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
A new wave of users have launched drone strikes either on their own territory or across borders over the past 15 months.
While the majority of attention on armed drones has focused on US use (and to some extent on the UK and Israeli), growing proliferation of these systems has meant that a number of other countries have acquired or developed armed drones and are beginning to regularly use them to launch strikes.
There has been intense media coverage of the downing of a US drone in Iran over the past week. Iran has previously claimed that it has shot down ‘Western drones’ (as we reported here) but they have never provided proof despite saying they would.
Initially the US denied any of their drone had been downed and then said that the drone may have been one lost in Afghanistan previously. Within days however the CIA was saying – through the usual ‘unnamed sources’ – that it was one of their drones that had crashed inside Iran.
The drone concerned is a RQ-170 Sentinel. It was dubbed the ‘Beast of Kandahar’ when the then unknown drone was first spotted by the press in 2007 and 2009. It’s existence was officially confirmed – and its name officially revealed – in late 2009. However little detail about the drone has been revealed. All that is known about the drone is that it is stealthy, jet powered and unarmed.
On December 8, Iranian TV showed video footage of the drone and claimed that they had electronically hijacked it and brought it down. This seems improbable and its far more likely the drone simply crash landed. The fact that bottom of the drone was covered and it appeared to have no landing gear also points towards a crash. When contact with a drone is lost, the drone is programmed to go into a holding pattern until contact is recovered. Perhaps the drone did this until it simply ran out of fuel. However the drone, which flies at a high altitude, would have been much more damaged if it had crashed in this manner so many questions remain. Some have questioned whether the drone displayed by Iran was in fact a fake.
In a protest letter about the incursion of the drone on to it territory, Iran has called on the United Nations to condemn the “violation of international rules by the U.S. government.”
Meanwhile other drone ‘beasts’ continue to rampage. There has been two days of violence in Gaza following an Israeli drone strike. According to the Irish Times “Gaza residents said a 42-year-old civilian was killed in an Israeli air strike on Hamas training facility. Seven members of the man’s family were wounded, including his father, wife and five of his children.”
And no doubt, US and UK drone strikes in Afghanistan continue completely unreported. Time these drone ‘beasts’ were caged too.
2011 started where 2010 left off with continued drone attacks in Pakistan. On 27/28th December 42 people were killed in drone strikes while 19 people were killed in three separate drone attacks in North Waziristan on New Year’s Day and between 4 and 6 people were killed in an attack on a vehicle near the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan. Most reports labelled all those killed as ‘militants’ but as Jason Ditz of antiwar.com says
“Officials term everyone killed a “suspected militant” but concede that they don’t know any of the identities of the slain and that civilians are almost certain to be amongst the toll. With virtually no media allowed into the region, identifying the victims of US attacks is virtually impossible.”
The New Year also began with a lot of coverage of Gorgon Stare – despite missing its ‘end-of-2010’ deployment deadline – mainly thanks to a large article in the Washington Post. As we have previously reported Gorgon Stare is a new surveillance capability that allows a wide area of ground to be videoed while also enabling individuals to be tracked within that wide area.
The amount of video from drone surveillance is already overwhelming analysts yet the military continues to demands more. The Post article quotes Army Col. Steven A. Beckman, former intelligence chief for coalition forces in Sothern Afghanistan as calling drone video coverage “the crack cocaine of our ground forces.”
Flight international reports that one Gorgon Stare ‘pod’ will be deployed in Afghanistan before April 2011, one in 2012 and one in 2014.
Finally a new year curiosity was the reported shooting down of two ‘western spy drones’ by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the air force wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards made the claim but gave no further details and there were quick denials from the US that any of its drones had been shot down.
Iran has unveiled a new long-range drone named Karrar which has a range of 1,000km and could carry two 250-pound bombs or a precision bomb of 500 pounds. According to the BBC, President Ahmadinejad said that the new drone was a “messenger of honour and human generosity and a saviour of mankind, before being a messenger of death for enemies of mankind.”
Amidst all this, the house newspaper of the USAF, the Air Force Times, carried a strong piece arguing that the air force should have the ‘honour’ of running the drone war in Pakistan rather than the CIA. Its worth quoting a large section:
History, American tradition, and U.S. and international law all say that military operations should be carried out by the armed forces. If bad guys like al-Jufi are not legitimate military targets, we shouldn’t attack them. It’s not the business of an intelligence agency or, worse, of a private contractor working for an intelligence agency — to kill people. A 1976 executive order by President Ford bans American intelligence agencies from engaging in assassination.
If they are legitimate military targets, military people should wage the campaign against them. Since we’re talking remotely piloted aircraft, the branch of the military that should handle this is the Air Force.
“It’s not a good idea for the CIA to have a direct part in armed hostilities,” said Gary Solis in a telephone interview. Solis is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and judge advocate. “It’s contrary to the law of armed conflict. Flying and arming drones and inputting intelligence for their mission should be performed by the military.”