Remote Warfare Roundup 004

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

The Military-Tech Complex

In this review of Christian Brose’s forthcoming book The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare, Jonathan Wong considers the major hurdles preventing commercial technologies from being adopted by the US Military. Remote warfare has long been enabled by technological innovation. At a time when popular and political discourse is awash with claims of the revolutionary potential artificial intelligence, the logistical and political issues involved in applying it to the military domain deserve closer attention. As Wong asks, however, is technology even the answer?

US DoD releases annual Afghanistan report

The Pentagon released its annual Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan report this week, which includes a lengthy section on civilian harm. Officially, the United States forces in Afghanistan reported 2,801 civilian casualties from November 1, 2019, to April 30, 2020. Notably, however, its definition of “Directly Participating in Hostilities” (DPH) differs from that offered by the ICRC, so expect these numbers to be disputed.  

Drones falling from the sky

The number of UAVs downed in Libya, Syria and Yemen is steadily rising, according to Drone Wars UK and FlightGlobal. In the first six months of this year, 24 drones were suspected or confirmed to have crashed, predominantly over the Middle East. This represents a significant rise on previous years, reflecting a rise in the proliferation and use of these aircraft. Governments are often reluctant to confirm if their drones have crashed, forcing researchers to rely on news reports and social media posts. Similarly, the exact causes of these crashes are often hard to deduce. 

What might these recent trends mean for the future of remote warfare? Dan Gettinger, founder of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, commented, “I think the aggressive use of drones instead of manned aircraft in geopolitically sensitive and risky areas is probably what we’re going to see more of in future.”

In related news, Airwars reported that up to four civilians were killed by an airstrike in northern Iraq while gathering around the wreckage of a downed drone.

Syrian Archive launches new website

Syrian Archive, an open source platform for collecting, verifying and analysing visual documentation of human rights violations in Syria, launched its new website this week. With more than 3.5m videos and posts available, this is an unparalleled record of the “Syrian Digital Memory.” As a resource, it will be of interest to scholars, advocates, lawyers and journalists alike. 

Germany debates drones

Earlier this year, the German Federal Ministry of Defense launched a debate on the use of armed drones with a day of panel discussions. The European Forum on Armed Drones (EFAD) claims this debate focused predominantly on technical issues and, as a result, went largely unnoticed. With the debate re-launched this week, concerns about a lack of public engagement remain. This is of particular concern to civil society as the Ministry of Defense is expected to present the Parliament with a report on the debate imminently.

Drone surveillance used for arrests

Vice News reports that the arrest of three Black Lives Matter protestors in Arizona was assisted by drone surveillance. This follows reports that a Predator drone was circling Minneapolis last month to monitor protests. While these drones are unarmed, they provoke fresh questions about how the technologies used to surveil and control populations abroad may “come home to roost.”