New Report: Crowded Sky, Contested Sea: Drones over the South and East China Seas

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Amid naval patrols, live military drills, island building, trade wars and diplomatic breakdown, drones are making an increasing impact on the security situation in the South China Sea and the relationship between China and the US.  Smaller nations in the region are also acquiring further reaching surveillance UAVs, while a number of states are looking to bring armed drones in to service over the next few years.

A new report from Drone Wars UK, Contested Sea, Crowded Sky, looks at the steady acquisition of drones by smaller states in South East Asia and their deployments in the South and East China Seas that are contributing to destabilisation in the region and deteriorating relations between China and the US.

Just last week, Congress received notification from The Whitehouse of a proposed sale of a maritime version of the Reaper drone to Taiwan, while US drone crews have been recently training for Reaper operations in the pacific region (“With an Eye on China, Reaper Drones Train for Maritime War”) as part of the ‘pivot away from the Middle East’.  Both incidents have greatly angered China.  Caught in a super-power stand-off, smaller states in the region also have security concerns regarding contested island chains, natural resources under the sea bed and access to fishing waters. China claims many of the small island chains but most are also claimed by several smaller states. The tensions over ownership and resources are contributing to military build-up in the South and East China seas. As well as upgrading jets and naval vessels, states are investing in longer range, more persistent unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to enhance security. Read more

The use of drones in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

As the hostilities between and Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region reach their worst levels since the end of the 1992-94 war, daily reports of drones and loitering munitions being used in strikes or shot down pile up on social media, and the truth and extent are hard to clarify. This post takes a long view and looks at the protagonist’s acquisitions and use of drones and loitering munitions in the last few years and what their introduction means for peace and security in the region.  Read more

Drone Proliferation Update, July 2020

Serbia acquires Chinese CH-92 drones
  • This latest update details new operators and other significant developments around the proliferation of armed drones.  For our complete list of states operating, or close to operating, armed drones see Who Has Armed Drones?

Over the last six months, Libya has continued to be the focus for the use of armed drones. France has increased its activity in the Sahel, and several Asian nations, plus Russia, edge closer to operating armed drones. Turkey and Iran also continue to promote their indigenous developments, and the US appears to have decided to unilaterally reinterpret the MTCR guidelines to allow it to increase its export of armed drones.

Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, has urged action on drone proliferation during her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council, arguing of the need for the international community to  “undertake effective measures to control their proliferation through export and multilateral arms control regimes and/or under international treaties” in order to tackle effectively the many challenges posed by armed drones, particularly for targeted killings. Read more

Book Review: The Drone Age by Michael J. Boyle

The Drone Age: How Drone Technology Will Change War and Peace is a great introduction for anyone looking to get an overview of the important issues surrounding the use of military drones. It is clear, engaging and full of insight, as a result of the authors expertise in the field. For those who already very familiar with military drones, there is less that is unexpected but some of the historical context may be new and is certainly worth understanding. The book brings together a substantial amount of information and is highly recommended for people seeking to understand the origins of drone use and the reasons this technology is changing warfare.

Rather than hype up the dangers and speculate about a dystopian future, the book is a well-balanced explanation of where we are, how we got here, what changes are likely to take place in the near future and why the technology itself is ‘disruptive’ (an argument Drone Wars UK has consistently made). The book charts the different ways in which drones have changed numerous practices of war, balancing out the sometimes predictable focus on hunter-killer missions of Predators and Reapers with the surveillance and targeting support that are the work of the majority of most drone operations. Yet Boyle makes clear that these less headline-grabbing operations have also contributed to a step-change in warfare. ‘The Drone Age’ does not stop there however, and looks at the way in which drones have changed peace-keeping and domestic surveillance. The focus is mainly on state (military and police) use but it also covers the UN, human rights organisations, terrorist and rebel groups, and more. Read more

Armed Drone Proliferation Update, January 2020

The third of our twice-yearly updates details new operators and other significant developments around the proliferation of armed drones.  For our complete list of states operating, or close to operating, armed drones see Who Has Armed Drones?

France undertakes first drone strikes

As has long been expected, the French Reaper fleet started to undergo weaponization in October 2019, with Jane’s reporting that this process will continue to run until Nov 2021 under a contract worth $17.87m.  A mere two days after completing a first test launch with its new missiles, the French air force carried out its first drone strike in Mali.  The strike, on 23 December, was part of an operation that reportedly killed 40 ‘terrorists’. A further drone strike in Mali on 19 January was reported by the French Ministry of Defence, killing five alleged armed militants.  This represents a clear escalation in the use of force. Read more

New Report – In the Frame: UK media coverage of drone targeted killing

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Our new report looks at UK involvement in drone targeted killing and in particular at media coverage of British citizens killed in such strikes. It argues that the government’s refusal to discuss key details or policy issues around these operations has helped to curtail coverage, creating a climate where targeted killing has become normalised and accepted, eroding human rights norms.

In recent days, we have seen exactly how far the US is willing to take targeted killing by armed drone. The jump from targeting members of non-state groups classed as terrorists to the assassination of top military personnel of a state that US is not at war with may appear huge in terms of strategy and legality. Unfortunately, however, it is also inevitable. Drone Wars UK has consistently argued that drones – with their particular capabilities to stay airborne long periods, hovering over targets, able to track them undetected before firing ‘precision’ missiles – were always likely to be used in provocative ways that blur the boundary between war and peace and cause further destabilisation in international relations. Read more