The Drone Wars drone crash database has been updated with a further nineteen crashes of large (Class II and III) military drones; thirteen since the beginning of 2020 and six from 2018/19 only recently revealed. While there have been many claims and counter-claims of drones shot down in Syria, Yemen and Libya, we continue to include only crashes/downings that have been verified by photographs or video. Recording the crash of large military drones is an important means of monitoring the proliferation of these systems as well as documenting their inherent risk – see our report Accidents will happen – for more details. Read more
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has revealed in response to an FoI request from Drone Wars UK that British Reaper drones are undertaking missions outside of Operation Shader, the UK’s military operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The MoD has refused to say how many ‘non-Shader’ sorties there have been, or where they are taking place.
There has been no suggestion until now that British drones are undertaking operations elsewhere. Answers to previous parliamentary questions and FoI’s requests about the use of RAF Reapers have all indicated that since late 2014, they have only been used as part of Operation Shader. The one exception was the mission that undertook the targeted killing of Reyaad Khan in August 2015, which the MoD subsequently insisted was not part of Operation Shader. Read more
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
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
At 11.35pm (GMT) on 19 June, an Iranian surface to air missile struck and downed a US RQ-4A Global Hawk drone operating over the Straits of Hormuz. According to the US, the drone, operated by the US Navy (which calls it a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV – hence some initial confusion about the exact type of drone) was flying in international airspace, although Iran was equally insistent it was flying in Iranian airspace, with the Iranian Foreign Minister tweeting what he said was the GPS location of the strike. Read more
Over the past few years States, international organisations and civil society groups have expressed concern about the increasing proliferation and use of armed drones. To illustrate what is happening, Drone Wars has compiled details of the use of armed drones in the first three months of 2018. Due to both the lack of transparency by operators and the difficulty of reporting strikes from the remote locations where they often occur, this survey is undoubtedly incomplete. In addition the fact that multiple nations are operating armed drones to launch strikes against differing groups in Syria (US, UK, Israel, Turkey and Iran) and Yemen (US, UAE and Saudi Arabia) makes attribution and accountability for strikes there almost impossible. Nevertheless this short survey (1 Jan 2018 – 31 March 2018) gives something of an insight into the use of armed drones by multiple operators to launch strikes in multiple countries. Read more