Ukraine and the ethical debate on armed drones: some early reflections

Images of Bayraktar TB2 strike in Ukraine – undated.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has rightly been condemned across the globe.  The on-going war is horrific, with verified reports of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and a number of reports of killings which amount to war crimes.  At the time of writing, the UN reports that around 2,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion began although the actual figure may be much higher.  It is good to see so see such widespread condemnation of the war, although it is hard not to ask why there is little condemnation of other wars and not come to the obvious conclusion.

After seven weeks, there is a great deal that can be said about this awful war and the initial reaction to it. But our primary focus, as always, is on the use of armed drones and the ethical debate that surrounds their growing use.

Bayraktar drone use in Ukraine

While a variety of small unarmed drones have been used in Ukraine by both sides for surveillance and intelligence gathering, it is the use of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone by Ukrainian forces that has gained most attention.  Multiple news articles have reported that the Bayraktar drone has been used to deadly effect against Russian heavy weapons with headlines such as ‘Ukraine’s Drones Are Wreaking Havoc On The Russian Army’ and ‘Ukraine’s Secret Weapon Against Russia: Turkish Drones’Read more

Libyan war sees record number of drones brought down to earth

Libyans take selfie with crashed Bayraktar drone, April 2020

Our latest quarterly update has added a further 27 crashes/downings of large (NATO class II and III) UAVs to our drone crash database.  This is undoubtedly the largest number we have added in one update and is due to the number of drones operated by Turkey and UAE  on behalf of the two belligerents in the the Libyan ‘civil war’ that have been shot down. In the first 6 months of 2020, we have identified 40 large military drone crashes/downings compared to 28 for the whole of 2019 and 19 for 2018.

On average, 2-3 large drones have tumbled to earth per month over the past decade, but 14 drones crashed/were downed in Libya in April/May 2020. While it is always difficult to sift out details of crashes and downings amidst the hyperbole and propaganda, as always we have only included reports which can be verified with photos and video or come from reliable sources. It is likely that other crashes/downings have occurred but have not been verified.  At the same time, a number of claimed downings proved false. It should be noted that although every drone crash has been claimed as a downing, images of some wreckage show drones to be virtually complete indicating that they were not necessarily hit by missiles. Read more