The Drone Wars Library

The Drone Wars Library consists of key documents and important articles on the use of drones divided into the following categories:

| Autonomy | Civilian casualtiesDomestic surveillanceDrone pilots | Ethical issuesGeneral overview | International controls on the use of armed dronesIsrael and drones | Proliferation | Targeted Killing and Legal IssuesUK drone operations | US drone operations |

Last updated: November 2020

TaranisAutonomy

The push towards autonomous weapon systems is cause for great concern. While governments often publicly disassociate themselves from the notion of such systems, research and development work quietly continues. Drones are a particular area in which we are continuing to see greater autonomy come into play. Although there is a difference between ‘autonomous flight’ and an ‘autonomous weapon system’, the concepts are beginning to converge in the area of unmanned drones.

For much more information on autonomous weapons see Killer Robots Campaign

Key documents and articles

Oct 2020 Regulating Autonomy in Weapons Systems Visual explainer from Article 36 on how a treaty to address autonomous weapons could be developed and structured
Oct 2020 ‘Machines set loose to slaughter’: the dangerous rise of military AI Long read op-ed on the need to control lethal autonomous weapons
Aug 2020 Country Positions on Banning Fully Autonomous Weapons and Retaining Human Control Human Rights Watch analysis of states position on development of lethal autonomous weapons
Jun 2020 Limits on Autonomy in Weapon Systems ICRC and SIPRI in-depth analysis of the type and degree of human control required over lethal autonomous weapons
May 2020 XLUUVs, Swarms, and STARTLE: New developments in the UK’s military autonomous system Overview of research and developments in area of autonomous weapon systems in the UK
Nov 2019 Slippery slope: The arms industry and increasingly autonomous weapons Pax report examines developments in the arms industry and shows the trend of increasing autonomy in weapon systems
Nov 2019 New European poll shows public favour banning killer robots A poll of European countries, found that seven in ten people believe their country should support work to develop an international ban on fully autonomous weapons systems
Nov 2019 WCC Minute on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems – “Killer Robots” World Council of Churches call upon member churches,  to advocate with their governments to support an international ban Killer Robots
Nov 2019 Novel weapons against ethics and people. Armed Drones and Autonomous Drones Centre Delas report identifies major actors in the field of armed autonomous drones, and the main types of drones that may include autonomous capacities.
May 2019 The State of AI: Artificial Intelligence, the Military and Increasingly Autonomous Weapons Pax report outlines the status of AI in military projects of seven countries: US, China, Russia, UK, France, Israel and South Korea
Nov 2018 Off the Leash: How the UK is developing the technology to build armed autonomous drones Drone Wars report sets out which agencies, labs, and contractors are undertaking research into drones and autonomous weapon technology in the UK
Aug 2018 Heed the Call: A Moral and Legal Imperative to Ban Killer Robots Joint Human Rights Watch and Harvard report arguing that fully autonomous weapons would violate the Martens Clause.
Apr 2016 Human control and autonomous weapons Article 36 briefing on the need for meaningful human control over weapon
Feb 2016 Report Cites Dangers of Autonomous Weapons Center for a New American Security report on the dangers of autonomous weapon systems
Oct 2015 Automation in Military Operations Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology briefing on Automation in military operations
Apr 2015 Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots Human Rights Watch report on accountability for the actions of fully autonomous weapons under the law
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here


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houseCivilian casualties

Supporters of drones often point to their supposed precision and ‘pinpoint accuracy’ yet there are multiple reports of civilian casualties arising from drone strikes. It is impossible to assess just how precise drone warfare is without empirical data and there is a distinct lack of transparency around the use of drones. While there is have some data about the impact of drones strikes in Pakistan from organisations like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), across the border in Afghanistan where there have been far more drone strikes there is very little public information. One US military analyst, Larry Lewis, who has studied classified military data on drones strikes in Afghanistan (although he is unable to release the information) told The Guardian that missile strikes conducted by drones were 10 times more deadly to Afghan civilians than those performed by fighter jets.

