After Israel Invades Nablus, Palestine Action Invades Israeli Drone Factory

by Days of Palestine, published on Popular Resistance, July 25, 2022

On Saturday night, Israeli military forces raided Nablus, armed with stun grenades and ammunition and killing two Palestinians and injuring 9 others. On Sunday, members of Palestine Action descended upon Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems’ factory in Shenstone, smashing and striking at the site exterior, throwing red paint, a message to the Israeli occupation and those who uphold it – the day has passed where your violence will go unchecked, prepare to be met with resistance every step of the way. Activists took action seeking to dismantle an industry built on occupation, dispossession and warfare across the globe.

A Palestine Action spokesperson said:

“Elbit drones are made in Britain, tested on Palestine then sold back to the British military, amongst others. The British military hold deep ties with Elbit – Britain is an accomplice in an international industry built on occupation, one where technlogy is suited not to meet human needs, but to further repression and terror. We can only cut these ties with direct action taken by the masses – ordinary people, willing to make sacrifices in order to end our collective complicity.”

The site in question is UAV Engines LTD. and has faced extensive action in the past, owing to its manufacture of components used in Elbit military drones such as the Watchkeeper UAV. A direct action campaign for site closure has been fought for nearly two years under the #ShutElbitDown banner, and longer by activists taking sporadic action. It has been waged by dozens of activists who have faced arrest and loss of liberty, alongside mass support from locals who wish to see an end to a brutal industry that starts on our doorsteps. After huge successes for the broader campaign, its use of direct action and community organising culminating in the closure of two of Elbit’s sites in London and Manchester, Palestine Action is working to permanently close UAV Engines LTD.

Elbit’s clientele spans much of the world – its military goods are sold on and used for anything from violent repression en masse, to the surveillance of both sky and sea. For many years, the Hermes 450/900 drones have been a staple of life in Gaza. They hold a constant presence in the skies, made ever known by their distinct buzzing, the threat of bombing always lurking. As Elbit themselves have said, the drones are “battle-tested” on Palestine – inaugurated through testing on Palestine’s captive populations, then sold back to militaries across the world.

Elbit drones are sold on to Israel in huge numbers (Elbit drones make up 85% of Israel’s drone fleet) and used to keep entire populations living in fear, under permanent siege-mentality – 91% of children in Gaza suffering from PTSD. Today’s action has been taken in their name, with a promise of resistance until victory – an end to Britain’s complicity, and a Palestine free from the horrors of occupation and state terror.

US Special Operations Command Picks Anduril to Lead Counter-Drone Integration Work in $1B Deal

by Jen Judson, published on Defense News, January 24, 2022

WASHINGTON — U.S. Special Operations Command has picked California-based Anduril Industries to lead its counter-drone systems integration work in a $1 billion deal, according to a contract announcement and company statement.

As the integration partner, “Anduril will deliver, advance and sustain [counter-unmanned systems] capabilities for special operations forces wherever they operate,” the Jan. 24 company statement read.

Anduril’s family of systems designed to counter drone threats is run by the Lattice operating system and includes its Sentry tower and the small unmanned aerial system Anvil. The system also brings in “best-of-breed” third-party sensors and effectors “for a layered defensive approach,” according to the company.

The Lattice system is able to provide autonomous detection, classification and tracking of targets at the edge of the battlefield and alerts users to the detected threats. It also prompts users with solutions to engage and destroy the threats, the company described.

The Sentry tower is comprised of an onboard radar and optical sensors within embedded computing cores that can process data through machine-learning algorithms to detect, identify and track threats.

Anduril said it will deliver capability through “traditional means,” but will also deploy the capability as a service and configure the system to carry out specific missions as threats evolve or new threats emerge. And under the contract, it must design, prototype and develop new counter-UAS technology.

“Anduril’s software-first approach and its open and interoperable Lattice operating system enables sensor modularity and massive scalability,” the statement said. “As the SIP, Anduril will maintain continuous system updates, develop and deploy new capability, and integrate best-in-class third-party sensors and effectors, future-proofing deployed systems at no additional cost to the customer.”

Under the SOCOM contract, Anduril will perform the work both within and outside of the continental United States. The contract is expected to be completed by Jan. 19, 2032, according to the Defense Department contract announcement.

