Documents obtained by Drone Wars using the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) reveal how British military officials view the UK’s next generation armed drone, known as Protector, and the types of advanced capabilities the aircraft will have. Protector, which is set to replace the UK’s current fleet of armed Reaper drones in the mid-2020s, is essentially SkyGuardian—the latest version of the Predator drone being produced by General Atomics—plus UK modifications. The modifications revealed in the FOI documents (comprising presentations given by UK military personnel at a drone technology conference held last September) are significant because they provide an insight into how the Ministry of Defence (MOD) plan to utilise Protector. Looking more widely, Protector epitomises the second drone age, characterised by a global expansion in both the type of drones being used by states and the scale of operations, including in the domestic sphere. Read more
Examining how popular culture discusses and presents drone warfare is increasingly important today, as public understanding of drone warfare is developed through movies, novels, TV and other cultural forms as much as it is through more traditional news media. Popular culture representation of drone warfare helps to circulate and amplify political ideas about what drones are, how drones are used, and what is ethically and politically at stake.
Take, for example, Gavin Hood’s 2015 film Eye in the Sky, in which civilian and military authorities disagree over the ethics of authorizing a drone strike against an al-Shabab cell planning an imminent suicide attack. Eye in the Sky’s ethical debate is structurally analogous to the ticking bomb scenario, a misleading yet very popular narrative which articulates a defence of extreme violence in ‘emergency’ conditions. As a consequence, the movie frames the moral quandaries of drone warfare in such a way that on the one hand, a Hellfire strike seems to be a simple military necessity and, on the other hand, many of the most important and controversial aspects of drone warfare are left unexplored. Read more
In response to my recent Guardian opinion piece on the waning coverage of the military use of drones, a number of below the line commentators made the oft-levelled aside that ‘drones don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Tech writer Kelsey Atherton weighed in on twitter too arguing that drones themselves aren’t the problem, rather it’s how they are used that is the issue (see Kelsey’s Storify of our brief debate here). In a similar vein, academic Stephanie Carvin argues in ‘Getting drones wrong’ in the most recent issue of International Journal of Human Rights, that scholars and researchers should avoid “the magpie-like distraction of the ‘shiny object’ that is the drone” and instead “focus on the larger issues at stake.” Read more
As 2014 opened mounting criticism of the US use of drones for targeted killing gave way to a long and significant pause in drone strikes in Pakistan. This together with the imminent withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan gave rise to the possibility that the use of armed drones that we have seen over the past five years might perhaps become a thing of the past, an aberration to be looked back upon and wondered at. Read more
This new collection of essays on the use of armed drones, written from a variety of academic disciplines including political science, psychology, sociology, and international law, arises out of a multi-disciplinary conference held at The Centre for International Intervention (CII) at Surrey University in 2012. The book follows on and compliments the joint CII/RUSI report Hitting the Target? How New Capabilities are Shaping International Intervention which also arose out the gathering. Read more
Killing by Remote Control: Ethics of an Unmanned Military is a new collection of academic essays edited by Bradley Jay Strawser, a philosophy professor at the US Navy Postgraduate School in California. Strawser, as readers of this blog may remember, was interviewed by The Guardian last year and quoted as saying in relation to unmanned drones: “It’s all upside. There’s no downside. Both ethically and normatively, there’s a tremendous value.” Famously, Strawser argues that the US has a moral duty to use drones.
Most, but not all, of the authors writing in this collection are coming from a military perspective, either as former serving officers or currently employed within military teaching institutions. As Strawser notes in his introduction “none of the Read more