Key documents and articles

Nov 2020 Drones have changed warfare. This is what life is like as a constant human target Investigation into civilian harm caused by Turkish drone operations in Northern Iraq
Sep 2020 As US air war in Afghanistan surged, investigations into civilian harm plunged While US dropped a record number of bombs in Afghanistan the number of in-depth investigations into allegations of civilian casualties dropped by half.
Apr 2020 A family mourns as US drone attacks in Somalia continue Al Jazeera report on the cost of US drone strikes to Somali civilians
Apr 2020 Libya: UAE Strike Kills 8 Civilians Human Rights Watch investigation into UAE drone strike in Libya which killed a number of civilians
Mar 2020 Europe’s shame: Claims by key allies of no civilian harm in war against ISIS exposed Airwars report shows European nations – including UK – denying dozens of civilian deaths from their own actions.
Dec 2019 Afghan families torn apart by drone strikes – picture essay Photojournalist Stefanie Glinski visited Khagyani, Nangarhar and Pekha village in Achin district and found communities devastated by US drone strikes
Sep 2019 U.S. drone strike kills 30 pine nut farm workers in Afghanistan US drone strike targeting an Islamic State (IS) hideout in Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians Afghan officials said
Aug 2019 Deadly airstrikes and drone hits displace thousands of civilians in Libya oasis town Increased use of armed drones by warrying parties in Libya results in death and displacement of civilians says UN
Jul 2019 News In Brief: US media coverage of civilian harm in the war against ISIS Airwars report on US media coverage of civilian harm at key points of the war.
Feb 2019 U.S. military’s 2018 study on civilian casualties Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff commissioned study, part of an effort to review how the military prevents civilian deaths and accounts for mistakes.
Mar 2019 The Hidden US War in Somalia: Civilian Casualties from Air Strikes in Lower Shabelle Amnesty International report examining the civilian casualties from US air and drone strikes in Somalia
Mar 2019 Drone strikes and suicide attacks in Pakistan: an analysis AOAV study investigating the relationship between drone strikes and suicide attacks in Pakistan.
Jan 2019 Traumatic amputations caused by drone attacks in the local population in Gaza Lancet study examining the prevalence and severity of extremity amputation injuries caused by drone strikes compared with those caused by other explosive weapons
Sep 2018 Credibility Gap: UK civilian harm assessments for the battles of Mosul and Raqqa Airwars report taking a detailed look into UK air and drone strikes against ISIS focusing on the battles for Raqqa and Mosul and the civilian harm caused
Nov 2017 The Uncounted Detailed New York Times investigation into civilian casualties caused by air and drone strikes in Iraq
Oct 2016 The Precision of Drones: Problems with the New Data and New Claims Examination of data on civilian casualties from drone strikes
Apr 2016 Drones kill more civilians than pilots do Examination of US civilian casualty figures in different contexts
Apr 2016 After drones: the indelible mark of America’s remote control warfare Six families talk about impact of strikes which have injured or killed family members
Apr 2016 New rules allow more civilian casualties in air war against ISIL US commanders change rules to allow up to ten civilian casualties in some targeting areas.
April 2016 Obama acknowledges civilian deaths caused by drone strikes Remarks by President Obama ahead of release of ‘US drone ‘playbook’
Feb 2016 Naming the dead: Only 10 of scores killed by US drones in Pakistan last year have been identified Little or nothing is known about dozens of people killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan in 2015 says TBIJ
Jan 2015 Fresh CENTCOM admissions reveal frequency of civilian casualties Airwars on the Coalition move to ‘normalise’ civilian casualty reporting, after months of playing down claims.
Dec 2015 Is UK’s claim of zero civilian casualties in Iraq airstrikes credible? Examining claims of zero civilian casualties while reporting organisation detail deaths on the ground
Oct 2015 Inside America’s secretive drone project: faulty intelligence and civilian deaths Leaks reveal that 90% of the victims of American drone strikes during 5-month period were civilians,
Feb 2015 We dream about drones, said 13-year-old Yemeni before his death in a CIA strike Yemeni boy records his life for the Guardian before being killed in drone strike
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here


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Domestic surveillance

Both in the US and in Europe, large military-grade drones which fly ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) are moving from the battlefield to the domestic front. Alongside our continuing focus on the military use of drones, we now have a related programme, ‘UK Drone Watch’ which examines the opening of UK skies to large BVLOS drones and in particular their use for security and surveillance purposes.

 

 

Key documents and articles

Oct 2020 EU accused of abandoning migrants to the sea with shift to drone surveillance Campaigners and MEPs accuse EU’s border agency Frontex of investing in technology to monitor migrants from afar and skirt its responsibilities towards people in distress.
Sep 2020 Home Office plans to use military-grade drones to pursue suspects and monitor protests are raising privacy concerns Plans by the National Police Air Service (NPAS) to use Israeli military-grade drones to replace helicopters and aeroplanes have raised concerns among privacy campaigner
Sep 2020 A “Persistent Eye in the Sky” Coming to a City Near You? Allowing drones from overseas wars to be turned on US citizens isn’t something that should happen without a robust public debate says Medea Benjamin and Barry Summers
Aug 2020 Army drone deployed to spot migrants in Channel Watchkeeper drone deployed to monitor boats crossing channel
Jul 2020 Secret General Atomics Drone Flights Over San Diego Raise Surveillance Concerns How the secrecy around flights of large military drones over the US, and their use for surveillance, is causing concern among civil rights groups.
May 2020 Search and rescue trial heralds new era of military-style drones over Britain’s skies UK coastguard trialling use of Israel drones
Apr 2020 Drones in Times of Pandemic: Caution behind the Hype The opportunities and dangers of the embrace of drones to address challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apr 2020 SkyGuardian Drone Takes Flight Over Southwest US Federation of American Scientists argues that drone technology is advancing faster than regulation and that privacy is a special concern.
Mar 2020 UK police use drones and roadblocks to enforce lockdown Derbyshire police use drones to shame walkers in the Peak district
Jan 2020 Large military-grade drones could soon be flying over your backyard General Atomics plans test-flights of its SkyGuardian drone, over San Diego, California, in 2020


