Weekly Roundup 2/10

Highway FIxed
An image from the Drone Center’s Domestic Surveillance project.

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

As the war in Afghanistan winds down and the U.S. risks losing its bases for drone operations in neighboring Pakistan, President Obama is increasingly turning his attention to Somalia and its resident Al Qaeda affiliate, the al Shabab. Dan Gettinger examines how Obama’s counterterrorism tactics in Somalia open a new chapter in the War on Terror.


The Obama administration is deciding whether to conduct a drone strike against a U.S. citizen who is suspected of plotting attacks against the U.S. The alleged terrorist, whose name and country of residence have been withheld by the Associated Press upon request of the White House, is directly responsible for previous attacks on U.S. interests abroad, according to two U.S. officials. The officials explained that the target’s country of residence refuses to allow U.S. military action within its borders. (Associated Press)

According to Britain’s Ministry of Defence, Royal Air Force pilots have fired missiles from American drones in Afghanistan at least 39 times. The new figures from the MoD, the result of a Freedom of Information request by advocacy group Drone Wars UK, show that British air crews flew American Predator and Reaper drones on 2,150 occasions between 2006 and 2012, in addition to the missions that the RAF flew with its own fleet of 10 Reaper drones. (The Guardian)

The Australian government is reconsidering an aborted plan to purchase six or seven U.S. MQ-4C Triton high-altitude surveillance drone. The Triton, which is made by Northrop Grumman, can fly at an altitude of 55,000 feet for 30 hours and costs approximately $100 million. “It’s almost a no-brainer,” said Australian Defense Minister David Johnston. (Wall Street Journal)

A Palestinian militant was critically injured in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Sunday, the third such strike this year. (New York Times)

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating reports of a drone hovering above a fatal car wreck in Hartford, Connecticut. According to Motherboard, Pedro Rivera, a journalist at radio station WFSB, was flying the drone as a hobbyist, and not as an employee of the station. Following the incident, Rivera was suspended from work, but he has since been reinstated.

A judge in DeWitt, New York, convicted 12 anti-drone protesters of disorderly conduct. The protesters, who are members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, were arrested during a demonstration at Hancock Air Base in October 2012. The defendants were sentenced to 15 days in prison for blocking the entrance to the base. (Syracuse Post-Standard)

The Aviation Department of the University of Louisiana at Monroe will begin offering a concentration in drone piloting. (Sun-Herald)

The Customs and Border Patrol resumed drone operations after grounding its entire fleet following the crash of one of its Predator unmanned aircraft off the coast of San Diego on January 28. The $12 million Predator crashed after a generator failure, according to initial findings in an investigation into the incident. (Reuters)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At the Washington Post, Craig Timberg writes about the use of persistent, wide-area surveillance cameras by American law enforcement agencies. “[A] new, far more powerful generation [of cameras] is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time,” writes Timberg.

Also at the Post, Abigail Hauslohner reports that U.S. drone strikes in Yemen are fueling anger and mistrust among the Yemeni population. According to Hauslohner, critics of the strikes accuse the Yemeni government of using American drones to remove political enemies.

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Micah Zenko summarizes U.N. reports on Afghan civilian deaths in recent years, and reports that he has identified an increase in the number of civilians killed in drone strikes.

In “Drones: A Power to Kill,” former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argues for the U.S. government to enact strict oversight structures to regulate targeted killing operations.

In response to the former Attorney General’s paper, Lawfare blog’s Steve Vladeck argues that the value of Gonzales’ essay is a “defense of judicial review of targeted killings that is far more robust than it might appear at first blush.”

Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald describe the various tactics that the National Security Agency deploys in support of targeted killing operations, including the use of cell phone metadata to track and locate targets for drone strikes. (The Intercept)

In The Military Balance 2014, an annual review of global military capabilities, the International Institute for Security Studies devotes a chapter to the impact that unmanned systems will have on militaries worldwide.

In the United States Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, Lieutenant Matthew Hipple argues that the Navy should develop defensive drones in addition to the offensive platforms currently in use and under development.

The Apple Store has approved Metadata+, an iPhone app that tracks American drone strikes. Apple previously rejected the program five times. Metadata+ uses the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s archive of drone strikes to provide “real-time updates on national security.” (Al-Jazeera America)

The Spanish newspaper ABC Viajar features an aerial view of Madrid that was created using footage from a quadcopter drone.

Kenneth Anderson and Benjamin Wittes ask, “What, If Anything, Is Strategically New About Weaponized Drones?”

At the Lexington Institute, Dr. Daniel Goure wonders if Google’s acquisition of several robotics companies will turn the Internet giant into “America’s number one defense company.”

Writing for the BBC, Katia Moskvitch considers how vulnerable drones are to hacking. “Using equipment costing less than $2,000,” writes Moskvitch, researchers have “mimicked the unencrypted signals sent to the GPS receiver on board a small university-owned drone.”

At the New York Times, Armando L. Sanchez visits retired U.S. Air Force General Robert H. Latiff’s college class on the ethics of emerging technologies in war. (See the class syllabus and readings here.)

Following Obama’s curtailment of drone strikes in Pakistan, Mother Jones asks six unanswered questions about the targeted killing program.

At Motherboard, Jason Koebler looks at 13 companies that are being “harassed” by the Federal Aviation Administration for using drones for commercial purposes.

Also at Motherboard, Derek Mead describes how journalists in El Salvador used drones to monitor voting during the recent presidential election.

At Esquire, Lt. Col. Robert Bateman argues that combat drones will soon be more accurate than human fighter pilots at hitting targets.

Know Your Drone

British defense contractor BAE systems has released footage of its Taranis supersonic stealth combat drone during test flights over the Australian desert.

An Israeli designer has created a robotic tumbleweed that autonomously roams deserts to gather data on desertification. (Wired)

According to Popular Science, defense contractor Lockheed Martin is hoping to convince the U.S. military to deploy the company’s robotic trucks to Afghanistan, where the impending troop withdrawal will require the removal of large amounts of supplies and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin signed an agreement to jointly develop unmanned aircraft with AeroVironment, another U.S. drone manufacturer. The partnership allows AeroVironment to incorporate Lockheed’s mission and ground control technology into its aircraft. “Using our expertise in systems integration and AeroVironment’s knowledge of unmanned aircraft solutions, we will together look for opportunities,” said Lockheed Senior Vice President Paul Lemmo. (Los Angeles Times)

Defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries has developed a weaponized, unmanned boat. The Katana, which can also operate as a manned vessel, is designed for use in a variety of maritime operations, including surface and electronic warfare, patrol missions and vessel interception.

War is Boring blog has put together a guide to the world’s fighter drones.

A video game developer has announced its plans to use aerial drones to 3-D map the entire world in order to create a video game in which players can freely roam the planet.

Microsoft Research is funding a Swiss researcher’s project to develop aerial drones that can engage in sophisticated interactions with humans. (Robohub)

In a lecture at GITAM University, a top Indian military aeronautical engineer announced that India is “on track” in the development of a high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance drone. (The Hindu)

French automaker Renault has developed a concept car that comes with an accompanying aerial drone. (Motor Authority)

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