Protector starts with ‘PR’: the coming battle over military drone use in the UK

UK has been using armed drones overseas since 2008

The use of armed drones by the UK and in particular, the US, grew rapidly in the early 2000s as the ability to carry out remote strikes and targeted killings, with no risk to one’s own forces, was increasingly valued. However, because the public perception of drones has always generally been negative, military, industry and government officials know that they need to shape and improve how the public perceive the use of these systems. This effort is now being ratcheted up for two key and related reasons: i) to continue to be able to use armed drones for military operations overseas ii) to fly military drones in domestic airspace. Read more

US Reaper drones test Agile Condor: Another step closer to ‘Killer Robots’

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, manufacturer of the Reaper drone, has recently been awarded a US Air Force contract to demonstrate the  ‘Agile Condor’ artificial intelligence system with the MQ-9 Reaper drone.  According to General Atomics President David R. Alexander,

“The Agile Condor project will further enhance RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] effectiveness by specifically allowing a MQ-9 to surveil a large area of operations, autonomously identify pre-defined targets of interest and transmit their locations.”

This type of capability represents a tangible step further towards the development of autonomous weaponised drones able to operate without human input – flying killer robots, in other words.  From identifying targets without the need for a human decision to destroying those targets is a very small step which could be achieved with existing technology. Read more

UK rapidly developing new drone programmes: Mosquito and swarming

The UK’s ‘Mosquito’ is being developed under the MoD’s LANCA programme

While the primary focus for UK military drone operations has been around larger systems like Reaper, the forthcoming ‘Protector’ and Watchkeeper; the UK is increasingly funding the development of smaller drones to engage in war-fighting roles. Read more

Military drone crash data undermines MoD case to fly Protector drones in UK

Drone Wars is today publishing a new report reviewing large military drone crashes over the past decade.  Accidents Will Happen details over 250 crashes of large Predator-sized (NATO Class II and III) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) across the globe operated by a number of different countries, primarily the United States. The data is being released as UK airspace regulators are coming under pressure from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and industry lobbyists to open British airspace to such drones.

Although there has been public and parliamentary discussion about the impact on public safety and security of the increasing use of small drones (particularly since the incursions at Gatwick airport in late 2018), there has so far been little media or political discussion about the implications of opening up UK airspace to large military drones. However airspace regulators have serious concerns about the danger of operating unmanned systems alongside piloted aircraft.  Read more

Will the UK continue to launch strikes against ISIS?

On Saturday (23 March) the Syrian Defence Force announced that ISIS’ last stronghold, the small town of Baghuz on the banks of the Euphrates, had been captured. With that, ISIS’ so-called Caliphate was at an end.

When British MPs voted for resolutions supporting strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, these had specific aims. Firstly, in 2014, strikes were authorised to aid Iraqi security and then in 2015, to eliminate ISIS’ safe haven in Syria. Now, more than four years later, Iraq has declared victory over ISIS, and the so-called ‘safe haven’ for ISIS has been removed Read more

The Gatwick drone: A taste of the technology

Drones dominated the headlines over the Christmas and New Year period after sightings of one or more commercially available drones closed Gatwick airport to flights for 2½ days, disrupting thousands of passengers. The inability of the authorities to track down the drone operator led to ministers calling in the military with counter-drone technology to give assurances to air operators that it was safe to re-open the airport. This week, Heathrow was also closed for an hour due to the presence of a small drone.

While many newspapers mocked the alleged incompetence of the authorities in not dealing with the situation simply and swiftly, the reality is that drones are a disruptive technology. The ability to use remote-controlled systems to intervene at distance with little or no consequences to the operator is perhaps now coming home to roost. Read more