Unmanned aerial vehicles

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), in Mud Lake, Ottawa

In most of the world’s militaries – and even in paramilitary groups like Hezbollah – drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are playing increasing roles in combat and intelligence gathering. They are running ahead of convoys in Afghanistan and Iraq to try to spot or jam improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Even as far back as the first Gulf War, they were being used by battleships to target fire from naval guns. Some Iraqi troops even surrendered to them.

Some even go so far as to say that the era of manned fighter aircraft is drawing to a close, and that the American F-22 may be their last such craft. They can be more manoeuvrable than manned craft, since the physical limitations of pilots are no longer an issue. This is an increasingly serious problem as surface-to-air missiles continue to become faster, more advanced, and more widely employed. Due to not being limited by pilot fatigue, UAVs can also have a much more enduring presence. Missions lasting several days have already been undertaken, and future vehicles may be able to remain airborne for weeks or even months. The US Navy has a ‘Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS)’ program, which aims to provide intelligence coverage of most of the world’s strategic ocean areas, with vehicles capable of loitering for 24 hours.

Of course, the new technologies raise issues beyond military strategy. The ethics of programming machines that employ lethal force will probably become an increasingly important element of international law.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

142 thoughts on “Unmanned aerial vehicles”

  1. This is pretty remarkable:

    In April, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted two flight demonstrations at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland using a scale-model F/A-18F Super Hornet jet fighter. In the first test, the 50-pound model aircraft sustained the loss of nearly 40 percent of one wing and, in the second, nearly 60 percent. In both cases, “damage-tolerance” software successfully compensated for the normally debilitating change in aerodynamics and safely landed the airplane without the aid of a ground-based operator. This was the first time that an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), operating autonomously, was able to recover from such catastrophic in-flight damage.

    The demonstrations simulated catastrophic structural damage to the aircraft (including the loss of some control surfaces) by ejecting a portion of the wing. In the second simulation, when almost 60 percent of one wing was lost, simple manipulation of the remaining control surfaces was insufficient to keep the model aloft. The software compensated further by turning the airframe slightly off its axis of forward motion, thus increasing the lift created by the damaged wing and decreasing the lift created by the intact wing.

    Vos said the software began to react to the loss of the wing in about 20 milliseconds — 10 times faster than the sharpest and most alert pilot. Within minutes, according to DARPA, the reconfiguration had restored much of the original flight quality. In the Military Times interview, Vos said the flight demonstrations had not gone “far enough” and admitted surprise at the outcome. The designers of the software thought the plane would be uncontrollable with a loss of nearly 60 percent of a wing, even with the software onboard.

    This kind of autonomous control software has obvious military and civilian potential.

  2. Hezbollah has UAVs?

    Talk about the diffusion of advanced military capabilities…

  3. “The ethics of programming machines that employ lethal force ”

    How about banning them? For the same reason we ban land mines and chemical weapons and nukes – they are unacceptably prone to (unintentionally?) commit war crimes (fire on non-combatants?)

    By the way, does this means we already live in a futuristic distopia? What is it like being a kid today, watching old sci fi films like “Terminator” and “Brave new world” and “Star wars”, when technologies like this have come to reality?

  4. Pragmatically, you can generally only ban weapons that aren’t militarily useful. States that depend on land mines haven’t signed the Ottawa Convention. South Africa is the only state that has renounced nuclear weapons, after (probably) developing them. Chemical and biological weapons programs have largely been abandoned because the weapons are impractical to use, not because of moral qualms.

    Also, there is an increasing amount of automation in all weapons. Fighter jets have software to cap the G-forces experienced by pilots, cruise missiles have sophisticated navigational capabilities. How autonomous does a weapon have to be, to put it in a special moral category? Or should all weapons – autonomous and non – simply be subject to the general laws of war, such as they exist?

    Reading Singer’s book on robots in war (“Wired for War”) would be interesting. I found his book on mercenaries quite well done and thought provoking.

  5. PW Singer’s Wired for War Discussion at CTLab
    by Kenneth Anderson

    Complex Terrain Laboratory, where several OJ people sometimes participate, is hosting an online discussion next week on PW Singer’s new book on robotics and war, Wired for War. We have mentioned this book in the past, and OJ has a number of posts on battlefield robotics in the last year or so. Singer is participating in the CTLab symposium and, having read his opening post, it looks to be fascinating. It is a terrific lineup of participants.

    That said, let me comment on why robotics is important to discussions here at Opinio Juris. Many of my posts about robotics have been about the issue of autonomy – the far down the road, still sci-fi-ish issue of whether and when robotic systems will be able to make their own decisions about firing weapons on the battlefield. As Singer’s work points out, that day is not as far down the road as one might think, and obviously it raises many issues about the laws of war and their application.

    As I’ve also pointed out on OJ – but I don’t think has been sufficiently absorbed, though perhaps I am wrong, by the Pentagon – the most likely scenario is one in which other militaries, likely China, deploy systems that have autonomy to identify a target (e.g., fire coming from somewhere) and shoot back, but without meeting standards for assessing likely collateral damage and proportionality (i.e., identify fire, and fire back, period) that the US would consider important to have in place before deploying an autonomous robotic firing system. In other words, the US is likely, in my view, to face inadequately controlled autonomous weapons systems before it believes it has a system of its own that it believes meet IHL standards. And that means, in turn, that the US might easily be in the position of having to develop counter-technologies against autonomous but inadequately controlled robotics systems before it even deploys its own. The counter before the US’s actual system.

  6. “Pragmatically, you can generally only ban weapons that aren’t militarily useful.”

    So, in other words, nothing like “ethics” is present in any realistic discussion of this topic, since no actors can be considered serious moral actors.

  7. I don’t see how that is an answer. Don’t the laws of war forbid the killing of non-combatants? We can’t try unmanned gunships for war-crimes, so these seem an effective way of passing the moral buck, as it were.

    I find it hard to see what the “pro unmanned gunships” side would argue in a serious moral debate on these entities.

  8. Don’t the laws of war forbid the killing of non-combatants?

    No, they don’t. And they would be unenforceable if they did. At best, they require armies to follow principles like proportionality. Killing non-combatants as a side-effect of a legitimate military action is permissible. Intentionally targeting civilians is probably not.

    We don’t try bullets for crimes either. What morally distinguishes a bullet that goes straight from one that can steer itself? They are both built and deployed with intention, and the responsibility of those who made the choices.

  9. International treaties on the laws of war

    Customary international law
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Customary international law are those aspects of international law that derive from custom. Coupled with general principles of law and treaties, custom is considered by the International Court of Justice, jurists, the United Nations, and its member states to be among the primary sources of international law. For example, laws of war were long a matter of customary law before they were codified in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, Geneva Conventions, and other treaties.

    The vast majority of the world’s governments accept in principle the existence of customary international law, although there are many differing opinions as to what rules are contained in it.

    The Statute of the International Court of Justice acknowledges the existence of customary international law in Article 38(1)(b), incorporated into the United Nations Charter by Article 92: “The Court, whose function is to decide in accordance with international law such disputes as are submitted to it, shall apply…international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law.”

    Opinio juris sive necessitatis
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Opinio juris sive necessitatis (“an opinion of law or necessity”) or simply opinio juris (“an opinion of law”) is the belief that an action was carried out because it was a legal obligation. This is in contrast to an action being the result of different cognitive reaction, or behaviors that were habitual to the individual. This term is frequently used in legal proceedings such as a defense for a case.

    Opinio juris is the subjective element of custom as a source of law, both domestic and international, as it refers to beliefs. The other element is state practice, which is more objective as it is readily discernible. To qualify as state practice, the acts must be consistent and general international practice.

  10. Strictly speaking, there can’t be “laws of war” because a war is a condition in which no sovereign power exists which could arbiter any crimes committed between two sides. Laws of war are even less “laws” than International Law, since there the mutual co-operation between states might allow a kind of provisional sovereign power to act “as if” a law could be administered from above, i.e. the ICC. (It is unsurprising that strong states have opted out of courts like this, since they are violations of a state’s sovereignty).

    We can therefore talk about “war crimes” seriously only insofar as we don’t assume them to be violations of real-existent, enforceable laws. The Nazi’s committed war crimes not because they lost the war and were tried – we would say war crimes had been committed even if they had won the war and those laws violated were “unenforceable”.

    We can talk about “war crimes” seriously only insofar as we apply a code equally to different actors in different contexts. Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza is a candidate for being a war crime just as the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia was – these questions can be settled only by looking at details, we can’t decide them in advance based on which situations are “enforceable”.

    There is a real danger here, as with political interpretation more generally, to become a “realist about the status quo” – but this is just another way of tacetly accepting the myriad examples of hypocrisy in the state system we live in.

  11. Love the photo.

    Wonder if lethal force always being manually authorised might be the best solution. Do the machines still need to be monitored all the time? If so, seems a simple fix.

  12. I think the UAVs used to kill people now (such as the MQ-9 Reaper) are more like remote-control airplanes than autonomous robots. Someone does push the button to launch the AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs.

    In the future, however, it seems plausible that more autonomous vehicles will be armed. This seems especially likely if autonomous fighters replaced manned ones. Since response time is a key advantage of theirs, it would be undesirable for them to always need to ‘phone home.’

    Perhaps they could do so for each engagement, rather than for each discharge of weapons.

  13. Strictly speaking, there can’t be “laws of war” because a war is a condition in which no sovereign power exists which could arbiter any crimes committed between two sides.

    There is a perspective which sees laws as being fundamentally inapplicable in wartime: inter arma enim silent leges. (Note that the Wikipedia article focuses on the domestic application of the phrase, not the idea that states at war bear no legal obligations towards one another.)

    But opinio juris is important here. States behave as though they have legal obligations in times of war: they both take actions (such as accepting surrenders) and refrain from actions (such as using chemical weapons) because they believe themselves legally obligated to do so. While political realities don’t permit anyone who violates the laws of war to be punished for it, in cases where it is practical to put someone on trial, it is not a meaningful defence to claim that being at war put them outside the domain of law.

    International law isn’t some ideal thing that arises outside of state behaviour. Rather, it is in the behaviour of states that statute laws are interpreted and customary law emerges.

    On the whole topic of how states engage with law, in the absence of an overall sovereign power, you might find Alexander Wendt’s classic constructivist article interesting: “Anarchy is what states make of it: the social construction of power politics” in International Organization, vol. 46, no. 2, 1992.

  14. I think we basically agree. Just a few points in response:

    “States behave as though they have legal obligations in times of war: they both take actions (such as accepting surrenders) and refrain from actions (such as using chemical weapons) because they believe themselves legally obligated to do so.”

    I don’t see how you can know it’s because they are “legally obligated” to do so. It seems to make just as much sense to say they are obligated/pressured by international conventions or customs – the threat of sanction from the community. Sanction from a community for not participating in a custom isn’t law, it’s the definition of normativity in pre-state communities.

    “in cases where it is practical to put someone on trial, it is not a meaningful defence to claim that being at war put them outside the domain of law.”