Eleven other proposals were received in response to a publicly posted SIP, or system integration partner, prototype opportunity notice.

The company has other contracts within the Defense Department and with other national security-related customers.

Anduril has also adapted existing technology developed for base and border protection over the course of 11 months so it could detect another major threat: cruise missiles. The company demonstrated the capability at the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System demonstration in 2021 using autonomous Cruise Missile Defense Sentry Towers. The towers were integrated into the company’s Lattice open-platform command-and-control system like they are for the c-UAS capability

Anduril also grew its capability portfolio in April 2021 with the acquisition of Area-I, a Georgia-based, air-launched effects company, with plans to incorporate its mission autonomy and intelligent teaming technology into Area-I’s unmanned systems.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.

Military Spy Drones: How Domestic U.S. Drone Integration is Propelling Next Wave of Killer Drone Proliferation

by Barry Summers, published on Covert Action Magazine, January 21, 2022

“Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.” [Source: wired.com]

Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), were developed for war. The idea was first conceived in World War I and they were first adopted for surveillance purposes at the end of World War II and in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Then military drones like the Predator became armed during the “Global War on Terror.”

For many years now, people in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan have had to assume that they were being tracked by a drone they could not see, circling miles over their heads. In the United States, government and corporate surveillance is everywhere. However, other than isolated exceptions like the Predator circling over Minneapolis during the George Floyd protests, military drones have not been allowed to operate in civilian, or “non-segregated,” U.S. airspace. That is about to change.

With very little public notice, the U.S. government started the process of opening U.S. civilian airspace to military drones (otherwise known as “integration”) in 2010. The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Transportation began drafting a “Plan,” at the direction of Congress, and that Plan was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2012.

The Plan emphasized Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) steps to integrate “civil” (civilian, commercial, hobbyist) drones into the National Airspace System (NAS). But the short section devoted to “public” (government, military) drones served the original purpose—beginning the opening of U.S. skies to routine operation of Predators, Reapers, and other drones. A plan within a Plan.

Since then, it has become clear that there was another plan within this Plan. It involved using the imprimatur of the FAA to push the next generation of U.S.-made surveillance/attack drones onto U.S. allies across the globe—not all of whom were deemed suitable to receive advanced U.S. drones previously. Countries with a history of human rights violations [like Morocco or the United Arab Emirates (UAE)], or perpetual states of conflict with their neighbors (like India or Taiwan) have not been able to acquire the most advanced U.S.-made drones. Those restrictions are now falling away.

One U.S. drone maker was at the center of the effort from the start: General Atomics (GA). Maker of the Predator, and then the Reaper, its newest, most advanced drone is the MQ-9B SkyGuardian.

Originally called the “Ceritifiable Predator B,” GA started developing it in 2012 soon after the Plan was signed into law. As the name implies, it was designed from the ground up with the intention that it be certified to operate in domestic airspace. GA has been aggressively marketing it overseas since 2014, with the presumed certification by the FAA as a major selling point. (How aggressively? GA sued the German government to try to force it to reconsider choosing a competitor’s drone.)

GA funded this project internally, meaning it placed a gigantic bet that its “certifiable” drone would be warmly received by the FAA. If in fact there was prior coordination among the DoD, FAA and General Atomics, it suggests that a U.S. foreign policy initiative, a “Public-Private Partnership,” huge and unpublicized, was woven into this Plan.

Since it began in 2012, the majority of the reporting on the DoD/FAA’s drone integration program has been about the civilian/commercial benefits of small drone integration—package delivery, local law enforcement, infrastructure inspection, etc. But behind the scenes, integrating military drones appeared to be the main purpose. And then, there are the foreign sales.

“The foreign sales aspect of these RPAs is potentially huge.”

U.S. Air Force (USAF) Major General James O. Poss, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, the senior Intelligence officer for the USAF, was quoted in a 2012 article titled “Military ‘Aggressively Working’ To Ease Drone Sales Abroad.” He stated that “the foreign sales aspect of these RPAs [remotely piloted aircraft] is potentially huge.… A less restrictive export policy for unmanned aircraft is “in the national interest of the United States,” Poss continued. “It’s something we’re aggressively working with both the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] policy folks and the State Department.”