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drone-pilotsDrone pilots and crew

Although one or two drone pilots and sensor operators have spoken publicly, to a large extent the voice of those operating armed drones on a day-to-day basis remains silent. In the media they tend to be portrayed as either courageously restrained heroes or gung-ho video warriors. The long-term health impact on drone crews continues to be a source of contention with some arguing that drone crew suffer serious mental health issues. If you have been involved in UK or US military drone operations and want to share your experience either on or off-the-record, we would welcome hearing from you.

Key documents and articles

Mar 2020 Military drone pilots at risk of ‘moral injuries’ Times article on MoD report into the health risks to RAF drone crew
Feb 2020 The Hazards, Risks and Adverse Health Effects of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems UK MoD’s Independent Medical Experts Group examine the stress and health risks to aircrew flying military UAVs
Jan 2020 Stress of killing from afar creates shortage of MoD drone operators UK MoD confirms problems recruiting and retaining drone pilots
Oct 2019 Reaper Force: Inside One Of The Most Secretive Military Communities Forces News report from RAF Waddington, where Reaper crews target fighters from the so-called Islamic State.
May 2019 French army seeks Reaper drone pilots French air force launches recruitment drive to train 80-100 Reaper drone crews (their current level is around 20 crews)
Feb 2019 For MQ-9 Crews, 2019 is Time to Reap Just Rewards US Airforce magazine article examining manning, training and other issues in relation to the RPA aircrew community
Oct 2018 Reaper Force: Inside Britain’s Drone Wars US Air Force pilot and Oxford doctoral student, Joe Chapa, reviews Peter Lee’s ground-breaking book ‘Reaper Force: Inside Britain’s Drone Wars
Jun 2018 The Wounds of the Drone Warrior  Detailed New York Times investigation into the trauma suffered by US drone pilots
Jul 2017 The Watchers: Airmen who surveil the Islamic State never get to look away US drone pilot talk to the Washington Post
May 2017 “It was incessant” Drone Wars UK interview with former RAF Reaper drone pilot
Sep 2016 Air Force, Running Low on Drone Pilots, Turns to Contractors in Terror Fight Increasing use of private contractors to fly drones
Apr 2016 Meet The New Mavericks: An Inside Look At America’s Drone Training Program Good piece, including interviews, with those training to be drone crew.
Apr 2016 Confessions of a former US Air Force drone technician Al Jazeera interview with former USAF serviceman Cian Westmoreland
Nov 2015 Air Force hires civilian drone pilots for combat patrols; critics question legality Questions around growing use of civilians in US drone programme.
Nov 2015 Air Force struggles to add drone pilots and address fatigue and stress LA Times visit to US drone training base finds pilots worn out and stressed by ever increasing workload
Nov 2015 RAF remote drone pilots facing real-world combat stress Telegraph report on stress UK drone pilots face due to the “unnatural nature” of drone targeted killings
Oct 2015 Expanding contracting: The private sector’s role in drone surveillance and targeting US military increasingly turning to private contractors to fill key roles in its drone operations.
Mar 2015 American Drone Operators Are Quitting in Record Numbers Internal USAF argues that the ‘outflow’ of drone pilots will impact on ability of US drone operations
Feb 2015 US Air Force increases combat air patrols for drones Number of Reaper patrols increases with growing normality of their use
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here

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ethicsEthical Issues

Proponents of the use of armed drones often argue there is no moral or ethical difference between unmanned and manned systems, arguing that only those who object to the use of force itself can have any ethical issues with the use of drones. But that is to ignore the way that drones are ‘lowering the threshold’ when it comes to using lethal force and the push towards autonomy.

 

