Book Review ‘Eyes In The Sky: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare’ by Arthur Holland Michel

Arthur Holland Michel, author of ‘Eyes In The Sky’, is one of the co-founders of the Centre for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York State.  The Centre for the Study of the Drone has done extraordinary work in monitoring the spread in the use of drones, including publication of ‘The Drone Databook’, a detailed country-by-county study of military drone capabilities;  a comprehensive study of counter-drone systems; and a weekly round-up of news and developments in the world of drones.

With this pedigree, and Michel’s background as a journalist reporting on technical issues, we can expect an authoritative and carefully considered account of the topic he has chosen to investigate in this book: the emergence of wide area persistent surveillance systems and their use in warfare and policing.  Based in large part on interviews with insiders, ‘Eyes In The Sky’ gives a balanced but nevertheless worrying account of the dramatic implications that wide area surveillance will have for society.  Read more

Armed Drone Proliferation Update, January 2020

The third of our twice-yearly updates details new operators and other significant developments around the proliferation of armed drones.  For our complete list of states operating, or close to operating, armed drones see Who Has Armed Drones?

France undertakes first drone strikes

As has long been expected, the French Reaper fleet started to undergo weaponization in October 2019, with Jane’s reporting that this process will continue to run until Nov 2021 under a contract worth $17.87m.  A mere two days after completing a first test launch with its new missiles, the French air force carried out its first drone strike in Mali.  The strike, on 23 December, was part of an operation that reportedly killed 40 ‘terrorists’. A further drone strike in Mali on 19 January was reported by the French Ministry of Defence, killing five alleged armed militants.  This represents a clear escalation in the use of force. Read more

New Report – In the Frame: UK media coverage of drone targeted killing

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Our new report looks at UK involvement in drone targeted killing and in particular at media coverage of British citizens killed in such strikes. It argues that the government’s refusal to discuss key details or policy issues around these operations has helped to curtail coverage, creating a climate where targeted killing has become normalised and accepted, eroding human rights norms.

In recent days, we have seen exactly how far the US is willing to take targeted killing by armed drone. The jump from targeting members of non-state groups classed as terrorists to the assassination of top military personnel of a state that US is not at war with may appear huge in terms of strategy and legality. Unfortunately, however, it is also inevitable. Drone Wars UK has consistently argued that drones – with their particular capabilities to stay airborne long periods, hovering over targets, able to track them undetected before firing ‘precision’ missiles – were always likely to be used in provocative ways that blur the boundary between war and peace and cause further destabilisation in international relations. Read more

Drones, targeted killing and the Soleimani Strike

Remains of vehicle following US drone strike on Iranian General Qassem Soleimani outside Baghdad airport

A week ago, a US air strike that officials (speaking off-the-record) acknowledged was carried out by a Reaper drone, killed senior Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and up to 10 others, travelling in a two-car convoy outside Baghdad airport. The targeted killing of a senior Iranian military officer sent shock waves around the globe and appalled many. International law scholars argued strongly that the strike was unlawful, politicians and diplomats articulated the dangerous impact both locally, regionally and internationally and military officials braced themselves for the inevitable retaliation.  Read more

‘Precise’ Strikes: Fractured Bodies, Fractured Lives – An update on Israel’s drone wars

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Five years ago, Drone Wars published a ground breaking report examining Israel’s production, use and proliferation of military drones. Today we are pleased to publish ‘Precise Strikes: Fractured Bodies, Fractured Lives’ which brings our 2014 report up-to-date. The report looks beyond the veil of secrecy that surrounds Israel’s development and deployment of armed drones to explore their use and impact, particularly in Gaza in the five years since 2014.

Israel has been manufacturing and using unmanned military technology since the 1970s.  Yet its use of drones to launch attacks continues to be shrouded in secrecy and denial. This despite clear evidence, including leaked video footage, that Israel has used drones both for reconnaissance and monitoring purposes, as well as to launch attacks. According to Ha’aretz, drones now account for 70% of the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) flight hours.

While advocates present drones in humanitarian terms as effectively minimising civilian casualties in so-called ‘virtuous wars’, serious concerns have been raised by human rights organisations, UN Special Rapporteurs, survivors of drone attacks, and national parliaments. The lived experience of drone warfare in Palestine highlights the cost to life and human rights of remote-controlled weaponry, indicating that discourses of precision and risk-reduction do little to convey the terror and threat of omnipresent overhead drones. Read more

US Reaper drones test Agile Condor: Another step closer to ‘Killer Robots’

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, manufacturer of the Reaper drone, has recently been awarded a US Air Force contract to demonstrate the  ‘Agile Condor’ artificial intelligence system with the MQ-9 Reaper drone.  According to General Atomics President David R. Alexander,

“The Agile Condor project will further enhance RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] effectiveness by specifically allowing a MQ-9 to surveil a large area of operations, autonomously identify pre-defined targets of interest and transmit their locations.”

This type of capability represents a tangible step further towards the development of autonomous weaponised drones able to operate without human input – flying killer robots, in other words.  From identifying targets without the need for a human decision to destroying those targets is a very small step which could be achieved with existing technology. Read more