Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 22:31–39Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN 1040-2659 print; 1469-9982 ...
32                       DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL,     AND   BILL SULZMAN      Drones come in all shapes and sizes; some, ...
FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE                                  33      Drones are big business and, according to Vi...
34                       DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL,     AND   BILL SULZMANNevada desert, some 8,000 miles from their target...
FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE                                 35      Last August, Saab conducted a series of fligh...
36                       DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL,     AND   BILL SULZMAN      Last April, David Kilcullen, a former Austr...
FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE                                     37have culminated in the establishment of a dedic...
38                             DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL,             AND   BILL SULZMANAfghanistan–Pakistan war into a UAV...
FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE                                                       39Sparrow, R. 2007. ‘‘Killer Ro...
Copyright of Peace Review is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailed tomultiple sites or po...
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From Space, No One Can Watch You Die

  1. 1. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 22:31–39Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN 1040-2659 print; 1469-9982 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10402650903539901From Space, No One Can Watch YouDieDAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL, AND BILL SULZMANAs soon as CIA Director Leon Panetta was appointed to his post earlierthis year, he asked President Obama for a significant escalation in thenumber of armed ‘‘drone’’ flights, utilizing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs) over both Afghanistan and Pakistan. These robot planes areflown by ground-based pilots, either in-country or from the UnitedStates, and represent the latest developments in war-fighting technol-ogy, separating the warfighter from the consequences of their actions byas much as several thousand miles. Young airmen and women arecontrolling planes over Afghanistan and Pakistan from computerterminals in Nevada, New Mexico, and California in the United States.They have also been used by Israel in Palestine, and are receivingincreasing attention in the media as they are adding significantly tocivilian death tolls in these regions.G uided by and communicating through space satellite technology, drones are now an integral part of ‘‘network centric warfare’’whereby information is shared and battle management conductedthrough computer and space technologies. Ground-based stations,armed units, and intelligence systems around the world are also pluggedin to this system that allows the United States and its allies to projectpower and ‘‘full spectrum dominance’’ across the globe. Drones were first used by the United States in the 1950s as targetpractice for fighter pilots. In the 1960s, they were used to spy over Chinaand Vietnam, and also for surveillance in Bosnia and Kosovo in the1990s. They were deployed in 2000 on CIA secret missions to look forOsama bin Laden, and have been used with increasing frequency eversince. In 2003, the United States logged around 35,000 UAV flight-hoursin Iraq and Afghanistan, and this increased to over 800,000 hours lastyear. The New York Times recently reported that in 2004, the CIAsecretly hired Blackwater to locate and assassinate top Al Qaedaoperatives from hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan using drones. 31
  2. 2. 32 DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL, AND BILL SULZMAN Drones come in all shapes and sizes; some, as small as toy planes,are launched by hand to spy over hills or buildings, helping to identifyand provide information on targets. The United States has around5,000 of these. Others are much larger and deadlier. NorthropGrumman’s Global Hawk is about the size of a corporate jet and isused for high-resolution radar surveillance. The latest version cangather data on objects the size of a textbook from about twice thealtitude of passenger jets (18,000 meters), through cloudy skies, night orday, for periods of thirty-two hours. Following the North Koreannuclear test earlier this year, the United States declared that GlobalHawks would replace its U-2 spy planes in South Korea. Big drones arevery expensive, costing as much as $60 m each and, although pilotless,each involves a support team of some 20–30 people. The Predator drone (from General Atomics) is about half the sizeof the Global Hawk. It can, however, be armed with two Hellfiremissiles. It was a Predator that was used to monitor the movements ofthe Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq and assist theattack on his house by U.S. jets. A later version, the Reaper, is the firstU.S. hunter-killer drone. It can carry fifteen times more weapons thanthe Predator, including up to fourteen Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound laser-guided bombs, and travel at over 450 kmph—about threetimes the speed of its predecessor. The Reaper was also designed to spyand is fitted with an array of sensors and three cameras that can operateday or night.C urrently, drones are being used or developed in over forty countries (including Belarus, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Georgia)for a variety of activities. Some analysts have suggested that Georgiandrones, obtained from Israel, outperformed Russia (who also buysIsraeli drones) in aerial intelligence during the conflict in August 2008.Hundreds of people in Afghanistan have been killed by drone attacks,and Israel has been accused of killing twenty-nine Palestinian civilianswith drones during the January conflict. In addition, in their rush todeploy, the U.S. Air Force has acknowledged numerous accidents andcrashes that have resulted in serious injuries and deaths. In September,a report in The Register gave details of how a U.S. Reaper ‘‘rebelledagainst its human controllers above Afghanistan’’ and had to be shotdown by a manned U.S. fighter jet ‘‘before it unilaterally invaded aneighbouring country.’’ Today, U.S. forces are flying heavily armeddrones over Pakistan every hour of the day. Predator attacks have beenresponsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, including scores ofwomen and children. In June, a drone killed at least 60 people at afuneral in South Waziristan in Pakistan.
