General Atomics bring in BAE Systems to lobby for ‘Protector’ drone to fly in UK

Drone manufacturer, General Atomics, hosted an event in London on 24 January in order – as its press release put it – “to recognize UK companies that are contributing to operational systems such as MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and the new MQ-9B SkyGuardian RPA program” (which the UK MoD is calling ‘Protector’).

As part of the day, the US company signed agreements with three major UK defence companies: Raytheon, MBDA and BAE Systems.  Raytheon will supply and integrate Paveway IV bombs onto the new British drone while MBDA will integrate and supply it with the new Brimstone missile. BAE Systems, however, will play a wider role, helping to enable the new drone to be flown within the UK airspace. 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

Off the Leash: How the UK is developing the technology to build armed autonomous drones

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A new report published by Drone Wars UK reveals that, despite a UK government statement that it “does not possess fully autonomous weapons and has no intention of developing them”, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is actively funding research into technology supporting the development of armed autonomous drones.

Our study, Off the Leash: The Development of Autonomous Military Drones in the UK, identifies the key technologies influencing the development of future armed drones and looks at current initiatives which are under way in the UK to marry developments in autonomy – the ability of a machine to operate with limited, or even no, human control – with military drone technology. The report maps out the agencies, laboratories, and contractors undertaking research into drones and autonomous weapon technology in support of the Ministry of Defence, examines the risks arising from the weaponisation of such technologies, and assesses government policy in this area. Read more

Why we persist in opposing the growing use of armed drones

Campaigners protest outside RAF Waddington, October 2018

Over the past two weeks, campaigners have been in New York taking part in meetings at the UN urging diplomats to control the proliferation and use of armed drones.  Drone Wars UK was one of the more than 50 organisations signing a joint statement released to coincide with the meetings.  Here in the UK, despite freezing wet weather, campaigners also held a protest at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire calling for an end to the growing use of armed drones. Read more

Book Review: Death Machines: The Ethics of Violent Technologies by Elke Schwarz

The ethical concerns raised by Elke Schwarz in her new book, Death Machines: The Ethics of Violent Technologies, help situate the use of armed drones in a deeper discussion of our modern political landscape and point to the issues that must be addressed through substantial ethical reasoning. For those not familiar with political theory and ethics, this book is at times quite dense. Nonetheless, it is essential reading for those working with or on the issue of drones, autonomy and AI to engage with the ever-increasing use of violent technologies, regarding both the physical death they inflict and the ethical death in the wake of their use.

Framed by Schwarz’s biopolitical interpretation of Hannah Arendt’s theories, Death Machines asks how we have allowed violent technologies to become the right choice when dealing with problems that threaten society. Hannah Arendt judged that modernity’s movement towards the efficient management of society, relegated plurality and consequently equality among varied people and beliefs. Read more

“Here’s their actual stories, make of them what you will.” Dr Peter Lee on ‘Britain’s Reaper Force’

Dr Peter Lee

On 4th October, a ground-breaking book on the UK’s use of armed drones will be published by John Blake Ltd.  Reaper Force: The Inside Story of Britain’s Drone Wars‘ is the result of conversations that have taken place over several years between Dr Peter Lee of Portsmouth University and RAF Reaper crews and their partners at Creech AFB in Nevada and RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. A week before publication, Drone Wars sat down with Peter to chat about the new book.

CC: We’ve met each many times having discussed these issues at conferences and in broadcast studios, but for the benefit of our readers, can I ask you to say a little about how you got into this field of research? Read more