Key documents and articles

Jun 2020 ‘Ninja bomb’ could increase use of drone strikes, warn military experts How new ‘non-kinetic’ R9X drone missile could further lower the threshold for the use of force.
Jan 2020 From Dresden to drone: the morality of air war Peter Singer writing in the Financial Times on remoteness, risk
Aug 2019 Maths and tech specialists need Hippocratic oath, says academic Mathematicians and computer scientists need a Hippocratic oath to protect the public from powerful new technologies under development in labs and tech firms
Jul 2019 Technology at the Service of Peace: How can the EU address the (mis)use of force through uncrewed armed systems? Catholic Church in the European Union issues reflection on armed drones
Sep 2018 Soldiers get lessons in morality of drone killings The Times reports that the British Army is training ethicists to teach soldiers about the morality of killing with drones.
Oct 2017 Distance, weapons technology and humanity in armed conflict A look at the ethical and legal ramifications of distance in armed conflict. What does it mean to target someone or something at a distance? And why does this matter ethically?
Feb 2017  Disengaging morality from robotic war A discussion of the moral dimension of drone warfare and the growing broader issue of robotic war through the perspective of social cognitive theory of moral agency.
Feb 2016 “Drones lower inhibitions against initiating armed conflicts” finds US academic study Quantitative study into public response to use of armed drones and threshold for use of force
Nov 2015 The strategic risks of armed drone use Drones APPG reports on conference looking at strategic and ethical risks of drone use
Jan 2016 Can Drone Pilots Be Heroes? Examination of the concept of valour and heroism in relation to the use of armed drones
Nov 2015 Dannatt defends drones but ignores the real issues Drone Wars UK responds to General Dannatt’s defence of drones and targeted killings
Nov 2015 Drone attacks are a vital part of modern warfare Former Defence Chief General Dannatt argues that drone targeted killings are vital
Nov 2015 Drones give David Cameron the power to kill anyone, any time, any place Reports of disquiet in the ranks over beginning a programme of targeted assassinations should give serious pause for thought.
Feb 2015 My View: In drone warfare we ought not trust US military chaplain who preached sermon questioning morality of drone war reprimanded & released from active duty
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here

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General overview

Key articles and documents giving a good overview of drone warfare.

 

 

 

 

Key documents and articles

Jun 2020 Turkey’s unprecedented ascent to drone superpower status Detailed overview of the rise of Turkey as a drone operator and exporter
Mar 2020 Unarmed and Dangerous: The Lethal Applications of Non-Weaponized Drones Examining how unarmed drones can directly enable kinetic operations and explains why use of drones in this role is significant.
Feb 2020 How drones have come to dominate the battlefield Al Jazeera overview on the rise in use of armed drones
Feb 2020 Drones are transforming the battle for Tripoli Examining the use of armed drones by various belligerents in Libya
Nov 2019 Killer drones: how many are there and who do they target? Guardian in-depth briefing on the growing military use of drones
Nov 2019 Has the last RAF pilot already been born? Telegraph long read on the future of military drones
Nov 2018 Armed UAVs in conflict escalation and inter-state crises UNIDIR report examining measure to prevent drones causing escalation in inter-state crisis
Oct 2018 Weapons of choice? The expanding development, transfer and use of armed UAVs UNIDIR overview of armed drones
Sep 2019 The Drone Databook Comprehensive overview of military drone inventories and data on numerous types of UAVs
Jul 2018 Behind the Magical Thinking: Lessons from Policymaker Relationships with Drones CNAS study based on interviews with former senior officials, aimed at understanding how drone use affected the dynamics of national security decision-making
Aug 2017 Drone Inc.: Marketing the Illusion of Precision Killing, Corporate Watch report examining the marketing of precision weaponry
Jul 2017 The Humanitarian Impact of Drones WILPF report looking at the humanitarian impact of armed drones
Jul 2016 The Secret Rules of the Drone War: New York Times editorial calls for greater transparency on the US use of armed drones
May 2016 The Guardian view on armed drones: a new code for a new form of warfare Guardian editorial calls for greater international controls on the use of armed drones
Dec 2015 Westminster Hall debate on armed drones led by David Davis MP Parliamentary debate on issues raised by growing use of armed drones
Feb 2015 What 200 military drone crashes tells us about the drone wars How tracking drone crashes illuminates the spreading use of drones
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here


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International controls on the use of armed drone

A number of international NGOs as well as multilateral institutions  are examining processes for introducing international controls over the proliferation and use of armed drones

 

 

Key documents and articles

Jan 2020 Drones and the Development of International Standards Rachel Stohl from US think-tank, the Stimson Center examines the prospects of developing international controls on the use of lethal drones
Oct 2019 31 NGOs Present Joint Statement on Armed Drones During UN First Committee 2019 Statement from civil society groups demanding progress on developing controls over the proliferations use of armed drones
Sept2019 Time to Harden International Norms on Armed Drones https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/09/time-harden-international-norms-armed-drones/160039/ Wim Zwinjnenburg, coordinator of European Forum on Armed Drones, sets out what should be done to build consensus around international controls on use of armed drones
Mar 2019 UK, US and Russia among those opposing killer robot ban UK government is among a group of countries that are attempting to thwart plans to formulate and impose a pre-emptive ban on killer robots
Oct 2018 Drones in The Use of Force: A Way Forward Article 36 paper outlines the response from the international community to drones so far, and a way forward in order to build an effective international policy response on this issue.
Apr 2018 Controlling Drones: Why Drones Should Stay within the Missile Technology Control Regime PRIF report warns against hollow­ing out the MTCR without replacing it with a new and broader regime and recommends safe­guarding the arms-control norms embedded within the MTCR.
Feb 2018 Drones and the European Union: Prospects for a Common Future Chatham House paper arguing that the debate over the use of drones is an opportunity for states to explain troubling areas of military operations to the public.
Dec 2017 Increasing Transparency, Oversight and Accountability of Armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles UNIDIR paper arguing for increased transparency and accountability of the use of armed drones
Oct 2017 Key Principals on the Use and Transfer of Armed Drones Amnesty International report calling on States to articulate and rigorously implement clear, binding and transparent policies on the use and transfer of armed drones
Jul 2017 Towards an EU common position on the use of armed drones European Parliament report calling for the development of common European principles governing the use of armed drones,
Jun 2017 Out of The Shadows: Recommendations to Advance Transparency in the Use of Lethal Force Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies comprehensive report recommending greater transparency.
Nov 2015 Study on Armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles UN study on armed drones looking at how to improve transparency and oversight
May 2015 We need and independent review of drone strikes US military researcher, Dr Larry Lewis, calls for independent review of US drone strikes
Mar 2015 It’s Time for an International Drone Accountability Regime Proposal for an international regime to regulate the use of armed drones