    Of course. It’s absurd to say that no international sovereign authority exists to enforce law when you are in being prosecuted by an internationally sovereign court – one would just be denying immediately verifiable reality. Just because there is no law during the war (the fact a war is happening is evidence enough to this – notice how it’s impossible to have a war in a state while (the affected part of) that state remains under the rule of law?) doesn’t mean that a position of legal authority can’t come into being after the war and take jurisdiction over it (i.e. the Nuremburg trials). Lots of laws are created that apply retroactively, i.e. the new EI legislation in Canada. This legislation in no way proves that people “actually were” legally entitled to the EI they will receive retroactively at the point in the past when they would have received it in the first place before the law was passed.

    I think we are just repeating the same point with slightly different emphasis – that international law exists (in potential application) whether or not it exists (at some point in time, on the ground, in the real grimy mess of power struggles between nations). This is why it’s both law (when it acts like law, when its imposed by a sovereign authority over and above individual states), and not law (when you consider that its application is contingent on the power interests of powerful states).

  15. I don’t see how you can know it’s because they are “legally obligated” to do so.

    States establish pretty extensive mechanisms for complying with international law. For instance, during the NATO campaign in the former Yugoslavia, lawyers had to sign off on airstrikes. I believe similar protocols are used in other conflicts, at least by rich developed states. Similar systems of oversight exist in relation to other military operations, for instance through the operation of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the US.

    It is impossible to fully separate national interests (or at least perceived natural interest), but I maintain that both international statute and customary law have an independent effect on state behaviour. They aren’t enough to overcome the fact that the world is a terribly immoral place, but they do make it somewhat better than it would otherwise be.

    How they could do so in relation to UAVs remains an open question.

  16. Milan, international statutes are a form of customary law. The fact they are codified into “laws” doesn’t make them laws. What makes something a law is that its imposition and enforcement comes from a qualitatively higher position of authority than the one subjected to them stands in.

    For instance, the chief of a gang could write down certain customs that he could convince his followers to accept to obeying. The followers could establish complex ways of complying with these statutes. But no laws exist – groups of followers can still leave the gang and establish a new one, and the leader still has power only insofar as he can maintain popularity. Only insofar as he can maintain the support of gang members against those who would want to factionalize and break off.

    Similarly, any nation or group of nations can opt out of the UN or any convention therein whenever they like. All they have to fear is the retaliation of other states (just like in the gang). There is no world executive, or world police to enforce that countries remain in international agreements or organizations. The Security council is much more like a group of powerful mafia warlords than a governmental power.

  17. Actually, customary law is arguably more powerful than statutes, because it applies to states that haven’t explicitly signed onto it. That’s why advisory opinions on the state of customary law can be more influential than court rulings.

    For instance, there is the excellent bit in the ICJ’s ruling on the legality of nuclear weapons:

    The environment is not an abstraction but represents the living space, the quality of life and the very health of human beings, including generations unborn. The existence of the general obligation of states to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction and control respect the environment of other states or of areas beyond national control is now part of the corpus of international law relating to the environment.

    This isn’t a duty that states can choose or not choose to accept. Rather, it is one that rests upon them on the basis of how the international system has operated.

  18. The dynamics are not simple.

    States can explicitly agree to statutes and then violate them, either overtly or covertly. There is nothing that can really stop a state with a determined national leadership from going the way of North Korea.

    States can also violate elements of customary law, and will only be called to account if other states have the means and willingness to do so.

    At the very base of international law is jus cogens – or the peremptory norms of international law. These include the doctrine of state sovereignty, as well as the principle of pacta sunt servanda.

  19. Pacta sunt servanda is a bit like the presumption of truth-telling. Of course people lie, but they wouldn’t actually be able to do so if communication wasn’t expected to be truthful. If we expected people to simply communicate random meaningless things, there would be no point to it.

    There is a similar kind of presumption that states will obey international law.

  20. If you really don’t see a fundamental difference between law and custom, as having to do with different ways authority circulates through institutions, then we’re just talking past each other.

  21. There is custom-as-custom and then custom-as-a-source-of-law.

    Both have considerable relevance to international law. For instance, regularly sending ships through the Northwest Passage without Canadian permission is a way that some states assert their view that it is an international waterway.

    By the same token, if we were to find out and not protest, it would suggest that we agree with that view.

  22. “For instance, regularly sending ships through the Northwest Passage without Canadian permission is a way that some states assert their view that it is an international waterway.”

    Sure. By passing unannounced ships through they demonstrate that the international waterway is a real existent custom. But what makes that a law? Which sovereign authority legislates it? There is no lawgiver, so there is no law. It’s all children playing at a playground with no adult supervision, some of which are bigger and stronger than others.

  23. Yes, the international system is anarchic. Yet it is still meaningful to talk of international law as a phenomenon distinct from the will of states.

    For one thing, international law alters how at least some states see their interests. For another, most forms of international law are obeyed routinely, just because they make life easier (things like tracking aircraft, carrying out diplomatic correspondence, etc).

    International law cannot bind powerful states when they are acting on what they consider to be their vital interests (though it can certainly have an effect).

    If you look at international law expecting it to be just like domestic law in a state where there is the rule of law, you will be disappointed. But it is going too far to dismiss it as law, just because the parallel isn’t identical.

  24. International law is less “law” than the customs that exist in pre-state, nomadic societies. No one in prehistoric studies would call pre-legislative customs “laws” simply because they aren’t random. No one would say “oh just because the parallels aren’t identical doesn’t mean we can’t use the same word”. As usual, words have meanings (it’s called semantics), and not being mindful about the meaning of the words we use is neither a virtue in writing nor thinking.

    The term is just a confusing mis-nomer which guarantees people won’t reflect on what the word “law” actually means.

    By the way, domestic law doesn’t “really” exist either. It’s enforcement isn’t uniform, or ever-present. It’s an idea, a theory we have about our own social arrangements. But in IR no such ideational creation of a legislative authority exists. It’s not a case of enforcing to maintaining the myth of the international state, because no such myth exists.

    So, the difference isn’t that “domestic law really exists” and “international law only exists in theory” – rather, international law doesn’t exist in theory whereas domestic (and imperial) law does. Neither kind of law exists “in practice” according to its own idea of practice.

  25. Do you still think an all-out ban on UAVs with offensive weapons is feasible or appropriate? What justifies placing them in a special moral category that cruise missiles and other weapons with autonomous capabilities are not in?

    What other mechanisms could be used to restrict the harm caused by armed UAVs? If I get the time, I may read P.W. Singer’s Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

  26. “That a program existed to assassinate al Qaeda leaders should certainly come as no surprise to anyone. It has been well-publicized that the Clinton administration had launched military operations and attempted to use covert programs to strike the al Qaeda leadership in the wake of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. In fact, the Clinton administration has come under strong criticism for not doing more to decapitate al Qaeda prior to 2001. Furthermore, since 2002, the CIA has conducted scores of strikes against al Qaeda targets in Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the MQ-1 Predator and the larger MQ-9 Reaper.

    These strikes have dramatically increased over the past two years and the pace did not slacken when the Obama administration came to power in January. So far in 2009 there have been more than two dozen UAV strikes in Pakistan alone. In November 2002, the CIA also employed a UAV to kill Abu Ali al-Harithi, a senior al Qaeda leader suspected of planning the October 2000 attack against the USS Cole. The U.S. government has also attacked al Qaeda leaders at other times and in other places, such as the May 1, 2008, attack against al Qaeda-linked figures in Somalia using an AC-130 gunship. “

  27. Insofar as it’s possible to think international law, which means not merely talking about what’s feasible under the status quo but using principles which we’d like to think were moving towards, I’d support such a ban. I’d also support applying the nuremburg principles to every post war executive, both in the US and elsewhere.

  28. I’d like an AIDS vaccine and interstellar travel. Eventually, we might get both. In the meanwhile, we need to work with what can be achieved.

  29. You still haven’t set out what makes armed UAVs so morally objectionable. Is it more wrong to kill someone with a bomb dropped by a UAV than by one dropped from a manned aircraft? If so, why?

    It is conceivable that UAVs could even decrease civilian casualties. When a manned vehicle is up there, the risk to the pilot is always a consideration.

    A UAV can fly lower and stick around longer. That could allow weapons to be used more precisely. ‘Linger and check’ permits the use of less force than ‘fire and forget.’

  30. Why is it unreasonable to demand that we live up the principles that the allies set out at the end of the war?

    Why is it to acceptable to remember the Nazi’s as war criminals and not hold ourselves to the same standards? I thought you were the one who hated hypocricy? Sometimes I even advocate for it. I think it’s better to be a hypocrite on issues of diet than on the subject of war crimes.

    As for UAV’s, I don’t think the issue is complex. Normally a human decides whether or not to fire on civilians. They can be held responsible for their actions. If a pilot drops a bomb on civilians, he can be held accountable for that. Who are we going to hold accountable when the UAV fires on civilians? The programmers?

    Moraly is about decisions. UAV removes deciders, and thus responsibility. So, UAV’s remove morality from war. Didn’t I already make this case?

  31. Why is it unreasonable to demand that we live up the principles that the allies set out at the end of the war?

    The practical principle set is “if you commit war crimes and end up on the losing side, the winners may hang you. (See also: Saddam Hussein)

    The fact that they would never have considered prosecuting the Allied pilots who bombed Germany and Japan – or the people who ordered them to – shows that the Nuremburg Trials are a pretty weak example of the enforcement of international law.

    I didn’t say that having effective enforcement of war crimes laws against all parties was undesirable, just that it is about as plausible as interstellar travel and we should act as such in the interim.

    Who are we going to hold accountable when the UAV fires on civilians? The programmers?

    In part, perhaps. Also, the commander who deployed it, and whoever is serving as the closest thing to its operator at a given time.

    If a UAV is dropping bombs in Pakistan, someone is basically flying it by remote. If it is leading a convoy, the commander of the convoy is responsible. If it is providing fire control for a battleship, the captain is responsible.

    Responsibility ultimately lies with people, not with weapons (even autonomous ones). They are autonomous only in a tactical sense (like cruise missiles), not in a strategic sense.

  32. There is an interesting question about the degree to which those fielding UAVs with weapons are morally or legally obliged to program them to behave lawfully when under autonomous control. For instance, would there be an obligation to abort an attack if a Red Cross vehicle appeared in the target area? What standards would need to be upheld regarding the detection of such instances, and the successful rate of aborting? It is notable that, in this sense, autonomous weapons can only do better than non-autonomous ones. There is nothing to stop a conventional 500 pound bomb once it has been released.

    I expect these are the kinds of questions Singer’s book gets into.

    Do you entirely reject the argument that armed UAVs might limit the amount of harm to civilians?

  33. February 16, 2009
    Military’s killer robots must learn warrior code

    Read the report in full
    Autonomous military robots that will fight future wars must be programmed to live by a strict warrior code or the world risks untold atrocities at their steely hands.

    The stark warning – which includes discussion of a Terminator-style scenario in which robots turn on their human masters – is issued in a hefty report funded by and prepared for the US Navy’s high-tech and secretive Office of Naval Research .

    The report, the first serious work of its kind on military robot ethics, envisages a fast-approaching era where robots are smart enough to make battlefield decisions that are at present the preserve of humans. Eventually, it notes, robots could come to display significant cognitive advantages over Homo sapiens soldiers.

  34. “The practical principle set is “if you commit war crimes and end up on the losing side, the winners may hang you. (See also: Saddam Hussein)”

    Your interpretation is backwards. No practical principle is set at all – pratically it’s still the justice of the victors. Practically, nothing changes. However, in theory a principle is set. Laws are theory, they are ideals. If the Nuremburg trials meant anything, same for the establishment of the ICC, it is the beginning of universal ideals that institutions could grow around. We can understand what it would mean for such an institution to function now, we have the ideals.