Two months after that article appeared, General Poss retired from the USAF. During his career he had, among other things, shepherded the Reaper drone through its certification in 2005. He was central to expanding the role of drones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for touting their capabilities, like the new “Gorgon Stare” technology. Gorgon Stare and its successors allowed the USAF to maintain a constant, high-definition video database of a huge area, which could be searched at a later date.

“Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

[Source: cp-techusa.com]

After leaving USAF, Poss was tapped by the FAA to direct research into integrating drones into domestic U.S. airspace. He was almost certainly one of the authors of the Plan.

While the choice of leadership of the FAA UAS Center of Excellence was billed by the FAA as a “rigorous competition,” Poss appeared to have known years in advance that he would be holding this office. In a January 2015 interview just before the choice was announced, he said “We’ve been preparing for this competition for over five years.” So that was, what—2010? From 2010 – 2012, Poss was still at the Pentagon.

The decision to place Poss in this office was likely made by the FAA Assistant Administrator for NextGen, the office that oversees all FAA Centers of Excellence. At the time, that position was held by former USAF Major General Edward L. Bolton, Jr., Director, Space and Cyber Operations. His role is especially interesting as GA was on a path to become a major player in the militarization of space.

Bolton and Poss were two of the dozens of former senior military officers occupying positions at FAA and ancillary organizations involved in drone integration.

General Poss again, from the 2012 article:

[T]here are international lawyers out there that think the various treaties dealing with cruise missiles apply,” such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR).

The MTCR was embraced by the U.S. in part to keep advanced drone technology from countries which were not solid allies of the U.S. Not that U.S. drone technology is unrepresented abroad. The Reaper drone is a major weapons system of many U.S. allies. (A man named Stephen Luxion was instrumental in providing the MQ-9A Reaper to U.S. allies. His name will come up again.)

Another of those likely Plan authors featured in that 2012 article was DoD official Steven Pennington. For the previous several years, he had been the principal public advocate of opening U.S. airspace to military drones.

“A senior Air Force civil servant put the stakes bluntly: ‘The aviation enterprise is the crown jewel in the U.S. economy by far. It has the greatest number of high value jobs, it has the greatest value that is exported,’ said Steven Pennington, director of ranges, bases and airspace. If the U.S. does not take the lead in the global drone market, he warned, Europe, Asia and others will ‘quickly fill that void.’

“Poss said, ‘The stakes are strategic as well as economic. The military sees foreign military sales of all kinds as a way to build relationships with friendly governments while equipping them with gear that makes it easier to operate alongside U.S forces. Unmanned air vehicles are a particularly important area to be interoperable.’”

Poss had been celebrated for his years as a leader of “interoperability” between the U.S. and United Kingdom (UK) airborne intelligence forces. If there is any evidence that the drone integration Plan had an international proliferation agenda within it, this was it.

When Poss left the USAF in late 2012, his senior Intelligence counterpart in the Royal Air Force (RAF), Sir Stephen Hillier, had left his position several months earlier, to oversee UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) military procurement. This would place him at the center of the decision whether to purchase the newest U.S.-made military drone, GAs MQ-9B SkyGuardian, for the UK’s “Protector” initiative. It was one of four career moves for Hillier in ten years, coinciding with steps that would lead to the MQ-9B operating in UK skies. Other steps are explained below.

On the last day of 2013, the FAA announced the winners of the coveted state-level UAS test sites mandated in the 2012 FAA Act, chosen after a supposedly rigorous competition. There was no mention of military activities. However, each site wound up being led by a high-level, recently retired military officer. In one case, North Dakota (ND), it was headed by the state’s active-duty Air National Guard Commander.

DoD official Pennington actually cited ND’s Grand Forks Air Force Base in a 2011 article about the DoD/FAA drone program, months before the legislation was signed into law. He also stated that the funding for these sites would come from the DoD, not FAA. While they would all go on to conduct some civilian, commercial drone integration research, the military leadership, funding and military bases they operated on or next to, signaled what their principal purpose was.

