The Drone Wars Library

library-shelvesThe Drone Wars Library consists of key documents and important articles on
the use of drones divided into the following categories:
| Autonomy | Civilian casualties | Drone pilots | Ethical issuesGeneral overviewIsrael and drones | Proliferation | Targeted Killing and Legal IssuesUK drone operations | US drone operations |

Last updated: 14 October 2016

 

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

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
Nov 2014 Religious leaders call for a ban on killer robots Religious leaders call on states to work towards a global ban on fully autonomous weapons
Aug 2014 Killer robots a small step away and must be outlawed, says top UN official UN’s high representative for disarmament calls for pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons
May 2014 Key areas for debate on autonomous weapons systems Memorandum from Article 36 written for  the CCW Meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 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

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
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
Nov 2014 You Never Die Twice: Multiple Kills in the US drone program Reprieve reveal US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for every intended target
April 2014 Drone Strikes in Pakistan: Reasons to Assess Civilian Casualties US military research organisation investigates drone civilian casualty figures. Written by Larry Lewis.
Feb 2014 Civilian drone deaths triple in Afghanistan, UN agency finds UNAMA data shows increase in civilian casualties from drone strikes
Jan 2014 What really happened when a U.S. drone hit a Yemeni wedding convoy? Investigation into Dec 2013 US drone strike that killed civilians

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 see our Library Archive here

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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

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
Dec 2014 Drone operator made long-distance war from close to home Interview with anonymous US drone pilot
Oct 2014 “It’s very odd” – a former UK drone operator speaks Former RAF Reaper drone operator speaks to TBIJ.
Sept 2014 On the frontlines with US drone pilots Interviews with crew of US Global Hawk drones.
Sept 2014 Confessions of a drone veteran: Why using them is more dangerous than the government is telling you Former US military analyst on the stress and trauma of being involved in the US drone campaign
Jun 2014 Inside the Air Force’s Secret Drone Pilot Training Classroom A rare piece on drone pilot training from inside Holloman AFB
Apr 2014 Actions Needed to Strengthen Management of Unmanned Aerial System Pilots GAO report for Congress argues the need for more USAF drone pilots

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 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

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
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
Sept 2014 Drones and the Democracy Disconnect Do drones exacerbate the disconnect between us and  the wars waged in our name?
Feb 2014 Statement on use of drones and denial of the right to life Use of armed drones condemned by World Council of Churches

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 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

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
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
Feb 2015 What 200 military drone crashes tells us about the drone wars How tracking drone crashes illuminates the spreading use of drones
Oct 2014 The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK Overview of the security impact of military and civilian drones by Birmingham Policy Commission
Oct 2014 New Ways of War: Is Remote Control Warfare Effective? Digest of research commissioned by the Remote Control Project
Oct 2014 Rise of the Reapers: A Brief History of Drones A brief history of drones
July 2014 Global opposition to U.S. drone strikes grows Analysis of Pew Research Center poll on US drone strikes
Mar 2014 What’s wrong with drones? The concerns with the growing use of armed drones by Drone Wars UK

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 see our Library Archive here

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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

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
Dec 2014 Investigating the Relationship Between Drone Warfare and Civilian Casualties in Gaza Examination of Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza
Dec 2014 IAF drone training center growing above and beyond The Jerusalem Post looks at the IAF’s drone training centre.
Nov 2014 Israeli drone commander: ‘The life and death decisions I took in Gaza’ Interview with Israeli drone pilot
Sept 2014 Gaza life beneath drones Four part series on how Israeli drones impact on life in Gaza.
Aug 2014 Did an Israeli drone strike militants in Egypt? Investigation into Israeli drone strike in Egypt
May 2014 Israel’s drone dealers Al Jazeera film by Yotam Feldman looking at  exports & use in Gaza
Feb 2014 Sleepless in Gaza: Israeli drone war on the Gaza Strip Report on Israeli drone use by Dr. Atef Abu Saif of Al-Azhar University.
Jan 2014  Israel and the Drone Wars Briefing from Drone Wars UK on Israel and the drone wars

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 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
July 2014 UAV Firms Seek Easier Exports Defence companies lobby for easing of export controls on drones
June 2014 Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation Council on Foreign Relations report arguing for limits on drone exports
Mar 2014 The Next Drone Wars: Preparing for Proliferation Arguing for action now to prevent the danger of drone proliferation
Feb 2014  Eurodrones Inc. The economi/ poli­tical support given to the drone industry by the EU.

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 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

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
Dec 2014 Drone strikes counterproductive, says secret CIA report 2009 CIA report released by Wikileaks argues targeted killing can be be counterproductive
Nov 2014 You Never Die Twice: Multiple Kills in the US drone program Reprieve reveal US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for every intended target
Dec 2014 Obama’s Lists: A Dubious History of Targeted Killings in Afghanistan SPIEGEL looks at documents from Edward Snowden focusing on targeted killings in Afghanistan
Sept 2014 Human Rights Council Holds Panel on Armed Drones in Counterterrorism and Military Operations Report on UN HRC panel on use of armed drones
June 2014 A Thin Rationale for Drone Killings NYT scathing editorial on Obama Administration’s drone memo
June 2014 Justice Department Memo Approving Targeted Killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki Memo written in 2010 – released after FoI lawsuit in June 2014
Feb 2014 Report of the Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson to Human Rights Council Twenty-fifth session Final report on impact of armed drones on human rights by Ben Emmerson
Jan 2014 Jemima Stratford QC’s Advice to Chair of All Parliamentary Group on Drones Examination of legality of UK intelligence sharing with US

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 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

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 Drones APPG post 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.
Jan 2014 UK airstrikes in Iraq hit 100 – one third by drones | Drone Wars UK Analysis of UK drone strikes in Iraq
Oct 2014 The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK Overview of the security impact of military and civilian drones by Birmingham Policy Commission
Oct 2014 UK to deploy armed drones against Islamic State in Iraq  MoD announces deployment of UK armed drones to Iraq
Sept 2014 MoD facing legal challenge over armed drone deployment outside Afghanistan Campaigners consider Judicial Review over redeployment of UK armed drones
Sept 2014 Into the Fire: The dangers of redeploying British armed drones after Afghanistan The peace and security implications of redeploying UK armed drones
July 2014 Government response to Defence Select Committee Report on RPAS (drones) Government response to Defence Select Committee Report.
July 2014 New figures show UK increasingly relying on drones for strikes in Afghanistan Over 80% of UK airstrikes in Afghanistan carried out by drones
July 2014 More RAF Reapers Take To The Skies MoD press release confirms five additional armed Reapers are in operation
Mar 2014 Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use Report from Defence Select Committee into use of UK drones
Feb 2014 RAF has fired missiles in Afghanistan using US drones, MoD reveals FOIA reveals UK use of US drones in Afghanistan

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 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

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
Nov 2014 The Unblinking Stare: The drone war in Pakistan New Yorker long-read on US drone operations in Pakistan
Jun 2014 Recommendations and Report of the Stimson Task Force on US Drone Policy Critical report on US drone operations by former senior US military and administration officials.
June 2014 When drones fall from the sky Major investigation into US military drone crashes by Washington Post
Feb 2014 The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program The Intercept reveals NSA’s role in use of metadata to target US drone strikes
Jan 2014 What really happened when a U.S. drone hit a Yemeni wedding convoy? Investigation into Dec 2013 US drone strike that killed civilians

For documents and articles on this topic prior to 2014 see our Library Archive here

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