Weekly Roundup 5/13

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

The April issue of Harper’s Magazine featured a 16-page folio of drone-captured photos by dutch photographer Tomas van Houtryve. “Blue Sky Days,” a series of aerial photographs of everyday scenes in the U.S., is the longest portfolio in the magazine’s 164-year history. In an extensive interview with Dan Gettinger and Arthur Holland Michel, van Houtryve discusses his intervention into the public drone debate; “with previous wars that the U.S. has been involved in, there has been a large part where visual journalists have played a role, whether in the Normandy landings or the Vietnam War, and here there isn’t one, and the mainstream media doesn’t seem to be playing much of a role. There was a huge hole in our understanding and the presence of this war in the public’s eye.”

This week, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is hosting Unmanned Systems 2014, the largest trade convention for drones and robotics, in Orlando, Florida. We’ll be on the ground, live-tweeting the most interesting things we see. Follow us on Twitter for updates, photos, “Overheard at AUVSI” and more!


A U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed at least five suspected al-Qaeda militants. According to state media sources, the strike, which took place in the Maarib province of eastern Yemen, hit a car carrying members of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, the regional al-Qaeda affiliate. The strike follows a series of similar drone strikes by the United States, in addition to a broad military offensive by the Yemeni government in the South. (BBC)

The United States signed an agreement extending the lease on Camp Lemonnier, a base in Djibouti that served as the home of American drones used in targeted killing strikes in Yemen, until earlier this year. At the request of the Djiboutian government, the U.S. moved the drones to a nearby airfield due to safety concerns. Camp Lemonnier will continue to serve as the base for American counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa. (New York Times)

The Iranian government said that it has successfully reverse-engineered a captured American surveillance drone, adding that it will soon begin test flights. In December 2011, Iran announced that it had captured an RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealth surveillance drone built by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Air Force. At the time, American officials said that the drone, which was being used to spy on Iranian nuclear installations, crashed due to a technical malfunction, while Iranian officials declared they had hacked into the Sentinel’s GPS system. (Yahoo News)

The White House will give American lawmakers expanded access to the secret memos that justify the 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American. The move comes as members of Congress threaten to block the nomination of David Barron, a lawyer who has previously with the Department of Justice, to a federal appellate court. Barron was the principal author of at least one of the al-Awlaki memos for the D.O.J. (Washington Post)

An official at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said that a small drone nearly collided with an airliner in March. At a lecture at the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo, Joe Williams, head of the F.A.A.’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems office, said that, according to a pilot’s report, a small unmanned aircraft flying at 2,300 feet came close to a “midair collision” with an airliner near Tallahassee Airport, Florida. (CNN)

Fourteen news organizations filed an amicus brief accusing the F.A.A. of infringing on First Amendment rights. The organizations, which included the New York Times and Associated Press, wrote that the ban on flying commercial drones was having an “an impermissible chilling effect” on newsgathering. The brief was filed in support of Raphael Pirker, a hobbyist and filmmaker who was fined $10,000 by the F.A.A. for commercially flying a drone. (Wall Street Journal)

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Britain’s largest conservation group, has begun using a quadcopter UAV to keep tabs on endangered species. The drone, which is equipped with thermal and wide-angle cameras, as well as a radio tracking system, is intended to monitor migration patterns and the progress of reintroduced avian species. “The alternative is having eight or ten people trampling through a reed bed in knee-high waders causing a lot of disturbance,” Nigel Butcher, the technical development officer for the RSPB, said in an interview with The Guardian.

The United States and Japan will begin joint drone patrols to monitor North Korea and China later this month. The patrols by USAF Global Hawk drones based at Misawa Air Base in Japan come as tensions with China over the Senkaku Islands remain high and as North Korea continues to threaten that it will conduct more missile tests. Japan plans to purchase three Global Hawks, a surveillance drone that flies at 60,000 feet. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At the Los Angeles Times, Ken Dilanian compares the attitudes at the C.I.A. and the Department of Defense in regards to what are considered lawful targets for drone strikes.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, argues that the Obama administration should release Department of Justice memos that justify the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike.

Meanwhile, at Lawfare blog, Benjamin Wittes deconstructs Sen. Paul’s op-ed in the New York Times and examines the issue of the D.O.J. memos.

Satellite photos of Israeli-made military surveillance Heron drones at a Turkish air base are available at Open Source Imagery Intelligence blog.

At NBC News, Nidhi Subbaraman explores the long-term implications of a lawsuit against the F.A.A. by a civilian group in Texas that uses drones to aid search-and-rescue operations.

At War is Boring blog, David Axe and cartoonist Matt Bors explain in pictures the escalation of drone wars and targeted killing operations.

At Foreign Affairs, Denise Garcia argues that killer robots should be banned. “If other countries successfully develop and acquire them, though, the United States could lose the battlefield advantages that it counts on now,” writes Garcia.

At Defense One, Patrick Tucker argues that “virtually every country on Earth will be able to build or acquire drones capable of firing missiles within the next ten years.”

In the May-June edition of the Air and Space Power Journal, Capt. Michael W. Byrnes, USAF, promotes the idea that computer-controlled small, lethal drones could easily beat human pilots in air-to-air combat.

In the weekly podcast at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a Yemeni politician discusses his country’s cooperation with the United States on security matters.

Fast Company named Gur Kimchi and Daniel Buchmueller second in a list of the most creative people of 2014. The pair lead Amazon Prime Air, a project to deliver packages by drone.

Know Your Drone

Popular hobby drone manufacturer Parrot has unveiled a new consumer model equipped with a 14 megapixel wide-angle camera. The Bebop drone, which can be controlled from a smartphone, is designed to maximize stability in order to collect sharper, clearer footage. (USA Today)

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman and Japanese company Yamaha have announced a partnership to develop a small vertical takeoff and landing drone for search and rescue missions. (Aviation International News)

A researcher at Imperial College London has developed a small drone capable of rudimentary 3-D printing. The drone could be used to seal and transport nuclear waste. (New Scientist)

European airline EasyJet has announced plans to use small, camera-equipped drones to monitor its fleet for external damage. (The Guardian)

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announced that their deepwater submersible drone imploded at a depth of 10,000 meters while exploring the Kermadec Trench off the coast of New Zealand. (Live Science)

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