Drone Wars continues to pursue details of secret UK drone operations

Drone Wars is undertaking legal action in an attempt to gain details of secret British Reaper drone operations that has been taking place since at least 2019.  Appealing against the MoD’s refusal to answer both FoI requests and parliamentary questions about these missions, Drone Wars is seeking answers before an Information Tribunal.

Drone Wars discovered in early 2020 that the UK was flying Reaper missions outside of ‘Operation Shader’, the name of the UK’s military operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  Although the MoD acknowledged that such missions were taking place, it flatly refused to detail their location or the number of sorties that had been undertaken.  According to the latest FoI response from the MoD (Jan 2021) it appears these secret sorties are continuing.

After an internal appeal to the MoD was rejected in early 2020, Drone Wars appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in April 2020 with a response received in January 2021. Although the Commissioner accepted that there is “significant and weighty public interest in disclosure of the withheld information,” she ultimately upheld the refusal to release the information following undisclosed submissions made to the ICO by the Ministry of Defence. Read more

Benchmarking police use of drones in the UK

As part of our work looking at the opening of UK skies to large ‘beyond visual line of sight’ drones for surveillance and security purposes, we undertook a comprehensive Freedom of Information (FoI) survey of police use of drones in order to benchmark current police use.

In particular we wanted to investigate:

  • if the use of drones by the police had already increased since 2017 (when HM Inspector of Constabulary reported that 28 of the 43 forces in England and Wales had either purchased a drone or had ready access to one;
  • in which way police forces were using drones;
  • if police forces had taken advantage of the special permission granted to them by the Civil Airspace Authority (CAA) to use drones during the COVID-19 outbreak.

While current police use of drones is restricted to small, quad-copter type systems, police are trialling the use of much larger, military-grade drones that can stay airborne for much greater periods of time. Read more

New FoI figures on UK air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria

New figures released to Drone Wars UK in response to Freedom of Information requests shows a dramatic increase in the number of RAF operations in Syria in the first six months of 2017.  According to the figures, UK armed air missions in Syria rose by 480% in the first half of 2017 compared with the previous six months.

Read more

Information tribunal dismisses Drone Wars appeal over British drone secrecy

An information tribunal has upheld the MoD’s decision to refuse to release the number of British armed drones deployed against ISIS and their location, despite such information being released by the UK about its ‘manned’ aircraft.

In the just released open judgement (a closed judgement has also been produced but will not been made available to us), the tribunal accepted that there was clear public interest in the information Drone Wars sought as both parliament and the public could then ascertain if Read more

UK armed drone deployment: brief report from Information Tribunal

Tribunal in closed session

Our appeal against the Ministry of Defence’s decision not to release the number of UK Reapers engaged in operations against ISIS, nor the location of all UK Reapers was heard before an Information Tribunal yesterday (11 July). Despite such details being regularly released for ‘manned’ aircraft engaged in such operations – and as we demonstrated in court – many other operations including Operation Herrick (Afghanistan), Operation Ellamy (Libya) and even Operation Desert Fox (Iraq), the MoD insisted in court there were “appropriate reasons”, which could not be revealed in open court, why deployment details of armed drones could not be released. Group Captain Mark Flewin, attached to Permanent Joint Headquarter (PJHQ) and responsible for managing information operations in support of Operation Shader gave evidence for the MoD in open session but repeated stated he could not answer some of our questions in open session.  His redacted statement is below.  GC Flewin stated in open session: Read more

Where are Britain’s armed drones? And why it matters we are not allowed to know

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In the dark: RAF Reaper drones

At the first stage of what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process, the Information Commissioner has upheld the Ministry of Defence’s refusal to reveal to Drone Wars UK the number of Britain’s armed drones currently deployed.

Despite the fact that the MoD are happy to give such details about other surveillance and attack aircraft taking part in operations against ISIS, the MoD insists that the number of drones deployed nor their location can be released for reasons of operational security. Read more