Tag Archives: Israel drones

Flying off the Shelves: the entrenching of drone warfare

Wing Loong II, 2017. Image from wikipedia

A 2018 report published by Drone Wars UK reveals that over the last five years the number of countries actively using armed drones has quadrupled. Drone Wars: The Next Generation demonstrates that from just three states (US, UK and Israel) in 2013, there are now a further nine who have deployed armed drones in a variety of roles including for armed conflict and counter-terror operations. The report also shows that a further nine states are very close to having armed drone capabilities, almost doubling the number of existing users. To this number, we have added five non-state actors who have used armed drones, which will take the number of active operators of armed drones to over 25 in the next few years.

As is well known, China has sold armed drones to a number of countries around the world. Since 2013, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE and Egypt have begun operating armed Chinese drones whilst another four countries (Jordan, Myanmar, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) are thought to have recently taken possession of, or be in discussion about the sale of, Chinese drones. These Wing Loong and CH series drones are cheaper and less powerful than US Predators and Reapers.  As, according to their specifications, they are not capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km they do not fall into the category of systems that would be refused under Category 1 of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as the US systems do.

Turkey, Pakistan and Iran are actively using their own manufactured drones. Iran has, it seems, supplied Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis with armed drones while ISIS and the PKK  (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) have attached small explosives to off-the-shelf drones. Turkey are thought to be concluding deal with Qatar and the Ukrain eand South Korea are very close to beginning production of their own armed drones.

As for the larger countries that one might expect to have already deployed armed drones, such as Russia and India, they still appear to be some distance from producing workable models…Several cross-European projects are underway to develop indigenous armed drones within the EU.

Excerpts from New research shows rise in number of states deploying armed drones, Press Release from Drone Wars UK, May 17, 2018

Drone War 2014: transparency for covert lethal action

training in Djibouti image from wikipedia

A UN counter-terrorism expert has published the second report of his year-long investigation into drone strikes, highlighting 30 strikes where civilians are reported to have been killed.  The report, by British lawyer Ben Emmerson QC, identifies 30 attacks between 2006 and 2013 that show sufficient indications of civilian deaths to demand a ‘public explanation of the circumstances and the justification for the use of deadly force’ under international law.

Emmerson analysed 37 strikes carried out by the US, UK and Israel in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza, to arrive at a ‘sample’ of strikes that he believes those nations have a legal duty to explain.

Britain and the US conduct strikes as part of the armed conflict in Afghanistan, and the US also conducts covert strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.  Although Israel has never officially acknowledged using armed drones, Emmerson met with Israeli officials in the course of preparing his report and lists seven attacks in Gaza among those requiring investigation.

This report expands on an argument for the legal obligation for states to investigate and account for credible claims of civilian casualties, which Emmerson first laid out in his previous report, presented to the UN General Assembly in October (2013).

He writes: ‘in any case in which there have been, or appear to have been, civilian casualties that were not anticipated when the attack was planned, the State responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation of the results.

A February 2010 attack in Afghanistan serves as a ‘benchmark’ of the kind of disclosure that should follow claims of civilian casualties. After a US drone attack on a convoy of trucks reportedly killed up to 23 civilians, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which runs international operations in Afghanistan, partially declassified the findings of its internal investigation. Emmerson writes that this report strongly criticised the crew’s actions and revealed ‘a propensity to “kinetic activity” [lethal action]‘.  This level of transparency is rare.

The most recent incident featured in Emmerson’s report is a December 2013 attack that hit a wedding procession near Rada’a in Yemen, killing at least 12. Multiple sources have identified numerous civilian casualties among the dead, including a Human Rights Watch investigation published last week.   Three unnamed US officials told Associated Press after the publication of Human Rights Watch’s report that an internal investigation had found only alleged militants were killed – but no results of this investigation have yet been officially released.

Information is particularly scarce for activity in Somalia, Emmerson notes. The only strike from the country in the report is the February 2012 strike that killed former British citizen Mohamed Sakr, whose case the Bureau has reported on as part of its investigation into the British government’s deprivation of citizenship.

Neither the US nor the UK routinely publish details of their drone operations. The UK states that it has killed civilians in only one incident in Afghanistan, a March 2011 strike that killed four civilians.  The US has repeatedly dismissed the Bureau’s estimate that at least 400 civilians have died in Pakistan drone strikes as ‘ludicrous’; the CIA director John Brennan has said that claims of high civilian casualties amount to ‘disinformation’.

