legal groups in the US file lawsuits to try to prevent the drone assassination of a US citizen in Yemen, arguing that the US must stick to international law, weapons manufacturers like Raytheon are pressing ahead and designing new lighter weapons specifically for drones use. Robert Francois, vice president of advanced missile systems and unmanned systems at Raytheon told Flight Global, for example, that they are developing three new missiles specifically for drone use:
The Small Tactical Munition is about 10cm (4 inches) in diameter, 61cm long and weighs in at 5.9kg (13lbs) with GPS/inertial navigational system (INS) and a semi-active laser (SAL) seeker for targeting personnel and light vehicles.
The 15kg Griffin is a short-range, air-to-surface missile is tube launched, also featuring GPS/INS and SAL guidance and is smaller and lighter than the Hellfire.
Filling in the 45kg gap is Monsoon, for targeting buildings, trucks and personnel, with GPS/INS, otnal SAL and an 18kg warhead.
Meanwhile at the USAF Academy in Colorado, cadets are also being encouraged to design weapons for future drone wars. Ideas that have been presented to a recent gathering of UAV experts in Denver include drones spraying each other with acid and drones shooting nets to try to capture and down other drones.
Far from being a future phenomenon, however, drone proliferation continues apace. Just this week, the UK placing a further $5m order with Lockheed Martin for additional Desert Hawk III surveillance drones for use in Afghanistan. A condition of the order is that the drones must be delivered in the Autumn.
But many would argue that the proliferation of drone wars urgently needs to be stopped. A recent article in Foreign Policy Journal makes the interesting point that Mossad (and others of the ilk) cannot have failed to contrast the international furore around the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel with the virtual silence that surround the US drone assassinations and drawn the conclusion that if the US can do it silently with drones, so can they. The FPJ article goes on to call for a debate on drones that
“should engage authoritative policymakers scholars, legal experts and other people with knowledge and understanding relevant to carry out an informed and beneficial discussion aimed at the introduction of international rules that would identify constraints, introduce a well-thought out supervision, and define sanctions helpful in dealing with uncontrolled proliferation of this new form of warfare.”
The US lawsuit launched yesterday (31st August) in the US by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argues that the US does not have the authority under international law or the constitution to carry out extrajudicial killings outside declared wars. They also reiterate the well made point that
“targeting individuals for execution by drone who are suspected of terrorism but have not been convicted or even charged – without oversight, judicial process or disclosed standards for placement on kill lists – poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people. In recent years, the U.S. government has detained many men as terrorists, only for courts or the government itself to discover later that the evidence was wrong or unreliable.”
Current lawsuits not withstanding, it is highly likely that drone wars and drone assassinations will continue until public opposition grows, and they are specifically outlawed. In the recent past anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs have been outlawed despite the best efforts of, and huge oppostion from, military planners and the defence industry. For campaigners, it’s time to get back in the saddle.