For example, a few years after its founding, it was difficult to see where the FAA’s “Northern Plains UAS Test Site” (NPUASTS), Grand Forks Air Force Base, and the large General Atomics facility next door begin and end. This was where the 2018 MQ-9B SkyGuardian flight over the Atlantic would depart from, on its PR mission to the UK’s Royal Air Force. It was timed to arrive for the Royal International Air Tattoo airshow, where the newest military aircraft are displayed for potential buyers.

DoD official Pennington, cited above, was quoted in February of 2012 that the DoD would be selecting these sites based on their criteria. The fiction that this was anything but a principally military research operation is pretty thin. In any case, the test sites would share in federal research grants disbursed by former Major General James Poss’s FAA UAS Center of Excellence, ASSURE.

By mid-March of 2016, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Executive Committee (ExCom), created in 2009 to coordinate UAS activities among federal agencies, was expanded. It then included DoD, FAA, NASA, and the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and Interior. When NASA joined in 2010, it understood that the purpose of this coordination was to expedite public (military) UAS access to the NAS. The ExCom was chaired by former Major General Marke “Hoot” Gibson, previously Director of Operations, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations for the USAF. At the time, he was the FAA’s “Senior Adviser on UAS Integration.” A two-star Air Force General would be representing the “civilian” FAA on a joint-agency committee overseeing drone integration.

The FAA also stated explicitly that the focus of the ExCom was DoD’s UAS access into the NAS.” ExCom was originally named the “Joint Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration Executive Committee on Conflict and Dispute Resolution,” suggesting a history of conflict and disputes between the DoD and FAA on military drone integration which, according to the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, posed “a threat to national security.”

At that same time, emails obtained in 2018 by DroneWarsUK revealed extensive coordination between the MoD, GA, USAF, and FAA to persuade skeptical UK civilian air regulators not to block the acquisition of the MQ-9B for the Protector Initiative. One thread of emails had the subject line “Developing the Mechanism for a Technical Support Arrangement to Protector.”

That is when, coincidentally, the USAF committed to opening a “Non-DoD Military Aircraft Office” (NDMAO) at Wright-Patterson AFB. It would be dedicated to providing certification services to U.S. companies producing military aircraft that the U.S. did not currently intend to purchase. These services would be provided to private companies for a fee. The email thread then had the words “[Non-DoD Source]” added to the subject line. MQ-9B SkyGuardian is the NDMAO’s first customer. The UK would eventually pay the bill.

It appears that did the trick. One month later, the UK announced it would buy the MQ-9B. Both James Poss and Stephen Hillier resigned their respective posts within weeks, strongly suggesting that the sale of the MQ-9B to UK was the reason they were in those posts to begin with. Hillier would go on to become Air Chief Marshal, Commander of the Royal Air Force. Poss would found his own UAS consulting company. Edward Bolton had left FAA a month earlier, to become a Vice President at the Aerospace Corporation, the private company that manages the launch and space systems of the USAF and the National Reconnaissance Office.

Poss’s successor at the FAA UAS COE was former USAF Colonel Stephen “Lux” Luxion. His career had two notable high points: He created and ran the first Predator attack unit tasked to the CIA in the “Global War on Terror,” the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron. (While this fact was originally included in his ASSURE bio, it has since been deleted.)

Later, when the Reaper was established as the drone of choice for U.S. allies, Luxion was stationed in Europe overseeing basing decisions for the new drone squadrons. It is an unexpected pedigree for the head of FAA research into integrating drones into civilian U.S. airspace, unless one considers that the goal may have been to place advanced U.S.-made drones into other countries airspace as well.

A few months later, in July of 2016, ExCom member NASA announced its UAS “Systems Integration and Operationalization” (SIO) flight demonstrations. Listed first in the missions of vital importance are “national security and defense.” However, when GA was later announced as one of the participants, the stated purpose of its flight would be to demonstrate potential civilian, commercial uses of large, military-grade drones. GA floated one civilian/commercial use of the MQ-9B on a defense industry news site: local law enforcement. In a surprisingly candid moment, the pro-industry reporter covering it called the idea “dystopian.” GA would eventually land on “infrastructure surveying” as a plausible commercial application of the $100 million, 6-ton, 79-foot wingspan MQ-9B.

