2018: British armed drone operations reach a crossroads

In December 2017 the RAF announced that British Reaper drones had reached the significant milestone of flying 100,000 hours of combat operations. First deployed in Afghanistan in 2007 and, on operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the UK’s Reapers have been continuously engaged in surveillance and strike operations for a decade. However, with the collapse of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, ten years of continuous drone operations should be coming to an end. But statements by British government ministers as well as senior military officers indicate that the UK wants its Reapers to continue to fly, seemingly indefinitely. Read more

Perpetual war: UK’s armed drones to stay deployed beyond campaign against ISIS

A Ministry of Defence press conference has revealed that as the war against ISIS ends, British Reaper drones are to stay deployed in the Middle East after other UK aircraft return home .  As The Times reported

‘Air Commodore Johnny Stringer, who led the British air campaign against the terrorist group until last month, said that drones and other surveillance aircraft would continue to fly over Iraq and Syria to help local forces guard against the militants returning.,

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New MoD document on use of drones, same old spin

After a long delay the UK MoD has produced its new doctrine publication on the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (commonly known as drones).  Its predecessor, ‘The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (JDN 2/11),  caused a stir in 2011 as it acknowledged real ethical and legal issues with the growing use of these systems. The subsequent press coverage so horrified the MoD that they removed the publication from their website only restoring it six months later when things had calmed down.  Perhaps that is why the new document is so bland.

In November 2015, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed it was to produce a new version of the document to be published in July 2016.  When it hadn’t appeared a year later, Ministers told MPs that it had been delayed as there was an ongoing review into unmanned systems and autonomy which the document needed to take into account.  Defence Minister Mike Penny promised MPs that it would be published in early 2017.  Nine months later, we now have the document Read more

Cameron testing the water on British drone strikes in Syria

David Cameron with RAF pilots at Al Minhad Air Base in UAE (credit Stefan Rousseau/PA)
David Cameron with RAF pilots at Al Minhad Air Base in UAE, 2012 (credit Stefan Rousseau/PA)

With the faltering of the US air war against ISIS in Iraq, the UK and the US are considering ways to increase their military activity against the group in Syria.  “We need to crush ISIL in Iraq and Syria” said Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons this week in a response to the massacre of Western holidaymakers in Tunisia.

This phrase was interpreted by many in the media (possibly after government spin doctor briefings) to mean possible UK air and drone strikes in Syria. Read more

Drones and the Strategic Defence Review

BAE System's Taranis drone in flight
BAE System’s Taranis drone in flight

For the past two years the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) has been looming ever larger but any questions about process or content have been impatiently batted away with the refrain that such issues were “a matter for after the General Election.”

Now the election has come and gone, the government confirmed in the Queen’s Speech that it “will undertake a full Strategic Defence and Security Review, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe.” Read more

An initial response to the report of the Birmingham Policy Commission on Drones

SecurityImpact_cvr
Click to download (pdf)

The Birmingham Policy Commission has released a new report entitled The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK. While Drone Wars UK welcomes the attention this important report brings to the issue – and would support some of its recommendations – we have to disagree with the main conclusion and thrust of the report.

The Birmingham Policy Commission says that its aim is to “to bring leading figures from the public, private and third sectors together with Birmingham academics to generate new thinking on contemporary issues of global, national and civic concern.” A specific group of ‘commissioners’ are gathered together to look at each particular issue and the Commission on drones is chaired by Sir David Omand, former Head of GCHQ, and made up of academics, former military officers, and representatives of the ‘defence’ industry. Jen Gibson of Reprieve seemed to have the sole responsibility for representing civil society organisations (a full list of Commissioners for this report is here). Read more