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Israeli-airstrikeIsrael and drones

In many ways Israel has led the way in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in conflict, with its development and use of military UAVs going back at least four decades. Israel also has a claim to be the major player in global drone proliferation with about fifty countries (out of the more than seventy known to have some form of military UAV capability) having received drones or drone technology transfers from Israel.

 

Key documents and articles

Feb 2020 How Israel is ‘bombing Gaza blind’ with old intelligence Israeli air force personnel raise questions about accuracy of intel behind strikes on Gaza
Nov 2019 ‘Precise’ Strikes: Fractured Bodies, Fractured Lives’ an update on Israel’s drone wars Drone Wars briefing updating its 2014 report on Israel and drones
Nov 2019 Israel’s military experience gives it an edge in global drone industry How Israel’s drone companies cash in on the use of military drones in the occupied territories.
June 2019 The birth of the drone – Israel’s early use of drones An investigation into Israel’s early use of drones
Jan 2019 Traumatic amputations caused by drone attacks in the local population in Gaza Lancet study examining the prevalence and severity of extremity amputation injuries caused by drone strikes compared with those caused by other explosive weapons
Aug 2018 Secret Israeli Report Reveals Armed Drone Killed Four Boys Playing on Gaza Beach in 2014 Intercept reveals confidential Israeli report admits drone killed Palestinian children playing on a beach
Apr 2016 Israeli army document confirms use of Hermes 450 drones in assassinations  Israeli report (subsequently removed) confirms Hermes 450 launched strikes
Jan 2016 Anarchist Snapshots: Hacked Images From Israel’s Drone Fleet Documents released by Ed Snowden reveal UK/US capture of images from Israeli drones
Feb 2015 Gaza: Life beneath the drones Report from Corporate Watch on impact of drones in Gaza containing interviews with survivors
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 see our Library Archive here


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proliferationProliferation of drones

The proliferation of drones is a growing area of concern and deserves greater attention. The main international agreement controlling the proliferation of drones, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), is coming under pressure from those who see it as a hindrance to the development of the drone industry. With a growing number of countries eager to acquire drones and drone technology, the need for global controls to stop the spread of drones has perhaps never been more urgent.

 

Key documents and articles

Oct 2020 In Victory for Lobbyists, Trump Administration Loosens Drone Export Rules Project On Government Oversight (POGO) finds a concerted campaign by arms companies, foreign governments, and think tanks pressurised US to lift export controls on drones.
Sep 2020 Violent Skies: How lethal technology is shaping contemporary warfare Pax report on how proliferation and use of drones are changing warfare, with case studies and recommendations for proliferation controls.
Aug 2020 Regulating and Limiting the Proliferation of Armed Drones: Norms and Challenges A review of the control regimes suggests that gaps and weaknesses need to be addressed in order to ensure the effective regulation of drone production and transfers.
Jul 2020 Trump Administration Is Bypassing Arms Control Pact to Sell Large Armed Drones Trump admin announces it will allow sale of advanced armed drones and bypass MTCR agreement that the US helped forge more than three decades ago.
Jun 2020 Defense industry cheers as the Trump administration is poised to loosen restrictions on drone exports A discussion of the consequences for international and US security if Trump Admin ‘re-interpret’ MTCR to allow increased drone exports
Jan 2020 Who’s Prone to Drone? A Global Time-Series Analysis of Armed Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Proliferation Academic analysis of drone proliferation 1994-2019
Jan 2020 Who has armed drones?

