After ten years, time to ground Britain’s drones

The imminent defeat of ISIS in Iraq should see British drones grounded.  But will they continue to launch strikes in what is becoming a perpetual war?

An armed British Reaper drone

This month (October 2017) marks ten years of British Reaper drone operations.  Acquired on a  temporary basis as an ‘Urgent Operational Capability’, the UK began operating armed drones in Afghanistan in October 2007 after having three delivered directly to Kandahar airport. A decade later the Reapers have been in continuous use and are now deemed a ‘core capability’.  Having already tripled the number in service, the government are in the process of increasing the fleet up to 26 as the new, updated version of Reaper (re-branded by the British government as ‘Protector’) are delivered over the next two – three years. Read more

New MoD document on use of drones, same old spin

After a long delay the UK MoD has produced its new doctrine publication on the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (commonly known as drones).  Its predecessor, ‘The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (JDN 2/11),  caused a stir in 2011 as it acknowledged real ethical and legal issues with the growing use of these systems. The subsequent press coverage so horrified the MoD that they removed the publication from their website only restoring it six months later when things had calmed down.  Perhaps that is why the new document is so bland.

In November 2015, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed it was to produce a new version of the document to be published in July 2016.  When it hadn’t appeared a year later, Ministers told MPs that it had been delayed as there was an ongoing review into unmanned systems and autonomy which the document needed to take into account.  Defence Minister Mike Penny promised MPs that it would be published in early 2017.  Nine months later, we now have the document Read more

‘Significant issues’ facing MoD drone projects says spending watchdog

UK’s ‘Protector’ drone: questions over procurement and operation costs’.

Two of the government’s flagship drone projects – development of the new ‘Protector’ armed drone to replace the Royal Air Force’s current Reaper system, and the Army’s ‘Watchkeeper’ surveillance drone – are facing “significant issues” according to a newly published analysis of government major projects by a spending watchdog.

The latest annual report from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), an agency of the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, has highlighted a series of problems and delays currently challenging the two drone programmes. 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

“It was incessant.” Former RAF Reaper pilot speaks to Drone Wars

RAF pilot operating Reaper drone from Creech air force base in Nevada

Drone Wars UK is publishing an exclusive interview with former British Reaper drone pilot Justin Thompson (a pseudonym), who for three years flew RAF Reapers over Afghanistan while based at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

When we met earlier this year, Justin confided that he was a reader of the Drone Wars blog and so I asked if he would be willing to be interviewed.  After thinking about it for a few weeks he agreed on two conditions. Read more

PM must publish Intelligence Committee report on UK drone killings

Dominic Grieve MP, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee

Soon after it had been re-constituted in the new parliament, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued  a statement in October 2015 saying that an investigation into the drone strikes in which British nationals were killed was an “immediate priority”.

Fifteen months later, in December 2016, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) put a short note on its website saying that it had handed over its report, UK Lethal Drone Strikes in Syria, to the Prime Minister after completing its inquiry and expected a redacted version would be published in the New Year.  Four months later we are still waiting. Read more