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

Reviewing the current debate on drones

Alongside intense international law arguments, a wider debate on the impact of the growing use of armed drones, within particular current conflicts as well as on long-term global peace and security, continues. To mark our sixth birthday we outline here the current state of the debate on some of the key issues.

 

Drones: Is it the technology, the policy, or both?

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Can the impact of the technology be ignored?

The starting point for many advocates of the use of armed drones is to dismiss any debate about their use by insisting that there is no actual difference between a drone and a conventional military aircraft.  Former drone pilot T. Mark McCurley for example writes “Is there a difference between bombs dropped off a drone or a fighter?” while Dave Blair argues that “the same weapons deployed from Reapers are also launched from Apaches and F-16s.  The idea of ‘drone strikes’ as distinct from ‘air strikes’ is a distraction.” Read more

Drones do ‘lower threshold for use of lethal force’ academic study finds

walsh-schulzke2cAlthough some continue to insist that armed drones are in effect no different from other military aircraft, there seems to be increasing acceptance that the technology may lower the threshold for use of force. Stanley McChrystal, for example, former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told a conference in London late last year that he believed the capabilities of drones could make them more palatable to military decision-makers and “lower the threshold” for lethal force, while a recently released MoD policy document Future Operating Environment 2035’  asserts that:

“increased use [of remote and automated systems] in combat and support functions will reduce the risk to military personnel and thereby potentially change the threshold for the use of force. Fewer casualties may lower political risk and any public reticence for a military response…”

Read more

Are we being misguided about precision strike?

 In the run up to the House of Commons vote on air strikes against ISIS in Syria, there has been much hype in the media about ‘precision strikes’. In particular a new British missile, the Brimstone, has been lauded by the press and politicians with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon going so far as to suggest that it “eliminates civilian casualties.”

The perception of ‘precision’ also underlies much of the support for drones targeted killing, with the phrase ‘pinpoint accuracy’ being deployed by the media almost as often as the weapons themselves.  However the details and claims of such ‘precision’ deserve scrutiny.  It is important to ask whether we are not in fact being misguided about ‘precision’. Not only in terms of the actual impact on the ground, but also in the permissiveness it engenders for further war. Read more

What’s wrong with drones?

[Updated in October 2015]

Preamble: Are drones different?

While some insist that armed unmanned drones are effectively no different from other military aircraft, there are two important differences.  Firstly they can be operated remotely over very great distances via satellite links. While the drones themselves are located near the point of operation, once they are launched, control can be handed over to pilots sitting thousands of miles away. Read more

Are drones compatible with the idea of just war?

This is an edited version of an article by US Catholic theologians Tobias L. Winright and Mark J. Allman that first appeared in the 18th August 2012 edition of the international Catholic weekly, The Tablet  (www.thetablet.co.uk) as Obama’s drone wars: a case to answer.  Recalling that Barack Obama spelt out his commitment to the just war tradition at the outset of his presidency, Winright and Allman, reflect on whether the growing use of armed drones is in fact compatible with the just war tradition.  Reproduced by kind permission of the publishers. Read more