  3. 3. FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE 33 Drones are big business and, according to Visiongain, a London-based market-research firm, global sales of UAVs are expected toincrease by over ten percent this year, to more than $4.7 billion. Aboutsixty percent of this will be spent by the United States, and theDepartment of Defense says it will spend more than $22 billion between2007 and 2013 to develop, buy, and operate drones. Israel ranks secondin drone development and among the European leaders of this form oftechnology are Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. China isalso believed to possess a substantial drone fleet. In June 2005, a full-scale demonstration model of an UnmannedCombat Air Vehicle, called the Neuron, was unveiled in Paris.Dassault Aviation leads a J400 million program that is managed bythe French armaments agency DGA. France is providing about fiftypercent of the funding, while Italy has a twenty-two percent sharewith Sweden as the third largest stakeholder. The other partners areSwitzerland, Spain, and Greece. Saab is overseeing the overall designof the fuselage, avionics, fuel system, and part of the flight testing.Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) is responsible for the UCAV’srear fuselage, exhaust pipe, and test rig. The European AeronauticsDefence and Space (EADS) will provide expertise in wing design,groundstations, and datalink integration. Wind tunnel testing and theweapon interface will be carried out by RUAG Aerospace,Switzerland. Alenia Aeronautica of Italy will design the weaponsbay, the electrical power system, and the airborne data system, andwill contribute to part of the flight tests. Dassault will be responsiblefor the general design and architecture, the flight control system, finalassembly, ground tests, and flight tests. Italy is currently using the Reaper and has expressed interest inbuying four more, along with three ground control stations, for some$330 million. Germany has made a request to purchase five Reapersand four mobile ground stations for $205 million, although they willnot be armed as that step is not deemed to be acceptable in Germany.A lthough the UK Ministry of Defence has not joined the Neuron program, it has announced a Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle(Experiment) SUAV(E) program, scheduled for completion this year,in order to assemble evidence to inform a decision on the UnitedKingdom’s future use of UAVs. Meanwhile, the RAF has conductedover 400 drone missions since its first operation in October 2007. Itoperates two Reapers for surveillance, reconnaissance, and thedelivery of weapons, and has expressed an interest in purchasingten more. They are flown by twelve two-person British crews everyday of the year from a control room in Creech Air Force Base in the
  4. 4. 34 DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL, AND BILL SULZMANNevada desert, some 8,000 miles from their targets. The pilot and thesensor operator are supported by intelligence specialists, signalers,and meteorologists, and ten computer screens that provide high-resolution, real-time video imagery of the ground and otherinformation. The crews can talk to Joint Tactical Air Controllers(JTacs)—the troops on the ground—who see the same imagesthrough a laptop computer known as a ‘‘Rover.’’ The Reaper take-off and landings are controlled by crews on the ground, but theCreech pilots take over when they become airborne. Staffordshire based UAV Engines (UEL) is one of the leading UKmanufacturers of drone engines. The company is owned by the Israelidrone specialists Silver Arrow, which is a subsidiary of the Israelidefense contractor Elbit Systems. One of its engines is used in Elbit’sHermes 450 drone, a version of which is part of the squadron of theIsraeli air force and was seen over Palestine during the January conflict.In Wales, ParcAberporth in Ceredigion is the center of excellence fordrone development by QintetiQ who are helping to develop a£899 million Watchkeeper UAV as an Intelligence, Surveillance,Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) system for theArmy (Thales is the prime contractor). Plans are currently beingdiscussed to create an overland zone for tests. The RAF has also taken the first step toward developing its ownpilotless combat aircraft with a £124 million joint program led byBAE Systems. The MoD announced project ‘‘Taranis’’ in December2006 to develop a UAV capable of delivering weapons to a battlefieldin another continent. An indication of how the industry views thefuture for drones is that BAE Systems has funded its own UAVresearch for the last ten years and has developed a number ofprograms for surveillance and reconnaissance drones. The MOD andBAE Systems’ Mantis project has been kept under wraps for sometime. Its budget is not being disclosed, but its first flight wasscheduled for 2009. Plans are for the Mantis to eventually be able tofly continuously for twenty-four hours, with a payload equivalent totwelve Brimstone missiles or six Raytheon Paveway bombs. BAESystems is also helping to fund FLAVIIR, a five-year £6.2 millionresearch program looking into drone technologies jointly with theEPSRC (the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council—the UK government body that funds science and technologyresearch). Ten universities are involved in the program, whichfocuses on a ‘‘Grand Challenge’’ laid down by BAE Systems: ‘‘Todevelop technologies for a maintenance-free, low cost UAV withoutconventional control surfaces and without performance penalty overconventional craft.’’