A May 2017 presentation of NASA’s program on drone integration appeared to have the SIO demo flights scheduled for summer 2021 (page 23).

In June 2017, the Trump administration announced its intention to sell the “SeaGuardian” MQ-9B variant to India. For the U.S. to sell the MQ-9B to India would require “decoupling UAS from the MTCR.” A few months later, the Trump administration confirmed that it was “reviewing” the MTCR.

By October 2017, it appears that NASA’s SIO demo flights were moved up one full year to summer 2020 (page 19).

November 2017. General Atomics purchased the U.S. subsidiary of UK-based satellite maker Surrey Satellite Technology. GA is described as “a defense contractor with a growing interest in building military-optimized spacecraft.”

August 2018. NASA announced that General Atomics was one of the three companies selected to participate in its SIO demonstrations.

September 28, 2018. General Atomics Awarded NASA Contract for Commercial Satellite.

January 24, 2019. The UK’s MoD announced they would purchase the “Sense-and-Avoid” systems for their MQ-9B Protector drones, after the original contract omitted that option. The decision came after GA went around MoD and lobbied Parliament directly:

“[F]ailure to make appropriate provisions threatens to undermine Protector’s operational capability…One of the platform’s key design characteristics is provision for the sense-and-avoid capability required to facilitate operations in non-segregated airspace… MoD aspires to integrate such a sense-and-avoid system but it was not funded within the core program.”

August 2019. GA performed a test of the SkyGuardian in civilian U.S. airspace for the benefit of the RAF, U.S. Marine Corps, and Royal Australian Air Force. The USMC was the first U.S. military branch overtly interested in the MQ-9B. GA touted the FAA clearance for the flight, which occurred almost entirely over mountains and desert. A week later, James Poss penned an opinion piece applauding the UK’s purchase of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, and urging the U.S. and all its allies to do the same, to prepare for a possible war with Iran. He claimed that the MQ-9B “can fly integrated with even civilian manned aircraft,” a statement which two years later, still is not exactly true.

October 7, 2019. GA announced the planned SIO demo flight over San Diego. There are numerous misleading statements in the announcement, such as City of San Diego participation, etc. The principal stated purpose of the demo was infrastructure inspection, although it would be revealed later by the Voice of San Diego (VOSD) that they were still secretly pitching law enforcement uses.

November 28, 2019. Seven weeks after the San Diego SIO announcement, Australia announced it was going to purchase the MQ-9B instead of the cheaper MQ-9A, specifically because “the MQ-9B is able to be certified to fly in civilian airspace,” again, not yet exactly true.

Mav 7, 2020. The UK announced that Sir Stephen Hillier would resign as Air Chief Marshal of the RAF, in order to take over the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), just as it was grappling with whether to allow the MQ-9B to operate in UK airspace in the summer of 2021.

June 1, 2020. VOSD announced its lawsuit against the FAA for documents related to the proposed MQ-9B flight over the City. “We can’t get into details about a military aircraft program,” said the FAA. This, despite the fact that every aspect of the SIO flight stated publicly had been civilian: owner, operator, aircraft certification, airspace, sponsoring agency (NASA), stated purpose, etc.

July 9, 2020. GA informed Forbes that the SIO flight over San Diego was canceled.

July 24, 2020. The Trump administration officially changed how it “interpreted” the MTCR, clearing the way for military drone sales to countries that were previously excluded. New potential buyers of the MQ-9B soon included India, Taiwan, Morocco, and the UAE. Along with the confirmed sales to the UK, Belgium and Australia, it looked like MQ-9B sales would soon exceed $10 billion.

October 26, 2020. The VOSD released FOIA’d emails that showed the deep skepticism that FAA engineers had over the safety claims by GA. The proposed SIO flight over San Diego was eventually canceled, and replaced by a flight over non-populated areas. However, the specific reasons why it did so were redacted. Also, it is clear that FAA personnel were aware that GA would be using this supposed commercial demonstration flight to showcase the MQ-9B to foreign military buyers.

March 26, 2021. Reuters reported that the Biden administration was likely to keep the new MTCR policy.