    I think these ideals are worth fighting for in exactly the same way that the ideals of the French Revolution were worth fighting for. Before the French Revolution, the ideals it instantiated were not true in theory. After it, they are still never true in practice, but they, in fits and spurts, come to be true in theory.

    Fighting for/towards the truth of the ideals now embodied in the ICC is exactly what international law is about. Expecting what you call international law (which you rightfully call anarchy) to lead to its establishment is as absurd as expecting the French king to initiate democracy without there being any political pressure to do so.

    I think it is irresponsible to think individuals have no power here. The media and state apparatuses are still largely able to foster public support for wars that are quite explicitly war crimes. The very notion “war crime” is dangerous to powerful nations since they rely so heavily on manafacturing the support of their citizens.

  35. It is perhaps notable that Mark Cummins, a friend of mine from Oxford, builds autonomous robots (albeit unarmed ones). He has a blog: Educating Silicon.

    He might be able to offer some insights here, if he can be lured over.

    The bookmark posts at the start and end of my time in Oxford show how the world looks to one of the robots he works with. It uses a laser rangefinder to see. The figure in each is me.

  36. Regarding Nuremberg, etc:

    I am less interested in discussing international law in general and more interested in discussing how it relates to armed UAVs.

  37. Ethical Implications: A Preview (PDF p.25)

    It is evident from the above survey that the Armed Forces of the United States are implementing the Congressional mandate described in section 1 of this report. However, as of this writing, none of the fielded systems has full autonomy in a wide context. Many are capable of autonomous navigation, localization, station keeping, reconnaissance and other activities, but rely on human supervision to fire weapons, launch missiles, or exert deadly force by other means; and even the Navy’s CIWS operates in full-auto mode only as a reactive last line of defense against incoming missiles and does not proactively engage an enemy or target. Clearly, there are fundamental ethical implications in allowing full autonomy for these robots. Among the questions to be asked are:

    * Will autonomous robots be able to follow established guidelines of the Laws of War and Rules of Engagement, as specified in the Geneva Conventions?

    * Will robots know the difference between military and civilian personnel?

    * Will they recognize a wounded soldier and refrain from shooting?

    Technical answers to such questions are being addressed in a study for the US Army by professor Ronald Arkin from Georgia Institute of Technology—his preliminary report is entitled Governing Lethal Behavior: Embedding Ethics in a Hybrid Deliberative/Reactive Robot Architecture [Arkin 2007]—and other experts [e.g., Sharkey, 2008a]. In the following sections of our report, we seek to complement that work by exploring other (mostly non-technical) dimensions of such questions, specifically as they related to ethics and risk.

  38. Unfortunatly, I needed to explain why I disagreed with your appeal to pragmatic considerations, which involves how I see IL as a part of democratizing discorse more generally.

  39. Fair enough.

    The navy report linked above includes interesting talk about practicalities. It also demonstrates one way in which the behaviour of a great power is being directed by concerns about international law.

  40. Armed autonomous robots could actually be the ultimate way of placing responsibility with commanders. Unlike soldiers, they will never disobey their orders and programming – no fear, bloodlust, etc.

    As long as commanders understand how a robot will behave in any particular situation, they can be held responsible for it when it does. Programmers would be responsible for robots behaving unpredictably.

    There is one snag, in that unpredictability is a tactical assert. An armed fighter drone that reacts predictably might be easy prey for the enemy. It might be like the trade-off between stability and maneuverability in aircraft: predictable enough for the commander to be in control, but unpredictable enough to be tactically effective.

  41. Another possible snag has to do with the ratio between robots and commanders. One person could plausible be responsible for one, and perhaps even five, drones. But if an aircraft carrier has a defensive screen of 50 or 100 drones, it would be harder to assign legal or moral responsibility for their actions to one person.

  42. Obligatory Simpsons quotation:

    “The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.”

  43. Unclear responsibility. To whom would we assign blame—and punishment—for improper conduct and unauthorized harms caused by an autonomous robot (whether by error or intentional): the designers, robot manufacturer, procurement officer, robot controller/supervisor, field commander, President of the United States…or the robot itself? [Asaro, 2007; Sparrow, 2007; Sharkey, 2008a] We have started an inquiry into this critical issue in section 5: The law offers several precedents that a robotics case might follow, but given the range of specific circumstances that would influence a legal decision as well as evolving technology, more work will be needed to clarify the law for a clear framework in matters of responsibility.

    In a military system, it may be possible to simply stipulate a chain of responsibility, e.g., the commanding officer is ultimately responsible. But this may oversimplify matters, e.g., inadequate testing allowed a design problem to slip by and caused the improper robotic behavior, in which case perhaps a procurement officer or the manufacturer ought to be responsible. The situation becomes much more complex and interesting with robots that have greater degrees of autonomy, which may make it appropriate to treat them as quasi-persons, if not full moral agents some point in the future. We note that Kurzweil forecasts that, by the year 2029, “*m+achines will claim to be conscious and these claims will be largely accepted” *Kurzweil, 1999]. (p.73-4)

  44. “[O]ur initial goal ought no be to create a perfectly ethical robot, only one that acts more ethically than humans—and sadly this may be a low hurdle to clear.” (p. 79)

  45. I think the fact that robots would not be subject to emotions like fear, the desire for vengeance, or lust does provide a reasonable chance that they could be made to behave more ethically than human soldiers.

    It also seems plausible that robots that respond in pre-programmed ways could be integrated fairly easily into a hierarchy of responsibility. Where they behave as programmed, the responsibility lies with whoever ordered them into action. Where they behave unpredictably, responsibility may lie with designers and programmers.

    As for the tactical value of unpredictability, this might not be such a big problem. A fighter robot may have to make evasive action in a random direction, but it can still be predictable in the sense that it will take such action when fired upon. When it comes to predictable actions, the most important would be the decision to employ lethal force.

    I don’t know if the commander-to-robot ratio is such a problem, as long as predictability as defined above is maintained. Also, situations like the aircraft carrier defence example are the sort where civilian damage isn’t all that likely. In complex cases involving non-combatants, it is unlikely that one person could control so many machines.

  46. Proportionality and Noncombatant Immunity: Round Table Discussion

    Proportionality and noncombatant immunity are at the heart of the conventional account of just conduct in war. Noncombatants should never be deliberately targeted; when civilian deaths are unavoidable, they must be proportionate to the military objective attained. Recent revisionists—most prominently, Jeff McMahan—have questioned whether privileging the lives of noncombatants, especially those on the unjustified side in a war, is defensible. Their view that liability to attack is grounded in responsibility for an unjustified threat—whether direct or indirect—renders a commitment to noncombatant immunity untenable, and has equally strong implications for the proportionality principle. In this informal roundtable discussion McMahan presents his recent work on proportionality and noncombatant immunity, with responses by philosophers from both sides of the current debate.

  47. Pakistan: Washington Considers Expanding Drone Strikes?
    March 18, 2009

    Senior U.S. military officials are recommending that Washington expand the sphere of its drone strikes in Pakistan beyond the tribal belt to the Balochistan province, The New York Times reported March 18. STRATFOR previously has discussed the strong possibility of the United States expanding military operations into Pakistan proper and highlighted the Quetta region in Balochistan as the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban leadership. Should the Obama administration — which lacks any good options in the Taliban issue — act on this advice, the insurgency is likely to get worse.

  48. Perhaps we should be most worried about UAVs in the hands of weaker actors. Since they don’t have the strength to win wars by conventional means, they may be more willing to disregard international law and any ethical codes. They might just make UAVs that are as lethal as possible, when pointed in the general direction of their enemies.

    In that sense, the fact that Hezbollah has the things is scary.

  49. That seems like a plausible danger. It would be a lot easier to make a UAV that would kill people indiscriminately than it would be to build one that tries to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate targets.

    And, of course, groups that are willing to use suicide bombers to kill as many people as possible would not hesitate to do the same thing with robots, given the chance.

    In one of the discussions I have read about autonomous robots and the US armed forces, I recall it being noted that the US is more likely to face an enemy with ‘unrestrained’ killer robots than it is to field such machines itself.

  50. “I recall it being noted that the US is more likely to face an enemy with ‘unrestrained’ killer robots than it is to field such machines itself.”

    This is a good thing. It is good that we demand that the US adhere to some Int. Law, it is good that they are worried enough about being held to it that they would write such an involved report. It means we are getting more civilized.

    It is unfortunate that weak states are not held to such standards. However, it is relevant to remember that while kicking someone in the crown jewels is not legitimate in a normal fight, it becomes legitimate under conditions of duress if your rights are being violated and it seems the only way to stop your rights from being violated. For example, if you were being held and tortured against your will, it would not be wrong to do various things which would be considered bad form in a fair fistfight. In other words, it is rational to hold any actor to customs only given knowledge about the context of action.

    In other words, while it is not permissible to commit war crimes when war crimes are being committed against your state, it can be properly said to be more wrong to commit the original war crimes (i.e. the crime of aggression) – because this is done from a position of safety.

    The right thing to do concerning UAVs and IL more generally seems to be for rational actors (i.e. us) to condemn all states that commit war crimes, insofar as we think it would be good for all states not to commit war crimes.

  51. In other words, it is rational to hold any actor to customs only given knowledge about the context of action.

    Of course, states disagree about the context they are in and what it allows them to justify.

    Look at how Russia perceives itself vis a vis Georgia or Chechnya, or how the US perceives its interests in the Latin America. When it comes to key self-defence interests (as each state interprets them for themselves), all states act with quite a free hand.

  52. This is a good thing. It is good that we demand that the US adhere to some Int. Law, it is good that they are worried enough about being held to it that they would write such an involved report. It means we are getting more civilized.

    I agree that states that want the respect of the international community are rightly held to a higher standard. The US (and other NATO countries) see themselves as already being in this position, with lawyers approving military strikes and voluntary restrictions on the use of some weapons and tactics.

    That’s not enough to make wars ethical, by any absolute standard, and it isn’t sufficient to ensure that the conduct of such states will always be in the best traditions of just warfare, but it is better than the absence of such drives and procedures.

  53. “I agree that states that want the respect of the international community are rightly held to a higher standard. ”

    The extension of this is that it’s up to the international community to hold states to a higher standard. That includes things like large the Iraq anti-war rallies, anti-Israeli-apartheid events, etc…

  54. There are different ways in which one can interpret ‘international community.’

    I interpret it to mean the official foreign policies of states.

    Protest movements are more part of a ‘transnational community.’ My friend Claire wrote her thesis on transnational protest movements, focusing on the G8 summit at Gleneagles.

  55. I think it’s bordering on silly to think that “the official foreign policies of states” is the only thing that pressures other states to obey Int. law. For one, national communities do have some influence on a states foreign policy – both in democratic and totalitarian states (i.e. the Russian protest movement against the war in Afghanistan in the 80s”). And for another, trans-national corporations exert more influence than some states. I don’t think it’s absurd to think, even to expect, that in the future companies like Google and Apple – which rely heavily on public perception as “moral” companies (despite many exceptions already coming to light), will have some influence on pressuring states to obey international law.

