Remote Warfare Roundup 006

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

UK RAF purchases ‘Protector’ drones

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has signed a £65m contract with General Atomics for three ‘Protector’ drones. Delivering a “step change in capability” for the RAF, Wallace declared the Protector drones “will upgrade a whole range of lethal capabilities allowing us to control, protect and manage the battlespace from the air for hours on end.” Most notably, this is the first Remotely-Piloted System (RPS) in the RAF certified to fly in busy, unsegregated airspace (which includes civilian airspace).

Drone Wars UK have produced a valuable briefing on the new Protector drones. They note the justification for purchasing these drones “in order to equip UK intelligence agencies and British Armed forces with the capabilities they need to keep the streets of Britain safe.” Combined with its ability to operate in civilian airspace, this raises questions over their potential use for domestic surveillance. Drone Wars UK also note that General Atomics regard the UK as a key gateway to further sales in Europe – is this the thin end of the wedge?

Tracking and Investigating Civilian Harm

The latest position paper from the PAX Protection of Civilians team lays out the challenges and opportunities for tracking and investigating instances of civilian harm. Practices of remote warfare have made it harder for militaries to adequately monitor and record civilian casualties resulting from their operations. Overhead surveillance, for example, rarely shows the full extent of damage. Just as wars are increasingly fought from a distance, however, the rise of remote-sensing technologies and open-source intelligence (OSINT) similarly enables them to be monitored remotely.

The Good War Podcast

A new podcast titled The Good War provides a five part reflection on the Netherlands’ use of remote warfare. Featuring extensive interviews with The Intimacies of Remote Warfare’s Lauren Gould and Wim Zwijnenburg of PAX, it provides timely scrutiny of remote warfare in the Dutch context ahead of the imminent delivery of four MQ-9 Reaper drones to the Netherlands.

Peter Thiel’s New Man In The Defense Department

The appointment of Michael Kratsios as the US Department of Defense acting undersecretary for research and engineering has been met with confusion and criticism. Kratsios, a 33 year old with no formal scientific education, replaces Michael Griffin, who holds a PhD in aerospace engineering and previously served as a NASA administrator. As the Pentagon’s “top techie,” however, his ties with Venture Capitalist and Trump supporter Peter Thiel may prove useful. Thiel has invested heavily in tech companies Palantir and Anduril, which are known to be chasing DoD technology contracts. This is consistent with Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s declaration that the DoD sought someone with experience “identifying and developing new technologies and working closely with a wide range of industry partners.” Kratsios may therefore play an important role in facilitating the development of an emerging Military-Technological Complex.

Reviewing the DoD’s new ex gratia payment policy

Annie Shiel has produced a concise but comprehensive review for Just Security of the new policy guiding ex gratia payments to civilians harmed as a result of US military operations. These payments are neither a replacement for formal accountability nor an adequate substitute for loss of life, but they can be “an important way for parties to a conflict to express contrition and recognize the agency and dignity of civilian victims who are so often forgotten in war.” While the new policy is commended for standardising this process and improving transparency, Shiel questions if “the wealthiest nation in the world, with a military budget in excess of $720 billion, could afford to compensate survivors more than the cost of the munition that killed their loved ones or destroyed their home.”

Counter-drone system goes after operators

A new counter-drone system developed by researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel is taking a novel approach to countering drones: tracking their flight paths to locate and target the operators. Using a deep neural network, researchers were able to accurately locate and identify the drone operator on the basis of the flight path taken by the drone 78% of the time. As well as reflecting the growing market for counter-drone measures, this is yet another example of how AI technologies may be incorporated into warfare.