May 2021. NASA released General Atomics final report on its SIO flight, which GA was required to generate in its SIO contract with NASA. It revealed that the critical safety component for avoiding other aircraft, the “Detect and Avoid” system, failed repeatedly during the flight, just as FAA engineers feared it would.

July 24, 2021. After fighting in court not to reveal the reasons for denying the proposed SIO flight over San Diego, the FAA agreed to answer a few more questions from the VOSD. In response to the question of “Whether General Atomics voluntarily rerouted its flight to the desert, or whether the FAA denied the permit,” its paragraph-long answer could be summarized as: We never denied General Atomics a permit to fly the SkyGuardian over San Diego. We approved its permit to fly, just not over San Diego.

It is also fair to ask if the FAA was keeping the reasons for the San Diego denial under wraps so as to not embarrass GA. GA’s sales pitch to foreign customers was that the MQ-9B could be certified for domestic operations. Rejection by the FAA for a demo flight for which it had been preparing for many years might cause potential customers to think twice before committing to a multi-billion dollar weapons purchase.

July 28, 2021. After delaying the decision for months, the UK’s CAA (now headed by Sir Stephen Hillier, former Air Chief Marshal of the RAF) approved temporary airspace changes that would allow the MQ-9B SkyGuardian to operate in UK civilian airspace during the NATO “Joint Warrior” exercises. Joint Warrior is a major opportunity to demonstrate the MQ-9B to potential allied military customers. This was the exact same drone that was rejected by the FAA for a flight over the City of San Diego one year earlier.

September 8, 2021. In the middle of the Joint Warrior exercises, the MQ-9B appeared to detour to conduct “Contested Urban Environment” exercises over the UK Army’s Imber Range in southern England. It is not clear if it was part of the official CUE2021 exercise. Some 48 hours after the flight, the Chief of the Air Staff of the RAF announced that, when the Protector drone is operational, it will be available for “assisting local authorities.”

September 9, 2021. The RAF announced the creation of the “Protector International Training Centre” at the Waddington RAF base. That would be a MQ-9B pilot training facility for “international partners.”

General Atomics is becoming a major player in military space hardware construction, including winning a DARPA contract to design a nuclear reactor to power spacecraft to the moon.

[Source: spacenews.com]

A Freedom of Information Act request to see the report containing the Plan mandated in the 2010 NDAA was placed with the FAA in the spring of 2021. Nine months later, the FAA has yet to acknowledge receipt of the request.

The Plan appears to be: civilian drone integration is cover for military drone integration is cover for military drone proliferation. Underlying it all is the familiar argument for foreign military sales: If the U.S. does not do it first, others will. For decision-makers, this dovetails neatly with the economic and political rewards, leading to: Drone proliferation is a necessary good.

Apparently, we have no choice but to stay in the lead of the arms race we started. Rinse, repeat.

In the coming years, people in more and more countries (including the U.S. and its allies) will be wondering if a high-tech surveillance/attack platform is circling overhead, making a permanent record of everything they do once they set foot outside their homes. Is this the kind of “freedom” America should be exporting?


A Rogue Killer Drone ‘Hunted Down’ a Human Target Without Being Instructed To, UN Report Says

by Joshua Zitser, published on Business Insider, May 30, 2021

Editor’s Note: In full disclosure, I think this is an interesting story, but I’m not sure I buy it as stated.   For one thing, it isn’t clear why the drone was armed and flying without a target.   Also, it isn’t clear whether the target was on the same side as the drone or was an opponent in the war.   Even so, this is a problem with piloted drones as well.  The intention of the pilot or whomever released the drone is often implemented in a way that is not reliable.  I also think this kind of story distracts from the main story, which is that no drone, not even a remotely piloted one, can be safely armed. [jb]

A “lethal” weaponized drone “hunted down a human target” without being told to, likely for the first time, according to a UN report seen by the New Scientist.

In the March 2020 incident, a Kargu-2 quadcopter autonomously attacked a person during a conflict between Libyan government forces and a breakaway military faction, led by the Libyan National Army’s Khalifa Haftar, the Daily Star reported.

The Turkish-built Kargu-2, a deadly attack drone designed for asymmetric warfare and anti-terrorist operations, targeted one of Haftar’s soldiers while he tried to retreat, according to the paper.

