Weekly Roundup 11/25


At the Center for the Study of the Drone

Unmanned technology is having a transformative effect on military dynamics, tactics and strategy, but will it bring about a total revolution in military affairs? To find the answer, Dan Gettinger considers the influential Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) theory and tests it against military history from the Battle of Agincourt to the First Gulf War.

Iran recently unveiled the Fotros, a long endurance military drone capable of carrying out air-to-ground missile attacks. The Fotros joins an astounding variety of military drones that Iran began developing in the early 1980s. Arthur Holland Michel brings together Iran’s colorful array of military drones, some of which are more credible than others.


A suspected American drone strike in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa killed six people, including two alleged commanders of the Haqqani network. American officials denied Pakistani officials’ claims that the strike targeted an Islamic seminary. The strike was only the fourth known lethal U.S. drone operation to have ever occurred outside of the country’s northwestern tribal areas. (Washington Post)

Following the drone strike, an estimated 10,000 people gathered in the nearby city of Peshawar to protest American drone operations. The protesters blocked a NATO supply caravan by taking over a toll booth and checking the information of the truck drivers. The event was organized by the political party Tehreek-e-Insaf, whose leader, Imran Khan, is an outspoken critic of drone operations. (Bloomberg)

The Peshawar protests were followed by an anti-drone protest in the Pakistani city of Karachi in support of the blockade of NATO supply lines. The Karachi protest was organized by the political party Jamaat-e-Islami. (Tribune Express)

Three suspected al-Qaeda members in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) were killed in the first recorded drone strike in Yemen in several months. The men were killed in the eastern Hadramout province, which is a bastion of AQAP and the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden. (The Long War Journal)

Meanwhile, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni man, visited Washington seeking answers as to why his nephew and brother-in-law were killed in a drone strike in 2012. After listening to Jaber’s story, California Democrat Adam B. Schiff remarked, “it really puts a human face on the term ‘collateral damage.’” (New York Times)

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee approved a new national security bill, but rejected two amendments by Representative Adam Schiff that would have tightened congressional oversight of U.S. drone operations. One amendment called for an independent review to be carried out before any lethal targeting operation against an American citizen; the other would have required the administration to compile an annual report on casualties caused by drones strikes. (The Hill)

China unveiled the Lijian (“Sharp Sword”), the country’s first jet-powered stealth attack drone. According to Xu Guangyu, a former Chinese officer and now a member of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, the drone “will let maritime departments keep abreast of developments in the East and South China seas.” The Lijian resembles the American X-47B, a carrier-based long-range attack aircraft. (USA Today)

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the maker of the Predator drone, may have to lay off a quarter of its staff. “We’re still working off the fiscal 2012 buy, but eventually if we can’t make some more overseas sales or sell to the Marines or something like that, we’ll have to cut back staff,” said Frank Pace, president of General Atomics’ Aircraft Systems Group. (Reuters)

A group of European nations announced an agreement to create what French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called a “drone users club” to drive drone development and production on the continent. While European defense contractors actively produce components for drones, they lag behind the United States and Israel in developing full native platforms. Defense Minister Le Drian promised a “European generation” of drones within ten years. (Washington Post)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At the New Yorker, Burkhard Bilger has a lengthy essay on the rapid emergence of driverless cars. “If driverless cars were once held back by their technology, then by ideas, the limiting factor now is the law,” writes Bilger.

The Center for Law and Security at New York University hosted “Law and Strategy in the Era of Evolving Threats,” a one day conference that examined the intersection of national security law and national security strategy.

At the Diplomat blog, Zachary Keck takes a closer look at China’s new stealth drone.

In light of the latest drone strike, Robert Chesney considers whether U.S. drone operations in Yemen are subject to the “imminence” constraint that the Obama administration has drafted for the use of lethal force. It is possible, writes Chesney, that “the administration considers Yemen to be an ‘area of active hostilities,’ akin to Afghanistan, such that this particular policy constraint does not apply.” (Lawfare)

In a letter to the U.N., Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to the international body, argues that lethal drones raise a host of ethical concerns. “Decisions over life and death are uniquely difficult decisions, a heavy responsibility for a human being, and one fraught with challenges,” writes Tomasi. “Yet it is a decision for which a person, capable of moral reasoning, is uniquely suited. An automated system, pre-programmed to respond to given data inputs, ultimately relies on its programming rather than on an innate capacity to tell right from wrong.”

Aerial photographer Clay Folden uses a quadcopter drone to film some of America’s favorite vacation spots. (Huffington Post)

Al Jazeera’s Alia Chughtai interviews four Pakistani artists who use art to depict violence, particularly drone-related violence. “And the drone attacks, the sectarian violence, the bomb blasts: they have a deep impact on me, which comes out in my art,” says artist Aamir Habib.

At Business Insider, Brian Jones writes about how President John F. Kennedy’s older brother died while testing remote-controlled aircraft during the Second World War.

Writing for The New York Times, John Markoff reports on an October conference in which robo-ethicists considered problems that could arise from the rapid development of military robotic systems.

Also in the Times, Leslie Kaufman and Ravi Somaiya report on how drones offered journalists a better opportunity to record the damage from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Know Your Drone

Researchers at New York University have developed a small flying robot with a flight mechanism inspired by jellyfish. According to the developers, the design makes the drone extremely stable, without requiring the addition of sensors that are found on most drones. (New Scientist)

Piaggio Aero, the Italian manned aircraft manufacturer, has conducted a successful test flight of the P.1HH HammerHead, Italy’s first Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drone. Unlike many drones, the HammerHead is based on the design of an existing manned aircraft. (Flight Global)

Saab, the Swedish manufacturer of aircraft and defense systems, announced that it intends to produce a MALE drone of its own. Saab already produces the Skeldar, a small unmanned military helicopter. (Swedish Wire)

Researchers at Wake Forest University are set to begin using drones to monitor climate change in the Amazon rainforest. “This will allow us for the first time to see how individual canopies are functioning on a landscape level to fix carbon and release oxygen and water,” said Max Messinger, a biology graduate student at Wake Forest. (Science Daily)

Inspired by multirotor drones, researchers in Germany have developed a manned helicopter with 18 rotors that uses far less energy than traditional helicopters. (sUAS News)

Pakistan has inducted its first two native military drones, the Burraq and the Shahpar. (The Express Tribune)

United Arab Emirates-based drone manufacturer Adcom has begun accepting orders for its Global Yabhon military drone, which has an 85-ft wingspan and can carry torpedoes and cruise missiles. (Aviation Week)

Photo: Supporters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a religious group and U.N. designated terrorist organization, protest drones in Peshawar. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

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