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

A bloody month in the drone wars: 7 separate drone strikes kill dozens of civilians across 4 war zones

November 2019 saw seven civilian casualties incidents from drone strikes in four different war-zones illustrating the growing spread of drone warfare. The seven strikes between them are thought to have killed  41 civilians including 11 children.

Proponents of the use of armed drones often argue that drones are better at warfare as they can  sit above the ‘fog and friction’ of war and therefore limit the harm to civilians as they have a better view of the ground.  The reality, however, is that drones appear to be transferring the risk of warfare away from combatants onto the shoulders of civilians.

These seven strikes in the month of November are just a snapshot of the impact of drone warfare on civilians.  However, the likelihood is that civilians will continue to be killed unless there is progress at the international level on controlling the proliferation and use of armed drones. Read more

Armed Drone Proliferation Update, June 2019

New users include Algeria with the El Djazair 54 drone

It’s been a year since we published Drone Wars: The Next Generation, which gave our assessment of who is operating armed drones. This update adds four new States to those with the ability to operate large MALE or medium sized armed drones, as well as an update on significant exports, use, new models and proliferation controls over the last year. Read more

Three-month snapshot shows expanding use of armed drones

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

Drone strikes spread as proliferation surges

A new wave of users have launched drone strikes either on their own territory or across borders over the past 15 months.

bayraktar-armed
Turkish armed drone – The Bayraktar TB2

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.

Most of these second wave of countries have acquired their armed drones from China – either the slightly older ‘Wing Loong (‘Pterodactyl’) developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group Read more

As drones continue to kill, drone protests go global

Tariq Aziz attending the drone meeting in Islamabad. Photo: Reprieve

We reported two weeks ago on the killing of 16 year-old Yemeni teenager Abdul-Rahman, the son of Anwar al-Alwaki  who was himself the victim of a drone strike a few weeks previously.  However Abdul-Rahamn was not the only 16 year-old killed in a drone strike this month.

A few thousand miles away 16 year-old Tariq Khan and his 12 year-old cousin Waheed were killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan on October 31.  A few days before being killed, Tariq had attended a meeting on the drones organised by British human rights group, Reprieve with the aim of encouraging local people to document the strikes taking place in their area.  Lawyer and campaigner, Clive Stafford Smith talks about the Jirga and meeting Tariq in his piece for the New York Times piece: 

Tariq was a good kid, and courageous. My warm hand recently touched his in friendship; yet, within three days, his would be cold in death, the rigor mortis inflicted by my government.  And Tariq’s extended family, so recently hoping to be our allies for peace, has now been ripped apart by an American missile — most likely making any effort we make at reconciliation futile.

Two thousand miles west and Israeli drones fly constantly over Gaza with the latest strike killing seven members of Islamic Jihad.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an eye-opening interview this week with a ‘Lt Col Ido’ (his surname was withheld for security reasons) who teaches ethics to Israeli drone operators.   The Lt Col says “When people are killed by mistake, we are tormented, and that’s how it should be… I’ve met some people who had a very hard time with it. Some coped, and others wanted to leave. I told them, ‘This is dirty work. Who would you like to have do it? We would all like to be professors.'”

The whole article, looking at how Israel uses drones for “everything from gathering intelligence in what the air force calls the “third circle” – namely, the Iranian sector and its satellites – to assisting fire-fighters in the Mount Carmel forest fire and guarding worshipers at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus” is well worth reading.  Israel is also about to deploy the giant Eitan drone for use in Gaza and Lebanon as Ynet news reports.

Fifteen hundred miles south of Israel is the Ethiopian city of Arba Minch from where, according to a recent  report in the Washington Post,  the USAF are flying Reaper drones over Somalia.  While the US say the drones based in Ethiopia are for surveillance purposes only (the Ethiopian government are refusing to admit the drones are even in Ethiopia) US drones are undertaking strikes against al-Shabab in Somalia.

Meanwhile it has been confirmed this week that US drones in Iraq are to be move to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey from where they will be used to ‘monitor’ Kurdish separatists in Iraq and presumably Turkey.

But it is not only the drones that are circling the globe.  Resistance to the drones is growing and going global too.  We have repeatedly reported on the anger in Pakistan against US drone strikes and the many protests taking place there, the latest of which saw some 2,000 people protests outside the Parliament building in Islamabad.

For the first time (as far as we know) anti-drone protests have also taken place in Yemen, with some extremely brave people coming together in Sana’a to protest the strikes there (see video below)

In the US, protestors have recently gone on trial  following a civil  disobedience action at the main entrance of Hancock Air National Guard Base on  April 22, 2011, where 38 people were arrested at a die-in protesting the  drones.  The verdict will be handed down on 1st December (see http://www.upstatedroneaction.org/  for lots more info.

And  in London tomorrow (16 November) protestors will gather outside a hotel in  central London where the drone industry will gather for two days to discuss, plan and, as there publicity states discuss ‘how to stop the public hysteria surrounding UAV operations in  the 21st Century?’   As human rights lawyer Jules Carey put it on twitter: There should be more hysteria about UAVs not less!   At our protest we shall remember Abdul-Rahman, Tariq, Waheed and all the other victims of drone  strikes young and old.  Why not join us?