  56. I am not saying only official foreign policies of states matter in global politics. I am just choosing to define a particular term in a certain way.

  57. It’s basically a tautology: inter-national community = the community that exists between nations.

    ‘Interstate community’ would be more correct, but people would think you are talking about American truckers.

  58. Ryan Firebee
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Ryan Firebee was a series of target drones or unmanned aerial vehicles developed by the Ryan Aeronautical Company beginning in 1951. It was one of the first jet-propelled drones, and one of the most widely-used target drones ever built.

  59. October 14, 2009, 8:30 AM
    We’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Unmanned

    Every so often in history, something profound happens that changes warfare forever. Next year, for the first time ever, the Pentagon will buy more unmanned aircraft than manned, line-item proof that we are in a new age of fighting machines, in which war will be ever more abstract, ever more distant, and ruthlessly efficient.

    By Brian Mockenhaupt

  60. October 14, 2009, 8:30 AM
    We’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Unmanned

    At this very moment, at any given moment, three dozen armed, unmanned American airplanes are flying lazy loops over Afghanistan and Iraq. They linger there, all day and all night. When one lands to refuel or rearm, another replaces it. They guard soldiers on patrol, spy on Al Qaeda leaders, and send missiles shrieking down on insurgents massing in the night. Add to those the hundreds of smaller, unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles being flown over the two countries by the Army, the Marines, and coalition countries, and a handful of missile-laden planes owned by the Central Intelligence Agency circling above Pakistan. Efficient and effective, the planes have fast become indispensable assets, transforming today’s battlefields just as profoundly as the first airplanes transformed warfare during World War I.

    This year the Air Force will train more UAV pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined. And the proof that warfare will never be the same again can be found in the Pentagon budget: Next year, the United States will buy more unmanned aircraft than manned, as it expands to fifty combat air patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan, flown from Creech and bases in Texas, California, Arizona, North Dakota, and New York.

    In 2001, ninety years after an airplane first dropped a bomb, a Predator launched a Hellfire missile in Afghanistan for the first time. The next year, a Predator fired a Stinger missile at an Iraqi MiG-25. The missile’s heat seeker was thrown off by the MiG’s missile, which destroyed the Predator, but still: A drone had been in a dogfight. If the Air Force ever again has an ace, the pilot will likely be parked in a chair in a windowless room in the desert outside Las Vegas.

    And the enemy will have unmanned planes, too. More than forty countries currently fly them. In February, an American F-16 shot down an Iranian drone flying over Iraq. And Hezbollah has used them to spy on Israel and attack a ship during fighting in 2006. They can be built cheaply, with off-the-shelf software and hardware, a natural progression for insurgents who have been building increasingly sophisticated bombs.

    Hundreds of lives have been saved by UAV crews spotting roadside bombs, taking out snipers and mortar teams, and thwarting ambushes. Using laptop computers, ground units can see what waits for them beyond the next alleyway or bend in the road. This eye in the sky is so effective, so reassuring, that many commanders won’t launch missions without it.

    And in 2003, the military dropped a fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic, connecting America with an uplink station in Europe. Now commands zip back and forth at the speed of light. However, the satellite signals must be encrypted and decrypted, which takes about 1.7 seconds, too much time for a pilot trying to take off or land. By the time he corrects, it’s too late, so the planes are still launched and landed by people nearby.

    Though civilians do die in some of the missile strikes, this ability to linger can do much to limit unintended deaths. If women and children or the unlucky neighbor is nearby, the plane can wait, and wait, without losing sight.

    An Air Force colonel who plans air operations in Iraq and Afghanistan showed me a video of an Iraqi insurgent launching several mortar rounds and then tossing the weapon in his car trunk and slowly driving off, under the gaze of a UAV. His car crawls down a canal road, then disappears in a whoosh of flame, smoke, and debris. A moment later, another car pulls alongside the destroyed car. Several men scramble out, retrieve the weapons from the smoking heap, and throw them into the canal, making the dead man a civilian casualty.

    “What if in the heat of battle, you have a guy who hasn’t slept in twenty-four hours, he’s just killed a bad guy, and now he sees a civilian walking around the corner who also looks like a bad guy, and he kills him, too? If it’s being recorded from above, what does it look like? Like he just murdered a civilian?” he said. “Do you have lawyers looking at that saying what he’s doing is a violation of the law?”

    An earlier dust storm had cleared, but the skies said rain, and rain can soak into the carbon-fiber skin, adding weight to a lean airframe already maxed out with six hundred pounds of fuel and two hundred-pound Hellfire missiles. “They’re very temperamental aircraft. They like nice weather,” Captain Andrew Dowd said as he ran his hand along a Predator’s gray composite fuselage. “They’re moody. They don’t like hot. They don’t like cold. It has to be perfect.”

    Unlike manned aircraft, the drones don’t have redundant systems, because there is no life to protect. This saves on both cost and weight but means small failures can be catastrophic. A third of the Air Force’s Predator fleet has crashed, along with a couple of Reapers. The UAVs were pushed into use so quickly that they’d had a fraction of the testing a manned plane would have undergone, but their safety record, hour for hour, is about the same as that of the F-16, despite the fact that unmanned planes fly much more.

    The planes are also much cheaper to buy and fly. A Predator costs about $4 million and a Reaper $11 million, half as much as an F-16, one of the Air Force’s workhorses.

  61. MIT Researchers Develop Autonomous Indoor Robocopter

    “Researchers at MIT’s Robust Robotics Group have developed a robotic helicopter capable of autonomously flying inside buildings or other GPS-denied environments. It has an on-board camera and a laser scanner that maps the local environment. The video talks about search-and-rescue and civil engineering applications, but it also brings somewhat scary reminders of Minority Report to my head. How long till I see one of these chasing me down a dark alley? The team’s website has more videos showing earlier stages of the project.”

  62. UAVs Go Green With Fuel-Cell Powered “Ion Tiger”

    “Increasingly, the military is deploying unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as eyes in the sky to scan the ground for targets and threats, especially for missions that are too dangerous for manned aircraft. Now Live Science reports that a new robotic spy plane called ‘Ion Tiger’ will harness alternative energy to make it more covert and longer lasting than battery-powered or engine-powered UAVs. A 550-watt, 0.75 horsepower hydrogen fuel cell will power the Ion Tiger with four times the efficiency of a comparable internal combustion engine and seven times the energy of the equivalent weight of batteries. When Ion Tiger took flight in October, it exceeded any demonstration of electrically powered flight so far, flying 23 hours and 17 minutes. ‘And it carried a 5 lbs. payload to boot — enough to carry, say, a day-and-night camera,’ says researcher Karen Swider-Lyons, head of the alternative energy section at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. ‘No one has come close to flying 24 hours with a significant payload before.’ Another big advantage is the Ion Tiger’s reduced noise, heat and emissions. ‘Think about lawnmowers or chainsaws — they’re really loud,’ says Swider-Lyons. ‘It’s hard to spy on people when they know you’re there, so you had to fly them at high altitudes to keep them from being heard.'”

  63. US Air Force Confirms New Stealth Aircraft

    “Aviation Week reports that the USAF has confirmed the existence of a new, formerly secret stealth aircraft, designated RQ-170 Sentinel, developed at Lockheed’s legendary Skunk Works. Rumors of a secret new jet have been flying since 2007, with longtime aviation journalist Bill Sweetman dubbing the possible aircraft ‘The Beast of Kandahar’ because of the urban legend-like reports from Afghanistan. The aircraft is a UAV, a pilot-less drone that appears to have some kind of reconnaissance-only mission for the time being. It’s a tailless flying wing that resembles a fighter-sized B-2 bomber.”

  64. The Drone Surge
    Posted Friday, December 04, 2009 9:40 AM | By William Saletan

    The public part of President Obama’s new war strategy is to put more soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan.

    The not-so-public part is to expand our use of drones in Pakistan. In this morning’s New York Times, Scott Shane reports that Obama “has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area” to parallel our Afghan surge.

    Human Nature has been updating you on this trend for a while. Drones make it easier for us to fight in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They enable us to kill our enemies from a distance, without putting our troops in harm’s way.

    But does that distance deaden us to the significance of collateral damage? Do drones turn war into a video game? Do they increase the risk of civilian casualties? An Amnesty International official makes that argument to the Times: “Anything that dehumanizes the process makes it easier to pull the trigger.”

  65. “An officer, I’ll call him Paul, walks me through the process. It starts with “targeteering,” figuring out where a pilot should attack. Just getting GPS coordinates or an overhead image isn’t good enough. GPS is unreliable when it comes to altitude. And landscape and weather conditions can throw satellite pictures off by as much as 500 feet. “Even with Gucci imagery, there’s always errors,” Paul says. He points to a pair of screens: On the right side is an aerial image of a building. On the left, two satellite pictures of the same place — taken from slightly different angles — flicker in a blur. Paul hands me a pair of gold-rimmed aviator glasses. I put them on, and those flickers turn into a single 3-D image. Paul compares the 2-D and 3-D images, then picks exactly where the building should be hit. Depending on elevation, adding a third dimension can shrink a 500-foot margin of error down to 15 feet.

    Step two is “weaponeering,” deciding how to strike the target. Paul clicks on a piece of software that simulates what a particular weapon will do to a structure. To demonstrate, Paul punches up a simple 3-D representation of an adobe building, similar to the ones in the Moba Khan compound. Then he picks how he’ll attack it: an F-15E jet armed with a 500-pound satellite-directed bomb. He picks a corner of the roof as his aim point. The program starts running. In a few seconds, it predicts how the attack is most likely to unfold: Only one wall of the building will be left standing.

    Other tools calculate how far a weapon’s blast and shrapnel will spread and how many people might be in the area at a given time of day. Paul’s team also checks a Google Earth map highlighting all the known hospitals, mosques, graveyards, and schools in Afghanistan. If the target is too close to one of these, ground commanders will scrub the mission.”

  66. Drone Kills a Leader of Al Qaeda


    WASHINGTON — A U.S. drone strike this week killed a senior al Qaeda operator in a Pakistani tribal area near the Afghan border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said Friday.

    U.S. officials said Saleh al-Somali, who was responsible for al Qaeda’s operations outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, was killed in the strike Tuesday. He was on the Central Intelligence Agency’s list of the top 20 al Qaeda targets, according to an official familiar with the list.

    On Friday, officials in Pakistan said intelligence officers on the ground had identified the dead militant as Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al Qaeda figure higher on the CIA’s list of terrorist targets.

    Mr. Somali was likely involved in planning attacks against the U.S. and Europe, and maintained links to Pakistan-based militants plotting attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said.

  67. DECEMBER 17, 2009

    Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones
    $26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected

    WASHINGTON — Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

    Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

  68. Pakistan ‘wants unarmed drones’

    The United States may provide Pakistan with a dozen unarmed drone aircraft to help strengthen its fight against the Taliban, US defence officials say.

    Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a Pakistani television channel that the plan was being considered.

    The use of armed drones by US forces in strikes against militants in Pakistan has led to huge anti-American feeling.

    On Thursday, Pakistan’s president said people would be less critical if drones were used by Pakistani troops.

    Hundreds of people – many of them militants, but many more civilians – have died in attacks by armed drones in tribal areas of Pakistan where al-Qaeda and Taliban militants are believed to operate.