 

Drone Wars dataset of which States are operating, or close to operating, armed drones
Dec 2019 Turkey’s military drones: an export product that’s disrupting NATO An examination of Turkey’s drone industry
Dec 2019 In Libya, cheap, powerful drones kill civilians and increasingly fuel the war Washington Post report on how Libya has become ‘ground zero’ for use of armed drones
Dec 2018 The Use of Armed Drones in the Middle East Comprehensive RUSI study into the growing use of armed drones in the Middle Rast
Nov 2018 MALE-Drone Proliferation in Europe: Report examining the acquisition of armed drones by European states
Aug 2018 The Arms Trade Treaty and Drones Stimson Center examines how armed drones challenge mechanisms aimed at regulating the transfer and use of conventional weapons systems
Aug 2018 Unmanned ambitions: Security implications of proliferation in emerging drone markets Pax report examines how emerging drone technology producers are gaining a substantial share of the middle- and small-range sector of the market for military drones.
May 2018 Drone Wars: The Next Generation, An Overview of new armed drone operators  Drone Wars report examining which states are currently, or likely to be soon, operating armed drones as well as looking at initiatives to control the proliferation of the technology
Oct 2016 Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) US State Dept. launches Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled UAVs
Sep 2016 New Draft on Drone Export Rules ‘More Problematic’ Than Original Amendments to draft of new drone control regime weaken it writes Rachel Stohl
Sep 2016 A new international control regime on armed drones led by the US?  What is going on? News that US seeking international agreement on controlling export of armed drones
Apr 2016 China swooping in on military drone market Sara Kreps on the implications of China’s proliferation of armed drones
Jan 2016 The Consequences of Drone Proliferation: Separating Fact from Fiction Paper from three academics looking at the implications of armed drone proliferation
Jan 2016 Meet China’s Killer Drones Review of proliferation of armed drones from China to Iraq, Pakistan and Niger
Mar 2015 The numbers behind the worldwide trade in drones SIPRI data on drone proliferation
Feb 2015 US Export Policy for Military Unmanned Aerial Systems       US publishes new policy on export of military drones
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here


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Targeted killing and drones

Drones have enabled the expansion of targeted killing in particular by the US in Pakistan and Yemen. Many UN officials and international law scholars argue that this contravenes international law norms but the US continues to insist that it has the authority to take such action. Some also argue there are serious questions about whether the use of armed drones can in fact comply with the four key principles underlying IHL, namely necessity, humanity, proportionality and distinction.

Key documents and articles

Jul 2020 New UN report insists Soleimani assassination by US was ‘unlawful’ Killing of Iranian commander by US drone strike represents ‘not just a slippery slope. It is a cliff’, warns Special Rapporteur
Feb 2020 Trump’s drone assassins will backfire on US Times essay on long-term consequences of drone targeted killing for |US.
Feb 2020 Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike House Foreign Affairs Committee releases Trump administration’s legal justification for drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani.
Jan 2020 Implications of the Use of Drones following the Assassination of Qasem Soleimani House of Lords Library Briefing on the implications of the use of drones following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.
Jan 2020 In the Frame: UK media coverage of drone targeted killing Drone Wars report examining UK media coverage of drone targeted killing
Jan 2020 U.S. Legal Defense of the Soleimani Strike at the United Nations: A Critical Assessment Adil Ahmad Haque finds the US legal justifications for the killing of Qassem Soleimani wanting.
Jan 2020 The Targeted Killing of General Soleimani: Its Lawfulness and Why It Matters UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killing, Dr. Agnes Callamard, writes on the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani.
Jan 2020 The Killing of Soleimani and International Law Mary Ellen O’Connell writes on the legality of the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani.
Nov 2019 We’re quickly moving toward a world where drone executions are the norm Op-ed from Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson arguing the other States are now beginning to follow the US lead on targeted killing
Mar 2019 Ground-breaking Judgement on Germany’s Role in US drone Program Judgement in Bin Ali Jaber v Germany. Germany must now take action to ensure that the US respects international law in its use of Ramstein Air Base.
Mar 2019 Drone Litigation Updates The Bard Center’s overview of on-going court cases related to the US drone targeted killing programme
Oct 2018 Human Rights and Human Realities: Local perspectives on drone strikes and international law, Pax report translating the legal debate around the use of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations into the everyday life challenges of survivors of drone strikes.
May 2017 Litigating Drone Strikes: Challenging the Global Network of Remote Killing    ECCHR publication presents contributions from international political and legal experts on the background and consequences of the global drone wars.
Apr 2017 UK Lethal Drone Strikes in Syria UK Intelligence and Security Committee investigation into the killing of Reyaad Khan in 2015
Mar 17 The International Law Framework Regulating the Use of Armed Drones Key academic article aimed at providing a holistic examination of the international legal frameworks which regulate targeted killings by drones.
Mar 17 Targeted killing: a new departure for British defence and security policy? Remote Control Project examines the UK drone targeted killing of Reyaad Khan in 2015
Oct 2016 Towards a European Position on the Use of Armed Drones? A Human Rights Approach Survey of EU Member States’ positions on armed drones and targeted killing
Oct 2016 UK Government’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killing: Government Response to the Human Rights Committee Report Government response to Human Rights Committee inquiry
May 2016 We Must Have Proper Scrutiny Each Time the State Takes a Life Through Drone Strikes Harriet Harman MP calls for proper public accountability over UK targeted drone strikes
May 2016 The Government’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killing Report of Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee inquiry
Apr 2016 Britain’s Kill List Report by Reprieve on UK involvement in targeted killing
Mar 2016 Transparency in the Drone Wars New York Times editorial calling for greater transparency.
Dec 2015 The Right to Life and the International Law Framework Regulating the Use of Armed Drones in Armed Conflict or Counter-Terrorism Key submission to JHRC Inquiry on UK targeted killing
Oct 2015 Parliament’s human rights committee to investigate lethal drone strikes Joint Human Rights Committee announces inquiry into UK drone strike targeting Reyaad Khan
Oct 2015 Re: Proposed application for judicial review by Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness Jones of Moulescoomb Responding to proposed legal action UK Government Legal Dept sets out view on legality of drone strike
Oct 2015 UK drone attack in Syria: legal questions House of Commons Library briefing paper on legal questions surrounding UK’s drone targeted killing
Sept 2015 The Legal Questions About the UK’s Drone Strike in Syria Noam Lubell reviews legal questions surrounding UK’s drone targeted killing of Reyaad Khan
Sept 2015 Cameron reveals Isis Briton was killed by drone First UK drone targeted killing outside conventional battlefield
Apr 2015 38 Westerners killed by US drone strikes TBIJ investigation reveals 38 Westerners killed in US drone strikes
Apr 2015 White House admits: we didn’t know who drone strike was aiming to kill US drone strike that killed two hostages and two suspected American members of al-Qaida targeted compound rather than specific suspect
Apr 2015 Targeted Killing: The New Questions Professor David Cole outline the need for greater transparency around US targeted killing programme
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here


