Weekly Roundup 9/21/15

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A Roboteam unmanned ground vehicle. Credit: Roboteam

9/14/15 – 9/20/15

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a drone bill that, if enacted, would have placed greater restrictions on drone use than any other piece of state legislation. The story of S.B. 142’s life and death is a window into the ways in which states are trying to limit drone use, as well as the measures that the the drone industry is taking to protect itself from onerous regulations. Here’s what you need to know.

News

A U.S. drone strike reportedly killed at least six individuals in Pakistan. The strike, which took place in South Waziristan, targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants. (Dawn)

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating an incident in which a child was injured in a drone crash in Los Angeles. The 11-month-old girl suffered cuts on her head when the operator lost control of the drone, according to local police. The operator, whose name has not yet been released, could face fines of up to $25,000 for flying recklessly. (Los Angeles Times)

India has concluded a deal to purchase $400 million worth of drones from Israel. Included in the deal are 10 Heron drones, a medium-altitude long-endurance drone made by Israel Aerospace Industries. The drones, which are armable, will augment the Indian Air Force’s fleet of Heron and Searcher drones. (Economic Times)

Roboteam, an Israeli company, has secured a deal to provide the U.S. Air Force with 250 Micro Tactical Ground Robots for bomb disposal operations. The $25 million deal is part of a contract that lasts until 2022. Roboteam beat out larger competitors including British firm QinetiQ and U.S contractor iRobot. (Defense News)

The FAA has banned drones from flying in areas surrounding Washington D.C., New York, and Philadelphia during Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. “Anyone flying a drone within the designated restricted areas may be subject to civil and criminal charges,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a statement.

A man was convicted in the United Kingdom for flying a drone over buildings and congested areas. Nigel Wilson, 42, faces a fine of $2,795 and is banned from owning or flying drones for two years. It was the first ever conviction issued in the U.K. for a drone-related offense. (Ars Technica)

Commentary, Analysis, and Art

At the Conversation, David Alpher offers a critique of American efforts to use drones in Syria to target the leaders of the Islamic State.

At Motherboard, Tim Maughan writes that China is increasingly using drones to advance its interests overseas.

At the Financial Times, Richard Barrett argues that the decision to kill two British citizens using drones in Syria was more “symbolism than substance.”

At the Times, John Simpson reports that GCHQ, Britain’s spy agency, hacked the phones of two British-born ISIS militants before they were killed in drone strikes.

At the Guardian, Owen Bowcott writes that Jeremy Wright, Britain’s attorney general, has refused to release opinions on the legality of the U.K.’s drone strikes that killed two British citizens.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Channel 4 News, Jeremy Corbyn, the new head of the Labour Party, said that the British drone strikes were “legally questionable.”

At the Intercept, Nick Turse argues that U.S. drone strikes amount to an assassination campaign.

At Hackaday, Chris Anderson argues that in order to prevent accidents and crashes, drones should be made smarter.

In a press conference at the 2015 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition, Gen. Mark Welsh III, the chief of staff of the Air Force, said that enlisted airmen could one day serve as drone pilots. (Air Force Times)

Meanwhile, during a lecture at the AFA Air and Space Conference, Lt. Col. Joseph Campo discussed his study of the emotional state of drone operators. (Air Force Times)

At Bookforum, Arthur Holland Michel reviews Objective Troy: a Terrorist, a President and the Rise of the Drone by Scott Shane.

At Forbes, Geoff Murray writes that the U.S. risks falling behind other countries in the race to introduce commercial drones.

At Space.com, Robin Murphy argues that if more permissive regulations were in place, drones could be used with great effect in disaster zones.

At the New York Times, Chris Dixon writes that remotely operated submersibles are increasingly taking the place of manned crafts in exploring the ocean depths.

The Uplink

In The Uplink, we ask an expert, policy maker, or insider to comment on a current event in the world of drones.

On August 21, the United Kingdom conducted a drone strike near Raqqa, in northern Syria, that killed two British citizens, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin. What is the significance of this strike and what does it mean for the U.K.’s anti-terror strategy?

Jack Serle, Reporter, Bureau of Investigative Journalism

On the face of it, the Royal Air Force’s August 21 drone strike in Syria is not much of a departure from what the U.K. has been doing in Iraq and what its allies have been doing in Syria since September 2014. It is not even the first time British citizens have been killed with drones—Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin are the ninth and tenth since 2008, according to our research. This was, however, the first RAF drone strike in a country where Britain was not at war and as such is a profound shift in U.K. targeting policy. The government justified the strike to parliament as a preemptive act of self-defence, stopping an imminent threat to Britain. However it is far from clear what that threat was. And it is far from clear what the U.K. government means by imminent. After the government announcement, the U.K. attorney general said, “we will have to think what imminence means in the context of the terrorism threat.” This is getting into the territory of the U.S.A.’s “broader concept of imminence”—one that does not require “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” The RAF has just 10 armed drones at its disposal and can barely field sufficient manned strike aircraft to support its operations over Iraq. But the August 21 strike has set a new precedent in British counter-terror strategy and targeting practices. And it is clear the government has plans to carry out more such unilateral strikes, albeit in a limited form.

Know Your Drone

U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin has announced that it is developing an unsolicited proposal for an unmanned successor to its U.S. Air Force high-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance jet, the U-2 Dragon Lady. (Flightglobal)

A team of researchers at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School has developed and successfully tested a system that allows a single pilot to control 50 drones simultaneously. (New Scientist)

Airbus Defence and Space has announced that it is developing a system to track and jam small drones at distances of up to 6 miles. (Air Force Technology)

According to unnamed officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon, Russia may be developing an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of carrying nuclear weapons.  

The British government is partnering with NASA to develop an air traffic management system for drones. (Ars Technica)

The U.S. Air Force is planning to expand its use of small unmanned aircraft, starting early next year. The USAF is interested in using small drones for swarming, among other tactics. (Breaking Defense)

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command announced that it plans to equip its AC-130 gunships with expendable small drones that can be launched mid-air to help track targets. (Defense Tech)

A San Francisco based startup is crowdfunding a small, user-friendly underwater drone. (Gizmag)

Chinese defense company Chengdu Aircraft Corporation has unveiled a new version of its Wing Loong armed medium altitude drone. (IHS Jane’s 360)

Drones at Work

Officials in the U.K. are warning that drones could undermine the security of prisons if used to smuggle in drugs and other illicit goods. (The Independent)

Russia is using drones to assert its territorial claims in the Arctic. (Motherboard)

A father used a drone to pull out his son’s loose tooth. (Popular Science)

A drone was used to survey the damage in central Chile caused by an 8.3-magnitude earthquake. (BBC)

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