Weekly Roundup 1/28

Dronestagram of the 1/26 drone strike in Somalia. Dronestagram is a project by James Bridle.
The location of the Jan. 26 drone strike in Somalia on the car carrying a commander of al Shabaab. Credit: Dronestagram (http://dronestagram.tumblr.com/), a project by James Bridle.

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

The First World War marked the birth of modern, mechanized warfare, and with it the emergence of aerial surveillance, which became a crucial tool in any military arsenal. Dan Gettinger examines the impact of all-seeing aerial surveillance and reconnaissance in the Great War, and compares it to the role of the drone on the contemporary battlefield.

On Tuesday, February 4 at 6:30 p.m., we will host a panel discussion on the legal, moral and ethical challenges of the drone war. The panel will feature Charles Blanchard, former General Counsel of the U.S. Air Force; Robert Grenier, former Director of the C.I.A. Counterterrorism Center and Kenneth Anderson, Professor of Law at Washington College of Law. The event is open to the public; registration is required. A live stream will be available.


An American drone strike in Somalia killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior commander of al Shabaab. Iskudhuq was a member of Amniyat, the group’s intelligence unit, which is responsible for selecting targets for attacks. The strike took place near the town of Barawe in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia. Several fighters who were accompanying Iskudhuq are also suspected to have been killed. (Long War Journal)

The Daily Mirror claimed that the American drone strike in Somalia was in fact aimed at Samantha Lewthwaite, a British citizen allied with al Shabaab and known as “the white widow.”

An American drone strike in Yemen killed three suspected militants. The strike targeted a car carrying the three men in the Obeida Valley region east of the capital Sanaa. (Al Arabiya)

Meanwhile, unnamed Yemeni officials claim that an American drone crashed near the town of al-Ghaydah in eastern Yemen, according to Foreign Policy Magazine. Three Yemeni military officers alleged that they had been ordered to move the debris to their camp.

Officials within the Obama administration are worried that the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will undermine U.S. drone strikes against al Qaeda leaders in neighboring Pakistan, according to The New York Times. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a security agreement guaranteeing the presence of coalition troops in the country has prompted the Obama administration to seek alternate launch sites for American drones.

Senior peers from the Britain’s Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic Parties are demanding a review of the government’s complicity in American drone strikes and surveillance practices. Amendments to the defense spending bill currently being debated in the House of Lords would require the government to create a new “scrutiny group” for each of the American military bases in the Great Britain. (The Independent)

Pakistan has launched an air offensive in North Waziristan, ostensibly in response to a series of car and motorcycle bombs that killed scores of civilians in the region. The Pakistani Air Force targeted Taliban hideouts and villages in several strikes that residents claim have killed a large number of civilians. (Al Jazeera)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pocket vetoed a bill regulating drone use in the state. The bill, S2702, would have required law enforcement officers to obtain warrants before using drones, and would have outlawed weaponized drones. The bill was passed with overwhelming majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly. (NJ.com)

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has counted four confirmed civilian deaths in 27 suspected American drone strikes in Pakistan in 2013. This is the lowest number of civilian deaths in any year since the program began in 2004. (Reuters)

According to General Robert Cone, head of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the Army is planning to reduce troop numbers and increase its robotic and unmanned systems force. “I’ve got clear guidance to think about what if you could robotically perform some of the tasks in terms of maneuverability, in terms of the future of the force,” said Cone at the Army Aviation Symposium on January 15. (Defense News)

The Global Hawk Block 30, a high-altitude surveillance drone, is predicted to win substantial funding in the Air Force’s fiscal 2015 budget submission. While the Air Force initially supported funding for the U-2 spy plane instead of the Global Hawk, unnamed sources claim that now it is the U-2 that will suffer budget cuts. (Defense News)

New York State Senator Greg Ball has proposed a bill to regulate the use of drones. The bill prohibits the warantless use of surveillance drones, and sets guidelines for the lawful use of drones. (Bedford Daily Voice)

In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, Michael Toscano, the president of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems Industry, urged the Administration to allow “limited use” of drones in rural areas. Toscano worries that delays in the creation of FAA regulations for integrating drones into the domestic airspace would “hinder the industry.” (The Hill)

Meanwhile, the FAA grounded a small quadcopter drone operated by the town of Lakewood, Ohio, as town officials had not requested authorization to operate it. According to Cleveland.com, Lakewood officials planned to use the drone to monitor storm water discharges and erosion at the local lake.

Commentary, Analysis and Art

In a new report, the Center for a New American Security urges the U.S. military to develop an advanced robotic force in order to maintain its preeminence on the future global stage. “A warfare regime based on unmanned and autonomous systems has the potential to change our basic core concepts of defense strategy, including deterrence, reassurance, dissuasion and compellence,” write CNAS CEO and Vice President Robert O. Work and Shawn Brimley.

At Al Jazeera, Iona Craig examines why an American drone strike on a Yemeni wedding party went so wrong. “But the silence out of Washington, and its disconnect from the anger in al-Baydah, may have been an even greater boon to the militants,” writes Craig.

At Make Magazine, Goli Mohammadi interviews the Drone Dudes, a Los Angeles-based aerial film and photography collective that was recently hired by Nike to make the snowboarding video “Never Not.”

At the annual meeting of South Dakota Wheat Growers, Robert Blair, a farmer from Idaho, argued that the agriculture community “has not had a seat at the table” in the Federal Aviation Administration’s efforts to establish guidelines for domestic drone use.

At the United States Naval Institute, Commander Chris Rawley of the U.S. Navy, explains why he anticipates that autonomous machines will take on a larger operational role at sea.

The Huffington Post features a college student’s drone-captured aerial photos of a frozen Lake Michigan.

At Vice Magazine, Abubakr Al-Shamahi explores Yemeni citizens’ resentment toward American drone strikes.

At Motherboard, Brian Anderson describes how, over the past few years, former American General Stanley McChrystal has emerged as an “unlikely critic” of the drone war.

Also at Motherboard, Arthur Holland Michel profiles Ben FitzGerald, a Kafka-loving security analyst “with a magnificent copper-colored beard” who is urging the U.S. military to develop swarms of 3-D printed drones.

At Foreign Policy magazine, Micah Zenko argues that new technologies such as drones, rather than policies, are creating an age of constant conflict. “These technologies greatly change the calculus for civilian officials, and they have lowered the threshold for when presidents authorize the use of force,” writes Zenko.

Also at Foreign Policy, Gordon Lubold discusses why Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has not decided whether to award medals to drone pilots.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs released a report on drone use by Latin American countries, highlighting the rapid proliferation of unmanned technologies across the region.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism examines the past five years of American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

Know Your Drone

The Desert Research Institute, a Nevada-based environmental research group, hopes that its cloud-seeding drone will bring more snowfall to the Tahoe/Truckee region in California, a popular ski destination. (Elko Daily)

Officials in Gujarat, India announced that they would deploy a drone over the Republic Day parade in order to provide a live, bird’s-eye view of the event. (Business Standard)

Design company Frog Design has developed a concept for a drone that flies with cyclists to help prevent collisions with cars. The Cyclodrone will warn oncoming traffic of the presence of a cyclist and will record video footage of any riding incidents. (Motherboard)

Vishwa Robotics, a Massachusetts-based company, has created mechanical leg systems that enable robots to perch on branches and walk like birds. (New Scientist)

Writing for Make Magazine, Mark Harrison argues that pool noodles happen to be great for making drones.

Wired takes an inside look at a European technology consortium’s efforts to create pilotless commercial aircraft.

Have some spare time on your hands? The current issue of Make Magazine features detailed instructions for how to make your own drone.

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