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 UK Drone Operations

The UK began using armed drones in 2004 as part of the combined US/UK Predator task force before acquiring its own armed Reaper drones for operation in Afghanistan in 2007. Ministry of Defence figures show the percentage of airstrikes in Afghanistan undertaken by British drones has risen from 52% in 2009/10 to 82% in 2013/14. The MoD confirmed in January 2014 that Reapers would be retained following the end of combat operations in Afghanistan but continues to insist that no decision had been taken on future basing options. In October 2014 it was announced that UK armed drones would be deployed for operations in Iraq.

Key documents and articles

Jun 2020 Ministers refuse to reveal target of new RAF killer drone missions UK refusing to disclose the location of RAF Reapers missions outside of Operation Shader leading to calls for greater parliamentary oversight of Britain’s drone programme.
Jun 2020 A Joint Enterprise: How the UK and the US co-operate on drone warfare Overview of US-UK co-operation on armed drone operations argues that close historic ties & shared use of infrastructure show that the programmes amount to a joint enterprise.
Mar 2020 Protector: the UK’s next generation armed drone Drone Wars’ background briefing on Protector
Mar 2020 The Risky first transatlantic flight of a Reaper drone How MoD pressurised regulators over safety announcements about arrival of SkyGuardian drone into the UK
Jan 2020 After the killing of Soleimani, we need clarity on UK involvement in drone strikes Baroness Stern and Lord Hodgson call for greater clarity of UK support for US drone operations.
Jan 2020 In the Frame: UK media coverage of drone targeted killing Drone Wars looks at media reports of targeted killing and argues that secrecy has helped to curtail coverage, creating a climate where targeted killing has become normalised
Nov 2019 UK drones more likely to target individuals than infrastructure data analysis reveals Analysis of UK air strike data reveals that British drones have been used far more often to attack individuals on the ground than the UK’s other strike aircraft.
Oct 2019 Reaper Force: Inside One Of The Most Secretive Military Communities Forces News report from RAF Waddington, where Reaper crews target fighters from the so-called Islamic State.
Jul 2019 RAF Retiring Reaper In 2024, Paving Way For Protector Britain to retire its General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft systems in 2024 as RAF transitions to its new Protector drones.
Jul 2018 The UK’s Use of Armed Drones: Working with Partners Report of APPG on Drones inquiry into use of drones in joint operations
Jul 2018 Falling Short: An analysis of the reporting of UK drone strikes by the MoD An audit of UK reporting on drone strikes finds that too little information is given in order to make proper assessment of whether strike adhered to international law
Jul 2017 Hidden from the Public: The United Kingdom’s Drone Warfare Rights Watch UK report highlighting lack of transparency around UK use of armed drones
Feb 2017 British Drone Operations Against ISIS, 2014-2016: Operational data, continuing issues of concern Drone Wars report containing data on UK operations in Iraq and Syria, and highlighting issues of concern about armed drones reflected through the lens of UK operations
Oct 2016 RAF killer drones to fly in UK RAF confirms it will seek permission to operate new ‘Protector’ drones in UK airspace
Jul 2016 Drones and Chilcot Clerk of the Drones APPG reflects on the implication of the Chilcot report for use of armed drones by UK
May 2016 ‘Deep Targets’: On the Ground With British, US Drone Forces Attacking ISIS US journal reports from US/UK drone base in Middle East
Apr 2016 Britain’s Covert War in Yemen Vice News investigation into UK support of US drone strikes in Yemen
Oct 2015 New investment in counter terrorism for UK Armed Forces UK announces it will double UK drone fleet, renaming advanced Predator B drone as ‘Protector’ drone
Sept 2015 Cameron reveals Isis Briton was killed by drone First UK drone targeted killing outside conventional battlefield
Jun 2015 Overview of military drones used by the UK armed forces House of Commons Briefing Paper examining use of drones by UK armed forces
May 2015 New figures for British air and drone strikes in Iraq – details of 20% of strikes not publicly released FoI release from MoD to Drone Wars UK
Mar 2015 Analysts say drones captured in Kuwait satellite images may belong to the British air force Images of drones in Kuwait linked to UK participation in military operations against ISIS.
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here