  69. UK Police Plan To Use Military-Style Spy Drones

    “According to documents obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, the UK police plan on deploying unmanned drones in the UK to ‘revolutionize policing’ and extend domestic ‘surveillance, monitoring and evidence gathering,’ which will be used in ‘the routine work of the police, border authorities and other government agencies.’ The documents come from the South Coast Partnership, ‘a Home Office-backed project in which Kent police and others are developing a national drone plan’ in conjunction with BAE Systems. The stated aim is to introduce the system in time for the 2012 Olympics. Initially, Kent police stated that the system would be used to monitor shipping lanes and illegal immigrants, but the documents reveal that this was part of a PR strategy: ‘There is potential for these [maritime] uses to be projected as a “good news” story to the public rather than more “big brother.”‘ However, the documents talk about a much wider range of usage, such as ‘[detecting] theft from cash machines, preventing theft of tractors and monitoring antisocial driving,’ as well as ‘road and railway monitoring, search and rescue, event security and covert urban surveillance.’ Also, due to the expense involved, it has also been suggested that some data could be sold off to private companies, or the drones could be used for commercial purposes.”

  70. Armed Robot Drones To Join UK Police Force

    “British criminals should soon prepare to be shot at from unmanned airborne police robots. Last month it was revealed that modified military aircraft drones will carry out surveillance on everyone from British protesters and antisocial motorists to fly-tippers. But these drones could be armed with tasers, non-lethal projectiles and ultra-powerful disorienting strobe lighting apparatus, reports Wired. The flying robot fleet will range from miniature tactical craft such as the miniature AirRobot being tested by one police force, to BAE System’s new 12m-wide armed HERTI drone as flown in Afghanistan.”

  71. Drone pilots have a front-row seat on war, from half a world away

    In a low, tan building in Nevada, Air Force personnel sit in padded chairs and control aircraft over Iraq and Afghanistan. They are 7,500 miles away, yet feel more affected by war than ever.

    Reporting from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. – From his apartment in Las Vegas, Sam Nelson drove to work through the desert along wind-whipped Highway 95 toward Indian Springs. Along the way, he tuned in to XM radio and tried to put aside the distractions of daily life — bills, rent, laundry — and get ready for work.

    Nelson, an Air Force captain, was heading for his day shift on a new kind of job, one that could require him to kill another human being 7,500 miles away.

    Seated in a padded chair inside a low, tan building, he controlled a heavily armed drone aircraft soaring over Afghanistan. When his shift ended, he drove 40 minutes back through the desert to the hustle and neon of Las Vegas.

    Drone pilots and crews are the vanguard of a revolution in warfare, one that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have bet on heavily. The first Predator carrying weapons was rushed to Afghanistan just four days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Today, the Air Force is spending nearly $3 billion a year buying and operating drones, and is training pilots to fly more unmanned than manned aircraft. Demand is so strong that even non-pilots such as civil engineers and military police are being trained.

    More than 7,000 drones of all types are in use over Iraq and Afghanistan. The planes have played an integral part in the offensive now being carried out in Marja, Afghanistan, by U.S. Marines and British and Afghan troops.

    The Pentagon has adapted consumer-driven technology such as satellite television and digital video to give pilots, combat troops and commanders at headquarters a real-time look at the enemy on computer screens. For the first time in warfare, troops on the ground can see the enemy miles away on live video feeds.

    Drone strikes in Pakistan are part of a separate CIA program that has killed more than two dozen senior Al Qaeda and Taliban figures, including two leaders of the Pakistani Taliban in the last six months.

  72. Israel Unveils New Drone Fleet That Can Reach Iran

    TEL NOF AIR FORCE BASE, Israel (AP) — Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and could fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

    The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

    At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

    ”With the inauguration of the Heron TP, we are realizing the air force’s dream,” said Brig. Gen. Amikam Norkin, commander of the base that will operate the drones. ”The Heron TP is a technological and operational breakthrough.”

    The commander of Israel’s air force, Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, said the aircraft ”has the potential to be able to conduct new missions down the line as they become relevant.”

  73. The unmanned spy plane that Lebanon’s Hizbullah sent buzzing over Israeli towns in 2005 was loud and weaponless, and carried only a rudimentary camera. But the surprise flight by a regional terror group still worried U.S. analysts, who saw it as a sign that the unmanned vehicles were falling into the wrong hands.

    Today that concern appears to have been well founded. At least 40 other countries—from Belarus and Georgia to India, Pakistan, and Russia—have begun to build, buy, and deploy unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, showcasing their efforts at international weapons expos ranging from the premier Paris Air Show to smaller events in Singapore and Bahrain. In the last six months alone, Iran has begun production on a pair of weapons-ready surveillance drones, while China has debuted the Pterodactyl and Sour Dragon, rivals to America’s Predator and Global Hawk. All told, two thirds of worldwide investment in unmanned planes in 2010 will be spent by countries other than the United States.

    You wouldn’t know it to hear U.S. officials talk. Jim Tuttle, the Department of Homeland Security official responsible for safeguarding America against nonnuclear weapons, downplays the idea that drones could be used against us. “What terrorist is going to have a Predator?” he scoffed at a conference last winter. More recently, The Wall Street Journal reported, the U.S. ignored a dangerous flaw in its UAV technology that allowed Iraqi insurgents to tap into the planes’ video feeds using $30 software purchased over the Internet.

    Such arrogance is setting us up for a fall. Just as we once failed to imagine terrorists using our own commercial aircraft against us, we are now underestimating the threat posed by this new wave of technology. We must prepare for a world in which foreign robotics rivals our own, and terrorists can deliver deadly explosives not just by suicide bomber but also by unmanned machine.

    The ease and affordability of such technology, much of which is already available for purchase commercially, means that drones will inevitably pass into the wrong hands, allowing small groups and even individuals to wield power once limited to the world’s great militaries. There is, after all, no such thing as a permanent, first-mover advantage—not in technology, and certainly not in war. The British may have invented the tank during World War I, but the Germans wielded it better in the blitzkrieg more than two decades later.

  74. ACLU Sues Over Legality of “Targeted Killing” By Drones

    “The ACLU has sued the United States Government to enforce a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for ‘the release of records relating to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — commonly known as “drones” — for the purpose of targeting and killing individuals since September 11, 2001.” (Complaint.) The information sought includes the legal basis for use of the drones, how the program is managed, and the number of civilian deaths in areas of operation such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. The ACLU further claims that ‘Recent reports, including public statements from the director of national intelligence, indicate that US citizens have been placed on the list of targets who can be hunted and killed with drones.’ Aside from one’s view of the wisdom, effectiveness, and morality of these military operations, the inclusion of US citizens suggests that summary remote-control executions are becoming routine. Especially given the difficulty in locating and targeting individuals from aircraft, risks of human and machine error are obvious, and these likely increase as the robots become increasingly autonomous (please no Skynet jokes). This must give pause to anyone who’s ever spent time coding or debugging or even driving certain willful late model automobiles, and the US government evidently doesn’t want to discuss it.”

  75. “The U-2 spy plane, the high-flying aircraft that was often at the heart of cold war suspense, is enjoying an encore.

    Four years ago, the Pentagon was ready to start retiring the plane, which took its first test flight in 1955. But Congress blocked that, saying the plane was still useful.

    And so it is. Because of updates in the use of its powerful sensors, it has become the most sought-after spy craft in a very different war in Afghanistan.

    As it shifts from hunting for nuclear missiles to detecting roadside bombs, it is outshining even the unmanned drones in gathering a rich array of intelligence used to fight the Taliban.

    “It’s like after all the years it’s flown, the U-2 is in its prime again,” said Lt. Col. Jason M. Brown, who commands an intelligence squadron that plans the missions and analyzes much of the data. “It can do things that nothing else can do.”

    One of those things, improbably enough, is that even from 13 miles up its sensors can detect small disturbances in the dirt, providing a new way to find makeshift mines that kill many soldiers.

    Marine officers say they relied on photographs from the U-2’s old film cameras, which take panoramic images at such a high resolution they can see insurgent footpaths, while the U-2’s newer digital cameras beamed back frequent updates on 25 spots where the Marines thought they could be vulnerable.

    In addition, the U-2’s altitude, once a defense against antiaircraft missiles, enables it to scoop up signals from insurgent phone conversations that mountains would otherwise block.”

  76. PDF p.104 of this document (discussed here) talks about operational security issues surrounding unmanned reconnaissance drones used during the Vietnam War.

    This suggests to me that both drone and counter-drone tactics have been part of warfare (including campaigns against guerrilla forces) for quite a bit longer than many people might guess.

  77. Remote-control warfare
    Droning on
    How to build ethical understanding into pilotless war planes

    Mar 31st 2010 | From The Economist print edition

    On June 23rd 2009, for example, an attack on a funeral in South Waziristan killed 80 non-combatants.

    Such errors are not only tragic, but also counterproductive. Sympathetic local politicians will be embarrassed and previously neutral non-combatants may take the enemy’s side. Moreover, the operators of drones, often on the other side of the world, are far removed from the sight, sound and smell of the battlefield. They may make decisions to attack that a commander on the ground might not, treating warfare as a video game.

    Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing has a suggestion that might ease some of these concerns. He proposes involving the drone itself—or, rather, the software that is used to operate it—in the decision to attack. In effect, he plans to give the machine a conscience.

    The software conscience that Dr Arkin and his colleagues have developed is called the Ethical Architecture. Its judgment may be better than a human’s because it operates so fast and knows so much. And—like a human but unlike most machines—it can learn.

    The drone would initially be programmed to understand the effects of the blast of the weapon it is armed with. It would also be linked to both the Global Positioning System (which tells it where on the Earth’s surface the target is) and the Pentagon’s Global Information Grid, a vast database that contains, among many other things, the locations of buildings in military theatres and what is known about their current use.

  78. The future of US Army helicopters: pilots optional
    By Sean Hollister on wargadget

    Five years ago, the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter got a digital cockpit and fly-by-wire controls. Starting in 2011, the US Army would like it to perform missions without a pilot at the helm. In a 140-page “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap” released earlier this month, the Armed Forces reveal that the UH-60, AH-64, CH-47 and OH-58D whirlybirds will all be part of a new aircraft category called Optionally Piloted Vehicles (OPV) — meaning in future, the flick of a switch will turn them into giant UAVs. If an unmanned Apache gunship makes your boots quake, you’re not alone, but you won’t truly have reason to fear until 2025. That’s when the government estimates half of all Army aircraft will be OPV, and those bots will learn the more deadly behaviors, like swarming. Sikorsky says the unmanned UH-60M will fly later this year; read the full roadmap PDF at our more coverage link.

  79. The pilots waging America’s undeclared drone war in Pakistan could be liable to criminal prosecution for “war crimes,” a prominent law professor told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

    Harold Koh, the State Department’s top legal adviser, outlined the administration’s legal case for the robotic attacks last month. Now, some legal experts are taking turns to punch holes in Koh’s argument.

    It’s part of an ongoing legal debate about the CIA and U.S. military’s lethal drone operations, which have escalated in recent months — and which have received some technological upgrades. Critics of the program, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that the campaign amounts to a program of targeted killing that may violate the laws of war.

    In a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s national security and foreign affairs panel, several professors of national security law seemed open to that argument. But there are still plenty of caveats, and the risks to U.S. drone operators are at this point theoretical: Unless a judge in, say, Pakistan, wanted to issue a warrant, it doesn’t seem likely. But that’s just one of the possible legal hazards of robotic warfare.

    Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That’s because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant’s privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.

  80. “As of May 3, American unmanned systems had carried out 131 known airstrikes into Pakistan, well over triple the number we did with manned bombers in the opening round of the Kosovo War just a decade ago. By the old standards, this would be viewed as a war.

    But why do we not view it as such? Is it because it is being run by the CIA, not by the U.S. military? This has certainly minimized public debate, but it is the 21st-century equivalent of the equally not-so-covert fleet of repainted B-26 bombers the CIA sent to the Bay of Pigs invasion. We have ended up in a very odd situation: that the only true air war that the United States is fighting right now is not one commanded by an Air Force general but by a former congressman from California. This also means that not only are civilians handling weapons of war but also that civilian officials and lawyers, rather than military officers, are wrestling with complex issues of war, such as operational concept and strategy, rules of engagement, etc., that they do not have the background or mandate to manage.

    Perceptions also matter on the receiving end. Approximately 7,000 miles away, our “efficient” and “costless” unmanned strikes are described as being, as one Middle East newspaper editor put it, “cruel and cowardly.” Drone has become a colloquial word in Urdu, while Pakistani rockers sing about America not fighting with honor.”

  81. Rules for Drone Wars: Six Questions for Philip Alston

    By Scott Horton

    Last week the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, NYU law professor Philip G. Alston, issued a study on targeted killings in which he exhaustively reviewed and critiqued the United States’s use of drones, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I put six questions to Prof. Alston about his conclusions.

  82. When pilots are grounded

    Jul 20th 2010, 7:57 by P.M. | FARNBOROUGH

    THEY will have piloting skills, like an awareness of three-dimensional space. They will also be good at communicating with others, as young people do in computer “chat rooms”. They may even be called pilots and might have a pilot’s license. But they will not leave the ground to operate the aircraft they “fly”. This is how Ed Walby sees the future for many aviators. Mr Walby used to fly Lockheed U-2s, a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, and now works for Northrop Grumman, an American defence contractor, which builds the aircraft that is due to replace the U-2. This is the Global Hawk, one of a growing number of “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs).

    Pilots are expensive to train and need lots of kit on board an aircraft—not least pressure suits and oxygen supplies at high altitude. Take pilots out of the cockpit and the economics of a mission change. Northrop Grumman reckons that operating a U-2 to fly for seven hours over Afghanistan to collect 60 high resolution images costs $396,000. The Global Hawk will complete the same sortie for $178,000. It will also fly much farther and for longer. Some versions can even refuel each other.

    Although no UAVs are flying at the Farnborough Air Show near London this week (they are generally not allowed to operate in commercial airspace, at least not yet) they lurk among the chalets and static aircraft displays as a harbinger of what is to come. It is a natural progression, reckons Mr Walby. He would take off and steer his U-2 to the destination and bring it back again, while others on the ground operated remotely the mass of sensors on the aircraft. In many modern aircraft it is the on-board computers that actually “fly” the plane, with the pilot giving instructions through his controls. With a UAV, the pilot sits in a control room in California, liaising with others, including air-traffic control and commanders on the ground it is flying over—which could be on the other side of the world. Other UAVs, especially small ones, can be programmed to complete a mission with little or no instructions from the ground.

    The Global Hawk, which flies at around 18,300 metres (60,000 feet) where it can get a 480km (300 mile) view, is an intelligence-gathering machine. But others also carry missiles which they can fire at targets, as the General Atomics Predator does. Its successor, the Avenger, has just started flight trials. It is designed for fast, long and covert missions, both for reconnaissance and to strike targets on land and at sea. It is likely to replace some manned strike aircraft. Still to begin flight trials is Taranis, described by BAE Systems, a British defence contractor, as an “unmanned combat air vehicle”. This means it is capable of being used as a fighter against both manned and unmanned aircraft. Other unmanned combat aircraft are in the works.

  83. “At this summer’s Farnborough air show, outside London, America’s most advanced fighter, the F-22 Raptor, announced its power with a thunderous roar. Many think of fighters in terms of speed, altitude and agility. But even more impressive is to see the Raptor at low speed, hovering almost stationary in the air, its nose pointing upwards, like a child’s toy strung up to the sky. In mock battles, its stealth and sensors allow a lone Raptor to kill a flock of any other kind of aircraft.

    But the fighter is an endangered species. One threat comes from success: in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western forces have been uncontested in the air, if not on the ground, so sophisticated fighters seem less relevant. Another comes from technology: the advance of robotic warfare may, at some point, make the pilot in the cockpit redundant. The aircraft that American field commanders most clamour for is not the F-22 but helicopters and the Predator, an unmanned drone able to stay aloft for a day. The fighter pilot seems to be losing his dash. Farewell Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”. Goodbye Biggles, the British adventure-book hero. In their place, welcome the faceless drone operator sitting in a windowless container in the Nevada desert.

    Well, eventually perhaps. The extent to which unmanned aircraft could or should supplant piloted ones will be debated for decades. For the moment, though, a third danger is more immediate: the economic crisis, which is forcing Western countries to cut expensive military equipment.”

  84. Ban Drone-Porn War Crimes
    Death by joystick is immoral and illegal.
    By Ron Rosenbaum
    Posted Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010, at 1:33 PM ET

    Are the masters of “drone porn” committing war crimes by remote control? It’s a bit shocking that more people aren’t asking this question. I have a feeling that many of us, particularly liberal Obama supporters (like myself, for instance), haven’t wanted to look too closely at what is being done in his name, in our name, when these remote-controlled and often tragically inaccurate weapons of small-group slaughter incinerate innocents from the sky, in what are essentially video-game massacres in which real people die.

    Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Predator and the Reaper, are small, lightweight, pilotless aircraft equipped to hover over hostile territory and survey it for controllers half the world away who watch the relayed raw video footage—the “drone porn.” Cruising the skies over Afghanistan (and Pakistan, and Yemen, and Somalia, and who knows where else), looking for Bad Guys and firing missiles to vaporize them, drones have become the pre-eminent weapon in what was once the war on terror. They have been hailed for their cost effectiveness in killing terrorists or militants or whatever the preferred euphemism is now. (And, in fact, as I hope to demonstrate, the relevance of the euphemism choice has been overlooked.)

    Drones mean you don’t need to win hearts and minds if you’re allowed to blow away the bodies of “the enemy” without risking U.S. lives. But at what cost? Few of us have wanted to scrutinize too carefully a program that holds out the tempting promise of “victory” and thus the withdrawal of large numbers of troops from Afghanistan sooner rather than later. Or to look at the downside: that drone slaughter—whether or not it’s a war crime—is counterproductive, creating generations of potential terrorists from the families of the innocent victims of careless carnage. A 2009 Brookings Institution study estimated that for every “militant” killed, there were 10 civilian casualties. And critics have pointed out that each of them will have 10 grieving relatives who will become “militants” or supporters in all likelihood.

  85. “Nor is it only jets that light-attack turboprops can outperform. Armed drones have drawbacks, too. The Reaper, made by General Atomics, can cost $10m or more, depending on its bells and whistles. On top of that, a single drone can require a team of more than 20 people on the ground to support it, plus satellite communications. A manned turboprop can bomb an insurgent for a third of the cost of using a drone, according to Pat Sullivan, the head of government sales at Cessna. And there are strategic considerations, too. Many countries’ armed forces rely on allies such as America for the expertise and satellite networks needed to run drones. Such allies can let you down in a pinch. Piloted light-attack planes offer complete operational independence—and, being lower-tech than many drones, are less subject to restrictions on exports in the first place.”

  86. Drones and democracy

    Oct 1st 2010, 21:08 by B.G. | LOUISVILLE

    AN AMERICAN general told Peter Singer once that insurgents most fear America’s unmatched technology. Then, talking to a Lebanese newspaper editor as a drone circled overhead, he heard a different story: Americans and Israelis, the editor said, are cowards to send machines to fight for them. Much of the ethical conversation around America’s unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan has centered around unintended civilian casualties. This is certainly a worthy topic for conversation. But Mr Singer asked a different set of questions: how do drones change the nations that use them?

    Mr Singer, the author of “Wired for War” and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, spoke this week at the IdeaFestival in Louisville. He made it clear, first, that drones are not merely an American phenomenon. More than 40 countries, he says, are building robotic combatants. No country can hold a first-mover advantage for long. For America, however, the consequences are not only strategic, but constitutional. A president who sends someone’s son or daughter into battle has to justify it publicly, as does the congress responsible for appropriations and a declaration of war. But if no one has children in danger, is it a war?

    In Pakistan, it is not. The Wall Street Journal reported today that America has dramatically increased the number of drone strikes in Pakistan this year. Though some of the drones have been borrowed from the military, the CIA flies the missions. The drones make it easier for America to maintain the fiction that it is not fighting a war in Pakistan, but employing technology in a covert action. According to Mr Singer, the CIA’s civilian counsels—and not the military’s judge advocates general—make legal decisions about the strikes. Officers don’t have to write letters home to mothers; politicians don’t have to justify human losses to voters.

  87. Not all the autonomous military vehicles in use fly:

    The US National Nuclear Security Administration recently announced that it has started using autonomous robot vehicles to patrol the vast desert surrounding its Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). The 1360+ square miles of territory is home to millions of tons of low grade nuclear waste, as well as Cold War Era nuclear weapons, and cutting edge nuclear testing research. Guarding those precious nuclear materials is the Mobile Detection Assessment Response System (MDARS) robot, which is essentially a camera on a mini-Hummer. The MDARS can roam and scout the desert on its own, alerting a remote operator when it encounters something that shouldn’t be there (two headed coyote?). Human controllers get real time video feed form the bot and can communicate with trespassers using speakers and a microphone.

    Similar practical and ethical issues arise, whether the robots in question are ground, air, sea, or even space-based.

  88. The Wall Street Journal and Defense News report that China had more than 25 different unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on display at the Zhuhai Airshow. In addition to a jet powered UAV that is potentially faster than US made drones such as the Predator and Reaper, the Chinese have developed an unmanned ‘thopter’ for surveillance. ‘ASN showed off 10 different UAVs, including the new ASN-211 Flapping Wing Aircraft System, which simulates a bird in flight. The prototype on display has a take-off weight of only 220 grams with a maximum speed of six-to-10 meters a second and an altitude ranging from 20-200 meters. A spokesperson said the micro-UAV would mainly be used for low-altitude reconnaissance for troops in the field.

  89. Artificial intelligence
    No command, and control
    Chaos fills battlefields and disaster zones. Artificial intelligence may be better than the natural sort at coping with it

    Nov 25th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION

    ARMIES have always been divided into officers and grunts. The officers give the orders. The grunts carry them out. But what if the grunts took over and tried to decide among themselves on the best course of action? The limits of human psychology, battlefield communications and (cynics might suggest) the brainpower of the average grunt mean this probably would not work in an army of people. It might, though, work in an army of robots.

    Handing battlefield decisions to the collective intelligence of robot soldiers sounds risky, but it is the essence of a research project called ALADDIN. Autonomous Learning Agents for Decentralised Data and Information Networks, to give its full name, is a five-year-old collaboration between BAE Systems, a British defence contractor, the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Southampton, and Imperial College, London. In it, the grunts act as agents, collecting and exchanging information. They then bargain with each other over the best course of action, make a decision and carry it out.