Emmerson notes that operations that kill civilians are not necessarily illegal under international law, but states have a duty of transparency where there are credible allegations of non-combatants being harmed.  The report does not take a position on the legality of drone strikes away from the battlefield, but says there is an ‘urgent and imperative need’ for international agreement on the legal arguments advanced in favour of covert lethal action.

The US has argued that its strikes are legal on two grounds: they are legitimate acts of self-defence against an imminent threat, and they are part of an armed conflict against an enemy, al Qaeda, and its ‘associated forces’. Emmerson asks a series of questions – about the thresholds for action in self-defence, the definition of ‘imminent’ threat, al Qaeda’s current state, and more – on which he says the international community must reach consensus.  Last week the European Parliament voted 534 to 49 in favour of a motion calling on the EU to develop a ‘common position’ on drone strikes and other targeted killings.  To date, Europe has remained largely silent on the issue, but the motion expressed ’grave concern’ over drone strikes ‘outside the international legal framework’ and called on member states not to ‘facilitate such killings by other states’.

The UK has refused to clarify whether it shares intelligence with the US that could lead to drone strikes in Pakistan; in January the Court of Appeal ruled that any attempt to force the government to disclose such information could endanger international relations. In December, Emmerson told a meeting in parliament that such intelligence-sharing is ‘inevitable’ owing to the closeness of the relationship between the US and UK. ‘It would be absurd if it were not the case,’ he added.

Alice K. Ross, UN report identifies 30 drone strikes that require ‘public explanation, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Mar. 1, 2014’

Drones: the international markets

Global demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, is heating up as armed forces invest in new systems to boost their ability to carry out reconnaissance and strikes without putting soldiers’ lives in danger.Propelled by a rise in Asian defence budgets, annual global spending on UAVs is forecast to almost double from the current $5.9 billion to $11.3 billion over the next decade, according to US-based defence research firm Teal Group.  The Asia Pacific is the second largest buyer after the United States.”Almost every country in the region is trying to get their hands on drones or develop their own … Thailand, India, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Korea,” said Jon Grevatt of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly….”UAVs are necessary in this age when you want to win wars and at the same time you want to have less casualties,” said Tommy Silberring, who heads the drone division at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).  IAI, which pioneered the development of UAV technology for the Israeli military in the 1970s, was one of several defence manufacturers showing off drones at last week’s Singapore Airshow.  The use of drones rather than manned aircraft helps make countries participation in multilateral war efforts more palatable to the public, said Silberring, a former Israeli air force colonel.”You really don’t want to tell your people that you are giving the lives of your soldiers for another country,” he told AFP at the air show….

According to IAI, its Heron UAVs are used by 18 customers around the world, including Singapore’s air force, which displayed its Heron 1 at the show.   The Heron TP — the largest in the Israeli drone arsenal with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 passenger jet — is purported to have a range of more than 7,400 kilometres (4,600 miles).

In the United States, homegrown manufacturers such as General Atomics and Northrop Grumman look set to benefit from the Pentagon?s recent plans to expand its current fleet of 7,494 drones by 30 percent.  According to a congressional report released in January, the US military is expected to spend nearly $32 billion on new UAVs over the next eight years.

This burgeoning demand has spurred Asian manufacturers to enter the market, which has long been dominated by Israeli and US companies.  “We want to be in the unmanned arena but we are selective because there are already so many big players in the industry,” said Patrick Choy, vice president of international marketing at ST Engineering, a Singapore-based defence manufacturer.  ST Engineering launched theSkyblade 360, the latest addition in a series of mini UAVs, at the airshow….”We want to build a niche in the tactical area, where we are able to help small units with our UAV technology,” he told AFP.  “Unless you are a global power, you cannot convince customers to buy big UAVs which require supporting technology like satellites”.  India is similarly modest about its Rustom-1 drone, a model of which was on display at the trade fair.”Our main priority is to enhance the current capability of the Rustom… we have no intentions of exporting it,” said Parimal Kumar, a senior official from India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Excerpts, Bhavan Jaipragas, Drone makers cashing in as war tactics evolve, Agence France Presse, Feb. 26, 2012