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

Book review: ‘Visibility equals death’ – living under the martial gaze

In 1978 the then-US under-Secretary of Defense, William Perry, declared that the Pentagon was seeking the ability “to be able to see all high-value targets on the battlefield at any time, to be able to make a direct hit on any target we can see, and to be able to destroy any target we can hit.”  In ‘The Eye of War‘, author Antoine Bousquet argues that military technology is increasingly allowing this objective to be achieved at virtually any time and in virtually any place around the world.

‘The Eye of War’ is the story of the evolution of what Bousquet calls ‘the martial gaze’ – a gaze that threatens anything which falls under it with obliteration.  Today’s military drones are a high profile, modern manifestation, of an ability to spot and destroy a target which has been emerging since the Middle Ages, and ‘The Eye of War’ sets out in vivid terms the histories of the various technologies involved and how they have converged to create a world which, in the words of military scholar Martin Libicki “visibility equals death”.  Read more

Book Review ‘Eyes In The Sky: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare’ by Arthur Holland Michel

Arthur Holland Michel, author of ‘Eyes In The Sky’, is one of the co-founders of the Centre for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York State.  The Centre for the Study of the Drone has done extraordinary work in monitoring the spread in the use of drones, including publication of ‘The Drone Databook’, a detailed country-by-county study of military drone capabilities;  a comprehensive study of counter-drone systems; and a weekly round-up of news and developments in the world of drones.

With this pedigree, and Michel’s background as a journalist reporting on technical issues, we can expect an authoritative and carefully considered account of the topic he has chosen to investigate in this book: the emergence of wide area persistent surveillance systems and their use in warfare and policing.  Based in large part on interviews with insiders, ‘Eyes In The Sky’ gives a balanced but nevertheless worrying account of the dramatic implications that wide area surveillance will have for society.  Read more

Book Review: Death Machines: The Ethics of Violent Technologies by Elke Schwarz

The ethical concerns raised by Elke Schwarz in her new book, Death Machines: The Ethics of Violent Technologies, help situate the use of armed drones in a deeper discussion of our modern political landscape and point to the issues that must be addressed through substantial ethical reasoning. For those not familiar with political theory and ethics, this book is at times quite dense. Nonetheless, it is essential reading for those working with or on the issue of drones, autonomy and AI to engage with the ever-increasing use of violent technologies, regarding both the physical death they inflict and the ethical death in the wake of their use.

Framed by Schwarz’s biopolitical interpretation of Hannah Arendt’s theories, Death Machines asks how we have allowed violent technologies to become the right choice when dealing with problems that threaten society. Hannah Arendt judged that modernity’s movement towards the efficient management of society, relegated plurality and consequently equality among varied people and beliefs. Read more

“Here’s their actual stories, make of them what you will.” Dr Peter Lee on ‘Britain’s Reaper Force’

Dr Peter Lee

On 4th October, a ground-breaking book on the UK’s use of armed drones will be published by John Blake Ltd.  Reaper Force: The Inside Story of Britain’s Drone Wars‘ is the result of conversations that have taken place over several years between Dr Peter Lee of Portsmouth University and RAF Reaper crews and their partners at Creech AFB in Nevada and RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. A week before publication, Drone Wars sat down with Peter to chat about the new book.

CC: We’ve met each many times having discussed these issues at conferences and in broadcast studios, but for the benefit of our readers, can I ask you to say a little about how you got into this field of research? 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