“Even one child death from drone missiles or suicide bombings is one child death too many. Children have no place in war and all parties should do their utmost to protect children from violent attacks at all times.” Sarah Crowe UNICEF
US: Strikes Kill Civilians in Yemen Youtube video by Human Rights Watch
Names and ages of some of the children killed in drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen
Remote Killing of Civilians
The US has used armed drones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and recently in the Philippines. Over 200 children have already been killed in these strikes since 2004. See The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
There are around 60 military and CIA bases around the world connected to the drone programme and more are being planned.
The UK is currently using armed drones in Afghanistan and piloted US drones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Israel has used armed drones against Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Palestine
175 children have already been killed by US drones, 160 of them in Pakistan Read more
Despite claims that drone warfare is more precise, a recent study shows that in Afghanistan drone strikes have caused 10 times more civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft.
What are drones?
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They are aircraft which are either controlled by pilots on the ground, often thousands of miles away from the action, or are programmed to function autonomously without any direct human control. Drones can be used for reconnaissance and surveillance or to drop missiles and bombs.
Pilotless aircraft have been experimented with since the World War I. The first ‘aerial torpedo’ was the Kettering Bug first flown in 1918 but developed too late to be of use in the war. By World War II, radio-controlled surveillance and assault drones had been developed by the US Navy. In 1942 an assault drone successfully delivered a torpedo attack from a distance of 20 miles but their utilisation remained limited. The use of drones for reconnaissance took off during the Vietnam war but it was the 1980s which saw a significant development in their military use. The Predator RQ-1L, made by General Atomics was deployed in the Balkans in 1995, in Iraq in 1996 and Afghanistan from 2001. This was followed by the development of the Reaper, (also known as Predator B) which became operational in 2007.
The drones are used for three main purposes:
- to support ground troops under attack by launching missiles and bombs from the air;
- to give 24 hr a day surveillance of the ground – observing the ‘pattern of life’;
- to conduct targeted killings.
Watch Youtube video
The MQ-9 Reaper carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles (including the Thermobaric version AGM- 114N), the AIM-9 Sidewinder and recently, the GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) Testing is underway to support the operation of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile. The Reaper can remain for 14 – 16 hours in the air.
UK use of drones
The Royal Air Force operates General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, carrying GBU-12 Paveway 11 precision guided bimbs and AGM-14 Hellfire air to surface missiles. The Government is refusing to disclose how many of the 84 Hellfire missiles launched from Reaper drones have been the AGM-14N (thermobaric) missiles.
- There have now been over 418 drone strikes in Afghanistan by British Reaper crews
- Hellfire missiles are three times more likely to be used than the 500lb bomb
- British Reaper drones have flown more than 50 000 hours in Afghanistan, averaging 3 sorties a day
- British drone sorties are 3 times more likely to result in a missile strike than US
- British drone operations are shrouded in secrecy
An RAF drones squadron has been based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire since April 2013. British armed Reaper drones are piloted from there and from Creech US Air Force Base in Nevada. The UK Reaper capability has been doubled to 10 aircraft.
The MoD has recently set up a new unmanned systems capability development centre (UASCDC) at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.
The WK450 Watchkeeper surveillance drone is a collaboration between Thales UK and Elbit. The first ten will be built in Israel and then production will be moved to Leicester in the UK. It is due to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 but is still delayed. It is currently unarmed but this could change at a later date. In the meantime it will be used by the Royal Artillery along with a ‘loitering munition’ prowler bomb - a bomb which is fired up into the sky where it can loiter for up to ten hours until it is given the signal to plunge.
Thales UK also provides interim tactical UAV services using unarmed Hermes 450s leased from the Israeli firm Elbit.
BAE Systems are also developing their own armed UAV, Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder.
How the use of drones is extending the war on terror and unaccountable killing
The US use of drones is helping to extend the war on terror into Africa whilst evading accountability to congress under the provisions of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. For example, US operations in Libya did not involve “…sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor [did] they involve U.S. ground troops.” The Obama administration is increasingly using the CIA and Joint Service Operations Command (JSOC) to conduct drone strikes and be the invisible army on the ground. There are concerns that the UK is assisting such missions with intelligence and logistical support through its intelligence services and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The US may also be using RAF bases at Waddington and Croughton for piloting and communication.
Is the use of armed drones compatible with International Human Rights Law?
Many people are questioning the legality of drone warfare, especially its role in often secretive and unaccountable counter-terrorism missions.