    So far, ALADDIN’s researchers have limited themselves to tests that simulate disasters such as earthquakes rather than warfare; saving life, then, rather than taking it. That may make the technology seem less sinister. But disasters are similar to battlefields in their degree of confusion and complexity, and in the consequent unreliability and incompleteness of the information available. What works for disaster relief should therefore also work for conflict. BAE Systems has said that it plans to use some of the results from ALADDIN to improve military logistics, communications and combat-management systems.

  90. Aerospace in Israel
    IAI takes wing
    Israel’s biggest defence firm is getting ready for privatisation

    Mar 3rd 2011 | TEL AVIV | from the print edition

    HIS career since leaving the air force has been in business rather than politics, but Yair Shamir, the chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), is a chip off the old block. Not only is he a dead ringer for his famous father—Yitzhak Shamir, an uncompromising Israeli prime minister in the 1980s and early 1990s—he is a similarly tough operator. When Mr Shamir, an important figure in Israel’s booming high-technology business, took on the job of sorting out his country’s biggest industrial company in 2005, state-owned IAI was in a wretched condition.

    For one thing, it had never quite got over the blow to its self-confidence when the Lavi, an advanced dual-role combat aircraft, was cancelled by the government headed by Mr Shamir senior in 1987. Although the Lavi was on course to meet all its performance targets, the cost of the project and American concern that it was helping to finance a rival to its F-16 and F-18 fighters killed it. For IAI, it meant that it would never again try to make a fast jet on its own.

    For another, despite recovering much of its technological élan, IAI was an organisational and financial mess. Executives say it had gone three years without a formal chairman and two years without a signed financial statement. Banks had seized some of its financial assets and its chief executive of 20 years, Moshe Keret, was facing bribery allegations (he denied these and the case was dropped for lack of evidence). The firm was also in the grip of the Histadrut union federation, which fought all attempts to slim a bloated workforce and introduce merit-based remuneration.

  91. AMERICA’S persistent, and increasing, use of drone attacks against suspected terrorists in remote parts of Pakistan remains immensely unpopular in that country. More so than the raid by American special forces, which killed Osama bin Laden last month in Abbottabad, the drone strikes incite fury: Pakistanis see their national sovereignty violated repeatedly and unlucky civilians killed in the process. Pakistan’s government, though acquiescing in the use of drones—reportedly even letting America launch some of them from its own soil—in public rejects them. American diplomats in Pakistan, at least on the record, are supposed to deny that such a programme exists.


  92. “Other militant leaders in Pakistan might also be unnerved by this attack, and reasonably so. Mr Kashmiri’s killing could well be a sign that the Americans are making use of a fresh crop of intelligence about their targets, or that the Pakistani army (perhaps infuriated by the Karachi attack, and under American pressure to launch a military assault in North Waziristan) is co-operating with them more closely. Either way, expect the use of drones, as unpopular as it is in Pakistan, to continue.”

  93. The ethics of warfare
    Drones and the man

    Although it raises difficult questions, the use of drones does not contravene the rules of war

    THE use of Unmanned Aerial Systems, as the armed forces prefer to call them, is growing. Drones have become today’s weapon of choice in counter-terrorism. And over the next 40 years or so, they are expected largely to replace piloted aircraft. In nine years the Pentagon has increased its drone fleet 13-fold and the generals are spending at least $5 billion a year adding to it. The frequency of drone strikes on al-Qaeda and other terrorists that lurk in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has risen under Barack Obama to one every four days, compared with one every 40 during George Bush’s presidency. In Libya NATO commanders turned to drones when their fast jets failed to find and hit Muammar Qaddafi’s mobile rocket launchers.

    Not everyone feels comfortable with all this. Critics say that the legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of drones have been neglected. Some of those concerns may be exaggerated, but others need to be taken seriously, particularly if, as seems certain, armies will increasingly fight with machines, not men.

  94. The Secret History of Boeing’s Killer Drone

    When the pilotless, wing-shaped warplane lifted off a runway at California’s Edwards Air Force Base for the first time on the morning of April 27, it was like the resurrection of the dead. The Boeing Phantom Ray — one of the most advanced drones ever built — came close to never flying at all.

    In late 2007, according to company insiders, U.S. military officials ordered Boeing to destroy an earlier version of the Phantom Ray, the X-45C. Exactly why the feds wanted the robotic aircraft dismantled has never been fully explained.

    Boeing had just lost out to rival aerospace firm Northrop Grumman in a contest to develop a so-called “Unmanned Combat Air System” for the Navy, capable of taking off from, and landing on, aircraft carriers. That contest, known by its acronym N-UCAS — “N” for “Navy” — was actually the third time in five years Boeing had gone toe-to-toe with Northrop over a government contract to build killer drones, and the second time it had lost.

  95. Killing Is the Easy Part

    The drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki treated one of Yemen’s symptoms, but the disease is getting worse.

    Radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed Friday in a CIA drone strike in Yemen, was a dangerous man, and his death makes Americans safer. But it won’t make Yemen any less volatile—and, in the long term, that’s a problem the United States won’t be able to ignore.

    Born in New Mexico, educated at Colorado State, and radicalized while preaching in American mosques, Awlaki is an archetype of the homegrown jihadist. And since moving to Yemen in 2004, he has become a beacon to others like him. He was in contact with Nidal Hasan, accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. He may have recruited Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab, who tried to ignite a bomb in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009. And the man behind last May’s Times Square car bomb attempt cited him as an inspiration. Killed along with Awlaki on Friday was another protégé, 25-year-old American jihadist Samir Khan.

  96. THE successful drone strike that on September 30th killed Anwar al-Awlaki and at least four other senior operatives from al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based franchise (known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninisula, or AQAP) may turn out to be even more significant than the raid on Abbottabad that ended the life of Osama bin Laden. Although bin Laden’s death was a cathartic moment for most Americans, and the special forces that swept through his squalid lair carried off an intelligence treasure trove, al-Qaeda’s embattled leader had been a busted flush, from an operational point of view, for some time. “Core” al-Qaeda, the original bit of the organisation that hangs out in Pakistan’s tribal areas is also, according to the White House’s anti-terror chief, John Brennan, “on the ropes”. Until yesterday, however, the same could not have been said of AQAP, which intelligence sources have regarded for a while as the branch of the terror network that posed the greatest direct threat to the West.

  97. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in suburban Houston, Texas is preparing to launch operations with a newly received Shadowhawk MK-III unmanned aerial vehicle, paid for by grant money received by the Department of Homeland Security. The MK-III is a product marketed for both military and law enforcement applications. Michael Buscher, chief executive officer of manufacturer Vanguard Defense Industries, said this is the first local law enforcement agency to buy one of his units. ‘The aircraft has the capability to have a number of different systems on board. Mostly, for law enforcement, we focus on what we call less lethal systems,’ he said, including Tazers that can send a jolt to a criminal on the ground or a gun that fires bean bags known as a ‘stun baton.’ ‘You have a stun baton where you can actually engage somebody at altitude with the aircraft. A stun baton would essentially disable a suspect,’ he said. The MK-III also has more lethal options available, capable of carrying either a 40mm or 37mm grenade launcher or 12 gauge shotgun with laser designator.

  98. In the decade since, the Predator has clocked more than a million flight hours. And while U.S. Air Force procurement ceased in early 2011 — with more than 250 airframes purchased — the follow-on MQ-9 Reaper has already been procured in numbers and production continues. Predators and Reapers continue to be employed in a broad spectrum of roles, including close air support (CAS), when forward air controllers communicate with UAV operators to release ordnance with friendly troops in the vicinity (CAS is one of the more challenging missions even for manned aircraft because of the heightened risk of friendly casualties). Officially designated “armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long endurance, remotely piloted aircraft,” the second to last distinction is the Predator and Reaper’s principal value: the ability to loiter for extended periods, in some cases for more than 24 hours.

    This ability affords unprecedented situational awareness and physical presence over the battlefield. The implications of this are still being understood, but it is clear that it allows, for example, the sustained and constant monitoring of main supply routes for attempts to emplace improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or the ability to establish a more sophisticated understanding of high-value targets’ living patterns. In addition, live, full-motion video for ground controllers is available to lower and lower echelons to an unprecedented degree.

    As the procurement of Predators and Reapers and the training of operators accelerated — particularly under the tenure of former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, beginning in 2006 — the number of UAV “orbits” skyrocketed (an orbit is a single, continuous presence requiring more than one UAV airframe per orbit). There are now more than 50 such orbits in the U.S. Central Command area of operations alone (counting several maintained by the larger, unarmed RQ-4 “Global Hawk”). The U.S. Air Force expects to be capable of maintaining 65 orbits globally by 2013, with the combined total of flight hours for Predator and Reaper operations reaching about 2 million around the same time. In 2005, UAVs made up about 5 percent of the military aircraft fleet. They have since grown to 30 percent, though most are small, hand-launched and unarmed tactical UAVs.

    Indeed, the last decade has seen the maturation of the armed UAV, including its underlying architecture and doctrines. And while more than 50 Predators and Reapers have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan and in training over the past decade, the aircraft are now essentially as safe and reliable as a manned F-16C/D but far cheaper to procure, maintain and operate. And over the next 10 years, the Pentagon plans to grow its UAV fleet about 35 percent. The U.S. Air Force plans to buy 288 more Reapers — 48 per year from now through 2016 — and money for UAVs has remained largely untouched even as budget cuts intensify at the Pentagon.

  99. Iraq Is Angered by U.S. Drones Patrolling Its Skies – NYTimes.com

    BAGHDAD — A month after the last American troops left Iraq, the State Department is operating a small fleet of surveillance drones here to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American personnel. Some senior Iraqi officials expressed outrage at the program, saying the unarmed aircraft are an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.

    The program was described by the department’s diplomatic security branch in a little-noticed section of its most recent annual report and outlined in broad terms in a two-page online prospectus for companies that might bid on a contract to manage the program. It foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the diplomatic arm of the American government; until now they have been mainly the province of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

    American contractors say they have been told that the State Department is considering to field unarmed surveillance drones in the future in a handful of other potentially “high-threat” countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan after the bulk of American troops leave in the next two years. State Department officials say that no decisions have been made beyond the drone operations in Iraq.

  100. The RCMP now uses 14 UAVs nationwide. Several smaller forces in Canada have their own machines too. The numbers are poised to grow – detectives in homicide and missing-persons cases want to the machines to advance their own investigations. Last week,Sgt. Domoney visited Ottawa last week gauge the interest of his police bosses in acquiring more.

    It’s not just the cops who are discovering UAVs. Federal regulators in Canada have quietly approved about 300 “special flight operations certificates” for commercial-use during the past five years. Costing anywhere from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars, these machines cart fancy cameras into the air to capture what’s invisible to the naked eye – high-resolution images, heat signatures, even chemical emissions.

  101. The incident also underscored the increasingly central role that drones now play in American foreign policy. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the military conducted only a handful of drone missions. Today, the Pentagon deploys a fleet of 19,000 drones, relying on them for classified missions that once belonged exclusively to Special Forces units or covert operatives on the ground. American drones have been sent to spy on or kill targets in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya. Drones routinely patrol the Mexican border, and they provided aerial surveillance over Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens. In the process, according to human rights groups, they have also claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians. Obama’s drone program, in fact, amounts to the largest unmanned aerial offensive ever conducted in military history; never have so few killed so many by remote control.

