Government spending watchdog highlights “significant issues” for UK drone projects

The Ministry of Defence’s two flagship drone projects – the ‘Protector’ programme to introduce the Certifiable Predator B drone into service with the Royal Air Force, and the Army’s Watchkeeper surveillance drone – continue to face ‘significant issues’ according to a government spending watchdog.

The latest annual report (published in July 2019) of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA),  an agency of the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, has highlighted continuing problems, delays, and failures Read more

Off the Leash: How the UK is developing the technology to build armed autonomous drones

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A new report published by Drone Wars UK reveals that, despite a UK government statement that it “does not possess fully autonomous weapons and has no intention of developing them”, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is actively funding research into technology supporting the development of armed autonomous drones.

Our study, Off the Leash: The Development of Autonomous Military Drones in the UK, identifies the key technologies influencing the development of future armed drones and looks at current initiatives which are under way in the UK to marry developments in autonomy – the ability of a machine to operate with limited, or even no, human control – with military drone technology. The report maps out the agencies, laboratories, and contractors undertaking research into drones and autonomous weapon technology in support of the Ministry of Defence, examines the risks arising from the weaponisation of such technologies, and assesses government policy in this area. Read more

Book review: ‘Army of None: Autonomous weapons and the future of war’ by Paul Scharre

Paul Scharre’s new book on autonomous weapons begins with an account of an incident he experienced while on patrol as a US Army Ranger in Afghanistan in 2004.  A young girl of five or six years old herding a couple of goats approached Scharre’s team while they were taking cover in the mountains.  As she looped around them, frequently glancing towards them, they realised she had a radio and was reporting their position, acting as a spotter for Taliban fighters.

What should the soldiers do?  According to the laws of war, the girl was an enemy combatant whom they were allowed to shoot.  If a person is participating in hostilities, regardless of their age, they are a lawful target for engagement.

Scharre and his squad had no doubt that it would have been quite wrong to kill the little girl, and so they moved away and regrouped in a safer area.  But what would a machine have done in their place?  If it had been programmed to kill enemy combatants lawfully, it would Read more

Watching, Killing: The Evolution of RAF Drone Warfare in the 21st Century’ – Dr Peter Lee

Dr Peter Lee

Anyone who has conducted interviews with around 60 Reaper drone crew members and given evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones will have learned a thing or two about the Royal Air Force’s armed drone programme.  Step forward Dr Peter Lee, a former Air Force chaplain now Director of Security and Risk Research at Portsmouth University, who over the past few years has been undertaking a detailed study into the human dimension of RAF Reaper drone operations.  Dr Lee recently lectured at the Royal Aeronautical Society about his research and his forthcoming book on the RAF’s drone community. Read more

Book Review: ‘Swarm Troopers’ by David Hambling

‘Swarm Troopers’ has been around for a while, but nevertheless deserves reviewing and remains a worthwhile read and an important contribution to writing on drones and warfare.  It was originally published in December 2015, yet in this fast moving field we are already beginning to see some of the outcomes that author David Hambling predicts taking shape.

“The future will bring new generations of increasingly capable small drones at ever lower costs.  Large numbers of them will be more formidable opponents than the handful of armed Predator / Reaper drones currently in service.”

This is the central thesis of ‘Swarm Troopers’: that in the modern world there is a trend for things to get smaller yet more powerful; that Read more

‘Significant issues’ facing MoD drone projects says spending watchdog

UK’s ‘Protector’ drone: questions over procurement and operation costs’.

Two of the government’s flagship drone projects – development of the new ‘Protector’ armed drone to replace the Royal Air Force’s current Reaper system, and the Army’s ‘Watchkeeper’ surveillance drone – are facing “significant issues” according to a newly published analysis of government major projects by a spending watchdog.

The latest annual report from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), an agency of the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, has highlighted a series of problems and delays currently challenging the two drone programmes. Read more