General Ned Ludd  

for action against

technology 'hurtful to Commonality'


The Rise of the Drone

Over the past decade we have witnessed the growing use of armed drones by the US and British military and it is estimated that as many as 60 other countries are developing their own drones. Utilising a range of technological developments the US and the UK have been able to undertake armed strikes, Drone firing missilesuch as the ‘targeted killing’ of militants in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya by remotely piloting Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) via a network of military hardened satellites, while sitting thousands of miles away in air-conditioned trailers. In 2010, for the first time, the US trained more drone pilots than conventional pilots, many of whom whill have grown up on computer games, but are now given responsibility to blow up real people and buildings. Over the past few years, there have been many credible reports of innocent civilians being among the thousands of victims of drone strikes.

This new ability to conduct ‘remote war’, which removes one of the key restraints on launching wars - the risk to one’s own forces - is likely to mean more wars around the globe. It has also been suggested that the insulation of the pilots from the damage they cause seems likely to encourage them to be trigger-happy.

Besides increasing the likelihood of war, drone technology is also having an impact on the way armed conflicts are undertaken. The sheer amount of video and other intelligence that is currently being produced by the current generation of unmanned aerial systems (commonly known as drones) in Afghanistan is overwhelming analysts. And this is before the new ‘Gorgon Stare’ ability, which enables vastly more date to be produced from drones, is widely introduced. Marine Corps General James Cartwright, Vice Chair of the US Military Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggests that the amount of data produced is “boring intelligence analysts to tears.” (Washington Post 9/11/10) The answer, according to Cartwright, is more technology to solve the problem and indeed there are many corporations lining up to provide new technological ways to process video feeds.  “Within three years,” says John Delay of Harris Corp “it will be technically feasible to run sophisticated algorithms to extract relevant essence data from the content” . Drones can of course also be used for domestic surveillance as well as foreign wars. , At present this is not allowed in the UK partly due to the high incidence of crashes , but the drone industry is pressing the authorities hard to relax the rules.

Elsewhere military scientists are suggesting other ways for humans to be able to cope with the vast amount of information and data that machines are producing. According to a 2010 report from the Office of The USAF Chief Scientist, Technology Horizons: A Vision for Air Force Science & Technology During 2010-2030, “by 2030 machine capabilities will have increased to the point that humans will have become the weakest component in a wide array of systems and processes.” The answer, according to the report, is that:

humans and machines will have to work more closely through new types of interfaces and by directly augmenting human performance. This could include drugs or implants to improve memory, alertness and cognition. The service is even considering the use of human brain waves or genetics to control and manage systems. While some such methods may appear inherently distasteful... developing ways of using science and technology to augment human performance will become increasingly essential for gaining the benefits that many technologies can bring... Such augmentation is a further means for increasing human efficiencies...” (Full report available)

Worrying as all this is, military planners, scientists and researchers are also pushing towards greater autonomy for unmanned systems, with some even arguing that the autonomous systems themselves will be better at making the decision about when and where to fire weapons. Gordon Johnson of the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon, for example, commenting on the growth of robotic systems suggests:

They don't get hungry. They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."

While the technology for fully autonomous systems utilising Artificial Intelligence is still some way off (10- 15 years according to a recently published MoD report on unmanned systems) some in the military are already looking forward to such a system being deployed. However, such a prospect raises huge issues: it is hard to imagine a drone being able to distinguish between combatants and civilians, or be proportionate in the amount of force it uses. Since a machine can obviously not be held responsible, fighting wars like this would be a very convenient way for the military to avoid responsibility for civilian deaths and war crimes.

From October 1 to October 8, 2011 of the UK Drone Campaign Network is holding the first of what will hopefully be an annual week of action against drones. Meanwhile, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, is trying to encourage an international arms control regime.

Chris Cole

Drone Wars UK

For more information about drones see here

Drones Campaign Network

International Committee for Robot Arms Control

Fellowship of Reconciliation Briefing

Ground the Drones Now

VCNV Drone Warfare Awareness and Resistance Resources