The drone, which can be directed to detonate on impact, was operating in a “‘highly effective’ autonomous mode that required no human controller,” the New York Post reported.

“The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true ‘fire, forget and find’ capability,”

the report from the UN Security Council’s panel of experts on Libya said.

This is likely the first time drones have attacked humans without instructions to do so, Zak Kallenborn, a national-security consultant who specializes in unmanned systems and drones, confirmed in the report.

Kallenborn has concerns about the future of autonomous drones. “How brittle is the object recognition system?” he said in the report. “How often does it misidentify targets?

Jack Watling, a researcher on land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute, told the New Scientist that the incident demonstrates the “urgent and important” need to discuss the potential regulation of autonomous weapons.

Human Rights Watch has called for an end to so-called “killer robots” and is campaigning for a “preemptive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons,” according to a report by the nonprofit.

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*Featured Image: Stock photo of a drone flying. Getty Images

Why the Air Force Wants to Keep Its MQ-9 Reaper Fleet Forever

by Kris Osborn, published on The National Interest, June 13, 2021

The Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone will live to fight another day, or thousands of days, due to a clear service plan to employ the platform for at least the next fifteen years.

While this is unsurprising given the number of upgrades the Air Force has performed on the drone, yet there is ongoing speculation amid development of the service’s high-priority MQ-Next program, which seeks to deploy a new generation of warfare intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).

“We’re not procuring any more MQ-9s in FY22, but we’re also not looking to shutdown the production line. In fact, we have modernization efforts that are tied to the MQ-9 in the ‘22 budget,”

Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget Maj. Gen. James Peccia told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript.  Peccia said the service was allocating $200 million for continued upgrades and modifications to the MQ-9 Reaper fleet in the 2022 budget request.

Questions about the future of the MQ-9 Reaper speak to an interesting broader strategic issue being contemplated by the Air Force, regarding how to adapt larger high-altitude, long-endurance armed surveillance drones for high-end warfare against a technically sophisticated major power adversary. Can they be adapted? Certainly, numerous efforts with the MQ-9 Reaper have moved in this direction, to include the addition of new fuel tanks for added endurance and dwell time, a massive expansion in weapons capability to even include air-to-air weapons and a new generation of long-range, high-fidelity sensors.

“A lot of people are talking about the replacement for the MQ-9. The MQ-9 is going to be with us for a long time, at least another 15 years, perhaps longer. And so we’re not looking to get rid of the MQ-9s by any means. And we certainly have a lot of time to figure out what we will do next in terms of ISR,” Peccia said.

These improvements to the MQ-9 Reaper are all considerable survivability enhancing upgrades which, when combined with tactical adjustments, could quite possibly make a Reaper extremely effective in high-end, heavily contested airspace. Newer, long-range precision weapons, coupled with high-fidelity sensors and artificial-intelligence-enabled data processing might give an upgraded Reaper the opportunity to attack at greater stand-off ranges and higher altitudes while networking with other attack platforms. Longer dwell time enabled by added fuel tanks extending mission endurance can help a networked MQ-9 Reaper find and pass along target coordinates to nearby fighter jets, drones or even ground forces.

Also, there are tactical methods of improving survivability for larger drones like the MQ-9 Reaper, such as varying routes, altitudes and other kinds of operations to ensure enemies are not able to develop a “track” on a MQ-9 Reaper or discern detectable patterns, Air Force Europe Commander Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian told The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace earlier this year.

The emphasis upon multi-domain networking for the MQ-9 Reaper could be seen as a bridge to the MQ-Next program, a yet-to-take shape future ISR platform or series of platforms intended to ensure high-speed, networked surveillance and targeting amid highly contested major warfare conditions. Much attention is placed upon smaller, stealthier platforms, which are likely to figure prominently, yet at the same time the MQ-Next vision, as explained by Peccia, may involve a host of interwoven platforms.

“What we are looking at is really a family of interconnected systems that we will use in the future. That could come from space.  It could come from aircraft. It could come from non-traditional means. We’re not looking specifically at a platform-for-platform replacement, rather, we’re looking at technology that’s available today to build a survivable ISR platform as we move forward to that 2030 time period,” Peccia said.

*Featured Image: Reuters.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.