Remote Warfare Roundup 003

The Remote Warfare roundup is a weekly digest of news, op-eds, podcasts and other media relevant to remote warfare. 

New Pentagon Guidelines on ex gratia payments

A new Pentagon directive clarifies the ambiguities over how much civilians and their families are compensated when killed or injured by US forces. These ex gratia payments are “a means of expressing condolences or sympathy or as a goodwill gesture in the event of property damage, personal injury, or death.” The directive notes, however, that these payments “are not legally required, nor may they be construed or considered as an admission or an acknowledgement of any legal obligation.” Notably, other possible response options in the directive include public acknowledgement of the damage caused and provision of medical care. 

Problematically, some have noted that civilians harmed in areas without a US troop presence, such as Syria and Somalia, are not eligible for these payments.

For more information on ex gratia payments, see Thomas Gregory’s paper “The costs of war: Condolence payments and the politics of killing civilians.”

Drone Wars under Trump 

America’s drone wars have become increasingly destructive and opaque under President Trump, according to this op-ed from Daniel Larison in The American Conservative. Larison claims this escalation in the Horn of Africa has failed to improve the security of anyone either there or in the US. Relaxing the rules of targeting and increasing the tempo of strikes has, predictably, led to more civilian casualties and made it harder to redress them. “The strikes and their victims remain invisible,” according to Larison, “and the wars they are being used to fight go unnoticed and unchecked.”

For another contemporary critique of intransparent drone wars under Trump, see Kelsey Atherton’s Foreign Policy piece “Trump’s Drone War is Less Accountable than Ever.”

Bijleveld proposes new civilian harm reporting procedure

Dutch Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld has proposed a new procedure for informing the Tweede Kamer (parliament) about instances of civilian harm resulting from Dutch military operations. This follows more than a year of protracted debate among parliamentarians and civil society – to which this project contributed – concerning transparency (or lack thereof) surrounding the Hawija case, in which a Dutch airstrike is suspected to have killed more than 70 civilians. 

Conflict-monitoring agency Airwars, who have been instrumental to recording and verifying instances of civilian harm in Iraq, Syria and Libya over the past six years, welcomed Bijleveld’s proposal. They added, however, that “the Minister needs to give the parliamentary Defence committee better arguments than the usual “it’s a matter of national, operational and personnel security” when deciding that certain information cannot be shared with the public.”

Trump proposes to withdraw troops from Germany

Donald Trump’s proposal to withdraw US troops from Germany has been met with consternation on both sides of the Atlantic. Relations between the two countries have been strained over the course of Trump’s administration, who claims a “delinquent” Germany is free-riding on American protection. 

Although Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien described the US Army Garrisons as an “obsolete” relic of the Cold War, it is worth note that at least 40% of American activity in Germany supports operations elsewhere. The movements of troops may appear less-than-relevant to the practice of remote warfare, but “Germany is the tell-tale heart of America’s drone war.” Ramstein air base in the southwest of the country is a hub for drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. 

The Remote Warfare Paradox

A chapter on “The Remote Warfare Paradox” included in the forthcoming E-IR book Remote Warfare: Interdisciplinary Perspectives by project leaders Jolle Demmers and Lauren Gould has been published. Covering Kantian ethics, the role of technology, and discourses of sanitised violence, they posit that remote warfare makes liberal democracies more war prone, not less. 

Demmers and Gould also spoke about their chapter on the latest episode of the Oxford Research Group Warpod podcast.

NATO tests surveillance drone over Mediterranean

Defense News reports that NATO has begun testing the first of five new surveillance drones over the Mediterranean sea. Taking off from Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy, the drones are collectively owned by a consortium of fifteen NATO members. 

Officials have been reticent to divulge their future plans for the drones, but one was quoted as saying, “You can imagine missions of looking into the situation on NATO’s borders, both in the south, in the Middle East or the east. The drones enable you to collect intelligence beyond your airspace.”

With an aging force, Japan’s military turns to robots

The Economist reports on Japan’s greying military. In response to an ongoing struggle in Japan to attract enough young people to meet its military recruitment targets, the Government has announced plans to acquire and develop new unmanned aircraft and submarines. Although Japan’s constitution officially declares its people “forever renounce war,” and these remotely-piloted vehicles are expected to be initially limited to surveillance, “the next step is strike capability” according to one government MP. 

USAF seeks Reaper drone replacement (again)

Eight years ago, the U.S. Air Force tried and failed at fielding a successor to the MQ-9 Reaper drone. Defence News reports it is making another attempt. As improvements in advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning continue, it remains to be seen what new capabilities the next Reaper might hold. 

UK making progress with “swarming drones”

The UK Ministry of Defense has reported progress on its efforts to create “swarming drone” capabilities, according to Janes. The Defence and Security Accelerator’s (DASA) “Many Drones Make Light Work” programme is exploring the feasibility of using up to 20 small, unmanned aircraft operating under the control of one individual. These drones differ from traditional, remotely-piloted aircraft in that they can communicate and coordinate between each other automatically. Machines making decisions for themselves in this manner is feared by some to be a step towards Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) or “killer robots.”