Weekly Roundup 11/4


At the Center for the Study of the Drone

While aerial drones dominate the media spotlight, their lowly ground-based counterparts are quickly developing and proliferating around the world, with profound consequences for the future of warfighting. We explore the strange ecosystem of military Unmanned Ground Vehicles.


A drone strike in North Waziristan killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud was responsible for numerous attacks on Pakistani soldiers and civilians, the attempted Times Square bombing in 2009 and a bombing in 2010 that killed seven American CIA employees in eastern Afghanistan. The strike came only days after the Pakistani government attempted to restart peace negotiations with the Taliban. (Washington Post)

Following the strike, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, announced that the killing of Mehsud had eliminated the prospect of peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban. (The Express Tribune)

The Pakistani Ministry of Defence released new figures showing that 67 civilians have been killed by American drone strikes since 2008. This latest estimate is significantly lower than previous official tallies, which put the total number of victims at over 400. (New York Times)

Ibrahim Ali Abdi, a senior member of al Shabab, was killed in a drone strike in Somalia. Abdi was the leading explosives expert of al Shabab; he had specialized in constructing suicide vests and car bombs since 2008. American officials denied that the strike was a response to the al Shabab attack on a shopping mall in Kenya in September. (Los Angeles Times)

An Israeli drone crashed in Gaza. In a statement Hamas explained that it had “seized the aircraft,” which the Israeli Defense Forces claim had crashed due to technical failure. (USA Today)

This year has seen a dramatic spike in venture capital funding for the drone industry in the U.S., the Washington Post reported. So far this year, drone-related startups have received $40.9 million from funders.

The family of Momina Bibi, a 67-year-old woman killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in 2012, spoke during an American Congressional hearing on the civilian impact of drone warfare. “What I want to tell people is that by using violence, this is not the solution,” said Rafiq ur Rehman, the son of Momina Bibi. (MSNBC)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At Lawfare Blog, Robert Chesney considers the legal basis for targeting the al Shabab bombmaker Ibrahim Ali. “[T]his attack should be understood as consistent with the status quo if that was indeed the underlying legal theory,” writes Chesney.

Also at Lawfare, Lauren Bateman offers an update on recent developments in the ACLU’s legal efforts to obtain more information about drone strikes from the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act.

Two fighter pilots, writing for Foreign Policy, argue that drones will never completely replace manned military aircraft.  The authors predict that unmanned combat aircraft will likely only serve in support roles for manned aircraft. “Human pilots physically located in an aircraft still represent an infinitely more adaptable platform and are irreplaceable when considering the high-threat environments of future wars,” they write.

The Scientific American profiles the drone pilot Raphael Pirker, who was fined $10,000 for flying his drone over the campus of the University of Virginia.

Unmanned: America’s Drone War, a new documentary by Robert Greenwald, explores the civilian toll of drone warfare in Pakistan.

At Mother Jones, Jeremy Scahill argues that the legacy of the Obama presidency will be tainted by drone strikes.

Know Your Drone

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire are using drones to detect fungal infection in apples. (Modern Farmer)

DARPA wants to equip drones with lasers that can destroy missiles. The Defense Department’s research wing awarded defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman $26 million to develop the lasers. (Wired)

General Atomics has upgraded the Predator drone so that it can jam enemy radar and launch electronic attacks as well as Hellfire missiles. (Motherboard)

An international team of researchers have conducted a study to examine how bees use visual cues to make successful landings with little situational information. The team hopes to use this research to develop drone landing systems. (Links to study report)

BBC News profiles the Global Hawk high-altitude spy drone.

Lockheed Martin released images of a proposed successor to its manned SR-71 Blackbird stealth surveillance aircraft. The SR-72 concept is predicted to reach Mach 6.0, and is noticeably missing a cockpit. (Flight Global)

The Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in Lausanne, Switzerland is developing a drone that can crash into objects and keep on flying. (Motherboard)

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