  102. The basic problem with drones is now well-attested: blowback. Imagine the presence overhead of these only too visible foreign objects, agents of a distant evil empire, a terror visited by the technologically advanced upon the backward. They hover there in their impunity, testifying to your pervasive weakness, ever vigilant, ever ominous, unpredictable until the moment when they will belch their consuming fire. This presence is simultaneously terrifying, humiliating and infuriating.

    That the drones are a gross affront to the sovereignty of states unwillingly subjected to them is clear enough. They thereby strain necessary co-operation whether against the terrorists or to other ends. This is already a significant cost; relations with both Pakistan and Yemen have deteriorated as a result of the drones.

    As the most unwelcome of guests, drones are also obnoxious to ordinary people. They don’t dispose hearts and minds in the Americans’ favour. For all their justly vaunted precision, the strikes inevitably kill some civilians. (Which means that even where they haven’t – as the Americans assure us was the case with Mr. al-Libi – the enemy gets away with insisting that they have.) They have thus stoked the ire of the locals on whom al-Qaeda and its affiliates depend for recruits and other forms of support.


  103. Unmanned aerial vehicles
    Death from afar
    America uses drones a lot, in secret and largely unencumbered by declared rules. Worries about that abound, not least in the administration

    In Djibouti, an impoverished mini-state on the Gulf of Aden, America has turned a former French Foreign Legion outpost, Camp Lemonnier, into the most important base for drone operations outside the war zone of Afghanistan. According to an investigation by the Washington Post, Predator drones take off round the clock on missions over nearby Somalia and Yemen. Their pilots are in Creech, an air force hub 8,000 miles away in Nevada. The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) runs Camp Lemonnier; the CIA is believed to have a more secret site elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula. Aircraft from both bases often work together, as in the attack last year that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who became an al-Qaeda planner and propagandist.

    After Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans do not want to spend blood and treasure in fighting big insurgencies on the ground. So drone strikes seem certain to stay the centrepiece of counter-terrorism efforts for many years to come and may well increase in reach and scale. America will invest $1.4 billion on new construction at Camp Lemonnier alone. Hugely enlarging the scope of drone operations (see chart) has been politically useful for Mr Obama. The ruthlessness of the campaign, plus the killing of Osama bin Laden, blunted Republican charges that he is soft on national security.

    Because drones can loiter over potential targets for hours before firing their missiles, they are more discriminating than either fast jets or helicopter-borne special forces. Nor are their pilots put in harm’s way. Yet it is disturbingly unclear how many people the attacks have killed (some estimates suggest more than 3,000). The vast majority appear to have been militants, but some have been unlucky civilians. The distinction may also be blurring. New looser rules allow so-called “signature” attacks on unnamed fighters; that can easily mean any male of fighting age in an insurgent-held area.

  104. Op-Ed Contributor
    The C.I.A.’s Misuse of Secrecy
    Published: April 29, 2012

    IN Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere the C.I.A. has used drones to kill thousands of people — including several Americans. Officials have aggressively defended the controversial program, telling journalists that it is effective, lawful and closely supervised.

    But in court, the Central Intelligence Agency refuses even to acknowledge that the targeted killing program exists. The agency’s argument is based on a 35-year-old judicial doctrine called Glomar, which allows government agencies to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, by refusing to confirm or deny the existence of the records that have been requested.

    The doctrine sometimes serves a legitimate purpose, but the C.I.A. has grossly abused it, in cases relating to the targeted killing program and other counterterrorism operations. It is invoking the doctrine not to protect legitimately classified information from disclosure, but to shield controversial decisions from public scrutiny and to spare officials from having to defend their policies in court.

    The doctrine owes its name to a ship called the Hughes Glomar Explorer, which the C.I.A. used in the early 1970s to salvage a sunken Soviet submarine. When The Los Angeles Times exposed the effort in 1975, the agency tried to suppress coverage, asking news organizations not to publish follow-up stories. Harriet A. Phillippi, a journalist for Rolling Stone, filed a FOIA request to learn more about the C.I.A.’s effort. The C.I.A. refused to confirm or deny the existence of the records Ms. Phillippi had requested.

    The C.I.A.’s response was unusual. Ordinarily, an agency served with a FOIA request is required to produce a list of relevant records. The agency must then release the listed records or cite specific legal justifications for keeping them secret. In the Glomar case, the C.I.A. argued that there were circumstances in which it was impossible for an agency to acknowledge even the existence of relevant records without also revealing some fact that the government had a right to withhold.


  105. WHEN it comes to lethal drone strikes against foreign targets, America’s government and Congress should be aware that “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”, says John Bellinger, for eight years a government lawyer charged with explaining George W. Bush’s global war on terror to allies.

    China and Russia are just two of the powers that may soon launch their own fleets of unmanned aircraft against suspected foes. It is not too far-fetched to imagine a near future in which a Russian drone targets a Chechen radical based in neighbouring Georgia, say, who appears immune from capture while apparently plotting an imminent strike on Russian targets.

  106. Drones over Pakistan
    Drop the pilot
    A surprising number of Pakistanis are in favour of drone strikes

    Surveys are also notoriously difficult to carry out in FATA. A 2009 poll in three of the tribal agencies found 52% of respondents believed drone strikes were accurate and 60% said they weakened militant groups. Other surveys have found much lower percentages in favour. But interviews by The Economist with twenty residents of the tribal areas confirmed that many see individual drone strikes as preferable to the artillery barrages of the Pakistani military. They also insisted that the drones do not kill many civilians—a view starkly at odds with mainstream Pakistani opinion. “No one dares tell the real picture,” says an elder from North Waziristan. “Drone attacks are killing the militants who are killing innocent people.”

    Though there is ample evidence that the Pakistani government has given its secret blessing to the CIA programme, it still allows anti-drone sentiment to blossom. Domestic anger over drones can be a useful negotiating chip on other issues, says one former American official. The government also fears reprisals from militants.

  107. North Korea’s arsenal of ballistic missiles could probably be countered if as few as three drones were suitably stationed at all times, says Dale Tietz, a former Star Wars analyst. An American Global Hawk drone, which can fly uninterrupted for 30 hours, held 18km above nearby international waters could probably carry several interceptors fast enough to shoot down missiles heading north towards America, he says. It could be alerted to launches by infrared-sensing satellites already in orbit.

    Protecting Israel and Europe from Iranian missiles would be harder. Iran is bigger than North Korea, so interceptors would need to be faster (and therefore larger) to reach deep inside its territory. The Pentagon has started to research drone-missile defence, but should be spending more, says David Trachtenberg, a former deputy assistant defence secretary, because the payoff could be “tremendous”.

  108. “People assume these pilots have been desensitised, like they’re playing a video game,” says Nancy Cooke, a professor at Arizona State University who has studied the cognitive effect of remote warfare. “The opposite is true.” Drone pilots experience mental-health problems at the same rate as fighter pilots deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a 2013 study by researchers for the Pentagon.

    Being out of harm’s way makes the job less fretful in some respects, but more so in others. Whereas fighter pilots drop a bomb and fly away, drone pilots may spend weeks monitoring a village or convoy, sussing out patterns and getting to know their enemies. This odd intimacy makes the act of killing more personal, particularly as these pilots are forced to witness the fallout. Afterwards, instead of bonding with fellow servicemen at a base, drone warriors go home, where they must keep their daily exploits a secret.

  109. On July 1st Mr Obama took another step towards transparency by releasing the administration’s estimate of how many “non-combatants” have been killed in drone strikes outside war zones. According to a short document released by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants and between 64 and 116 non-combatants were killed in such strikes between Mr Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and the end of 2015. These numbers are considerably lower than those compiled by other organisations. The DNI document attempted to explain the gap, stating that, “the government uses post-strike methodologies that have been refined and honed over the years and uses information that is generally unavailable to non-governmental organisations.” “So what they’re saying is, ‘We have more information, we can’t tell you about it, just trust us’,” says Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Along with this tally, Mr Obama issued an executive order requiring future administrations to make such declarations annually. The president wants to leave behind a settled body of laws and norms governing areas such as surveillance and warfare, where technology has made things possible that his predecessors could not do. He is doing so quietly: July 1st was the Friday of the Independence Day weekend, when few Americans had their minds on drone policy. “Short of putting it out on Christmas Day, it’s hard to think of a day when it would get more buried,” says Mr Bergen.

  110. ‘Don’t Fear the Robopocalypse’: the Case for Autonomous Weapons

    Lasrick shares “Don’t fear the robopocalypse,” an interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists with the former Army Ranger who led the team that established the U.S. Defense Department policy on autonomous weapons (and has written the upcoming book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War). Paul Scharre makes the case for uninhabited vehicles, robot teammates, and maybe even an outer perimeter of robotic sentries (and, for mobile troops, “a cloud of air and ground robotic systems”). But he also argues that “In general, we should strive to keep humans involved in the lethal force decision-making process as much as is feasible. What exactly that looks like in practice, I honestly don’t know.”

  111. ‘Largest drone war in the world’: How airpower saved Tripoli

    LNA’s goal of seizing the capital abruptly ended after Turkey’s intervention with its supply of armed Bayraktar drones

    The arrival of Chinese-made Wing Loong drones in 2016 made a significant difference to the LNA’s military capabilities. First used in the battle for Derna in eastern Libya, the drones had a decisive impact on the outcome as forces loyal to Haftar battled fighters from the Shura Council of Mujahideen in a brutal confrontation for the city.

    These Chinese-made drones – operated by pilots from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and flown out of the Al Khadim airbase in the east – have a combat radius of 1,500km (932 miles), meaning they can deliver precision-guided missiles and bombs, striking anywhere in the country.

    These drones were used to great effect in the battle for Tripoli, which General Haftar announced in April 2019 against the GNA. Government forces were repeatedly pushed back into a tight pocket as the capital was besieged by the LNA. For all the talk of “precision” air strikes, the civilian casualty toll mounted as targets were hit in increasingly built-up urban areas.

  112. Second (a fact kept secret until several years later), the victory of sorts was enabled by hackers, analysts, and linguists from the National Security Agency, who captured militia leaders’ computers, swiped their passwords, and sent phony messages to their fighters, telling them to meet at a certain place—where, at the arranged hour, U.S. drone-fired missiles killed them. In the pivotal year of 2007, more than 7,000 insurgents were killed in this manner.


  113. Drone dogfights in Ukraine thus far have been improvised. This type of attack only works against small drones: the models being used to down enemy drones typically fly at 45mph (72kph) and weigh less than a kilo, making them too slow to catch big drones and too light to do them much damage. But Ukrainian forces will soon have access to a purpose-built system that can inflict far greater damage. marss, a defence startup based in Monaco, is sending its drone interceptors: their networked sensors detect incoming enemy drones and launch counter-attack drones from the ground that use artificial intelligence to identify, track and attack targets without human assistance. They have a top speed of 170mph and are robust enough to survive dustups with small drones. They can also take on bigger targets, such as the Shahed-136 drone, though they would probably be lost in the process. Their price is not known, but they are almost certainly much cheaper than a missile.


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