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 US Drone Operations

The US first deployed armed drones in the weeks after 9/11 and have launched drones strikes in at least seven countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Libya and Syria. As well as US military operations, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also operate drones most controversially for targeted strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

 

 

Key documents and articles

Oct 2020 Eroding Transparency US counterterrorism actions in Yemen under President Donald Trump Airwars report on lack of transparency around US drone and counterterrorism actions in Yemen
Sep 2020 U.S. Military Seeks Authority to Expand Counterterrorism Drone War to Kenya New York Times reports US Africa Command pressing for authority to carry out drone strikes targeting al-Shabab fighters in Kenya.
May 2020 Trump Inherited the Drone War but Ditched Accountability Overview on lack of transparency and oversight over US use of armed drones
Mar 2020 Death by Drone: America’s Vicious Legacy in Afghanistan Foreign Policy article with relatives of victims of US drone strikes in Afghanistan
Feb 2020 US Drone Policy: Transparency & Oversight Stimson Center calls for US to develop appropriate policy frameworks to guide the transfer and use of armed drones.
Oct 2019 USAF Unit Moves Reveal Clues To RQ-180 Ops Debut Aviation Weekly examines whether new US stealth drone RQ-180 has secretly become operational
Mar 2019 The Army’s killer drones: How a secretive special ops unit decimated ISIS Special investigation into how a unit of Gray Eagle drones operated by a Special Forces Unit has targeted ISIS members
Feb 2019 Inside the Secretive US Air Campaign in Somalia The Nation examines increasing lack of transparency in US use of armed drones
Apr 2018 The Role of European States in US Drone Strikes Amnesty International examines how European countries are supporting US drone strikes around the globe.
Sept 2017 The Future of Remotely Piloted Aircraft in Special Operations Unprecedented details about US drone operations in support of Special Forces by USAF Capt. Jordan Kowalski, an AFSOC drone pilot
June 2017 US has only acknowledged a fifth of its lethal strikes, new study finds Examination of transparency on US use of armed drones
Aug 2016 Are There Any Limits on Obama’s Drone War, Really?  Examination of the implication of the Presidential Policy Guidance on strikes outside of areas of active hostilities
Aug 2016 ‘Drones playbook’ shows key role played by White House staff in deadly strikes Release of Presidential Policy Guidance on strikes outside of areas of active hostilities
July 2016 US Reveals Death Toll From Airstrikes Outside War Zones Obama administration release Executive Order and estimates number of civilians killed in CT operations
May 2016  The foggy numbers of Obama’s wars and non-wars Washington Post examines US government’s transparency record on drone strikes
Apr 2016 US drone strikes outnumber warplane attacks for first time in Afghanistan US data shows increasing use of armed drones in Afghanistan
Mar 2016 Drone Units of the US Armed Forces Chart detailing the UAVs in service with US military forces
Mar 2016 ISIS kill missions: 1 in 5 drone flights includes a missile strike Air Force Times examines US use of armed drones in Iraq and Syria.
Jan 2016 Impact of US drone strikes on Terrorism in Pakistan Academic paper exploring effectiveness of US drone strikes
Dec 2015 Air Force proposes $3-billion plan to vastly expand its drone program Pentagon proposes huge expansion of US drone operations
Oct 2015 The Drone Papers Cache of leaked documents released to The Intercept relating to US use of armed drones
Apr 2015 Germany is the Tell-Tale Heart of America’s Drone War Why Ramstein air base is a crucial hub for US drone operations
Feb 2015 Drone Geography: Mapping a System of Intelligence A look at the US military’s drone geography, a complex system of satellites, bases, and fiber-optic cables
Feb 2015 US Air Force increases combat air patrols for drones Number of Reaper patrols increases with growing normality of their use
Jan 2015 Pentagon says air force’s ‘expanding drone fleet’ is unjustified and wasteful Leaked internal report questions air force’s increased spending on drones
For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2015 see our Library Archive here

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