Task Force 99: New US drone unit begins work in the Middle East

Task Force 99 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (Credit USAF)

A new unit tasked with field-testing aerial uncrewed systems and AI technologies has begun work in the middle east according to the head of US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT), Major General Alexus Grynkewich.  “It’s a small group of super-empowered airmen that I’m going to provide resources to so they can rapidly innovate and experiment in our literal sandbox that we have in the Middle East” the General told the US Air, Space and Cyber conference in September. It is unclear how the description of the Middle East as “our literal sandbox” was received by allies attending the conference.

Some of Task Force 99’s work will be focused on countering the threat of small drones from state and non-state actors, but it will also ‘experiment with off-the-shelf technologies’ in the ‘hope of harnessing new technologies in innovative ways’ according to reports in defence press.

The new Air Force unit is similar to the US Navy’s Task Force 59, which is based in Bahrain and has been conducting experiments with maritime drones for the past 12 months, (although the US has been using maritime drones in the region for a good deal longer). Tension flared in September 2022 between the US and Iran when two of Task Force 59’s surface drones were seized by an Iranian ship in the Red Sea.  After the US demanded that the drones be returned, the Iranian ship released them into the water the following morning.

The US Air Force’s Task Force 99 will mainly be based at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar but will also have a small ‘satellite innovation cell’ at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait, from where US and British Reaper drones operate. The Al Udeid unit will ‘experiment with variable payloads on small drones’ according to a report in ‘Air and Space Forces’ magazine.    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

Military drone crashes show spread of drone wars

US drone crashed in Iraq, July 2015
US drone crash in Samawa province, Iraq, July 2015

Drone Wars UK has updated the Drone Crash Database with details of a further 19 large drone crashes since our last update in February 2015.  Sixteen of the crashes occurred in 2015 while three previously unknown US drone crashes from 2014 have been revealed through the publication of accident investigation reports.

For the past five years Drone Wars UK has been recording crashes of large military drones (Class 2 & Class 3) as a way of tracking the spread and expansion of the use of drones. Due to the secrecy surrounding their use the database is almost certainly not complete. Read more

Drone proliferation in light of increased targeted killing

Drones_for_saleThe news that the UK has followed the US and Israel in using armed drones to launch a targeted killing outside of UN sanctioned armed conflict should make the international community even more concerned about the growing proliferation of armed drones.

All three countries known to have used armed drones have now gone beyond the generally accepted provisions of international law in this area, although perhaps unsurprisingly the countries themselves refute this. Read more

Resisting the Drone Wars: Campaign Day 14 June

Click to download flyer
Click to download flyer

The Drone Campaign Network is holding a day gathering for those interested in campaigning on the growing use of drones.  The event will take place at Friends Meeting House, Euston on Saturday 14 June.  The day will include speakers, workshops and planning for the Week of Action on Drones later this year. Speakers include

Workshops will focus on national and local campaigns around the use of both military and civil drones.

The event is free but donations are welcome. Read more

Pausing at the crossroads – drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa

under MQ-9Over the past decade the use of armed drones has dramatically increased and spread with drone strikes reported to have taken place in up to ten countries. Although the US use of drones in Pakistan and  Yemen has been most controversial and received  the majority of media coverage, Afghanistan has been the real centre of armed drone use.  The first combat drone strike took place in Afghanistan just weeks after 9/11 and the vast majority of drone strikes have taken place there although exact figures remain shrouded in secrecy.  It is not surprising therefore that the forthcoming end of NATO combat operations in Afghanistan later this year brings the drone wars to something of a crossroads. Read more