  5. 5. FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE 35 Last August, Saab conducted a series of flights by its family ofvertical take-off and landing UAVs in Switzerland in collaboration withSwiss UAV. The effort involved their Koax, Neo, and Skeldar airvehicles, and employed a common ground control station developed bySaab for its 200 kg Skeldar unmanned helicopter. Sweden is also indiscussions with Germany and Italy about the possible launch of amultinational advanced unmanned air vehicle that would be acompetitor to the European Neuron Project. The plan is for a four-year ‘‘Agile UAV in a network-centric environment’’ project focused onmulti-role, high-speed drones based on the German EADS BarracudaUAV, which has been developed for reconnaissance and combat.Sweden would participate with the Saab Filur or ‘‘Flying InnovativeLow-observable Unmanned Research’’ demonstrator. Tests were heldin May at the Vidsel test range, and the UAV flew at 425 kmph and analtitude of 3,000 meters.V idsel Test Range and Esrange Space Center are part of the North European Aerospace Testrange (NEAT) located innorthern Sweden. The testing of drones and the AdvancedMedium Range Air to Air Missile or AMRAAM (which could becarried by drones) is a regular occurrence. NEAT consists of anarea of 36,000 sq km of restricted air space and 1,650 sq km ofrestricted land area (expandable to 3,000 sq km), and is Europe’slargest overland test range. It is a cooperation of the Swedishorganizations FMV (the Swedish Defence Material Administration,which operates the Vidsel Test range) and SSC (the Swedish SpaceCorporation, which operates the Esrange Space Center). It has beenused for over fifty years for testing missiles and aircraft, and forunmanned vehicle operations and weapon integration. AnotherEuropean UAV test range has been established at Kemijarvi bythe Finnish company Robonic. It was originally allocated 1,000–1,500 sq km of airspace and uses a 1,200-meter-long runway to testcommercial and military drones. There has been widespread condemnation of using drones asweapons. Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups reported forty-two drone attacks, killing eighty-seven civilians during the conflict inDecember and January. In June 2009, the New York–based HumanRights Watch issued a thirty-nine-page report detailing six incidents ofIsraeli drones in Gaza, causing twenty-nine civilian deaths, includingeight children. Their findings were primarily based on debris fromIsraeli-made Spike missiles fired from drones—they concluded thatIsraeli drone operators ‘‘failed to exercise proper caution’’ indetermining whether their targets were civilians.
  6. 6. 36 DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL, AND BILL SULZMAN Last April, David Kilcullen, a former Australian soldier whoserved in Iraq as a top advisor to U.S. Commander General DavidPetraeus, called on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee to stopdrone attacks over Pakistan, saying they are counterproductive. Heargued that they are ‘‘deeply aggravating to the population’’ and lead toincreased support for extremism. Paul Rogers of Bradford University’sDepartment of Peace Studies agrees that drone attacks in westernPakistan are adding ‘‘fuel and succour’’ to Al Qaeda’s efforts ofradicalization, and believes that drone deployments would be bettertermed as ‘‘air-raids.’’ Lord Bingham, until last year the senior law lordin the United Kingdom, has also condemned the use of drones,comparing them to cluster bombs and landmines. International lawyers have called drone attacks ‘‘state-sanctionedassassinations’’ as targeted suspects have no opportunity to defendthemselves. Drone operators are far from the target with whom there isno connection, no way to determine if they are an enemy or innocentcivilian. In August 2008, CBS News reported that Predator pilots inSouthern California operating drones over Iraq were suffering similarpsychological stresses to those seen on the battlefield, as they can seethe results of their actions on their computer screens via the UAVcameras used for assessing the damage they have caused. The camerasbeam back stark pictures of the death and destruction that they havebeen responsible for—something ordinary bombers and fighter pilotsnever experience. Without ever being near the war-zone, drone pilotsobserve the effects of their actions in detail and then, when their shiftsend, they go home to resume their lives with their families.U .S. drones, such as the Predator and Reaper, are now being armed with cluster bombs and missiles. Last July, the U.S. Air Forceunveiled a UAV System Flight Plan outlining possible dronedevelopment until 2047. The plan is for large drones to replacebombers (even nuclear bombers) and fighter planes, for smallersurveillance and/or attack drones to be deployed in swarms, and touse artificial intelligence computer technology to decide when, who, andhow to attack. In 2008, BAE Systems carried out a trial with swarms ofdrone planes that could communicate with each other and select theirown targets. Pilots once used joysticks to control UAVs, emulating a videogame. Now they use Google Earth on touch screens to point to alocation they want to bomb. Within a year, those applications will beavailable for special iPhones and Blackberries made for U.S. troops. Allof these methods of delivering death use space technology, and manyalso take advantage of the Pentagon’s new cyber-warrior tools, which
  7. 7. FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE 37have culminated in the establishment of a dedicated Cyber Commandto control computer networks at home and abroad. Noel Sharkey believes that drones could soon be deciding whenand who to kill, leading to a rapid rise in civilian casualties. He thinksthat the increased deployment of automated military technology isalready creating a culture of armchair warfare, and there should beinternational discussion and arms control on these weapons. Perhapsthe greatest concern is that, because most systems identify people byusing heat sensors, they cannot tell the difference between civilians andcombatants. Automated fighters may also remove a sense ofresponsibility from their controllers. As Sharkey puts it, ‘‘The furtheryou are away, the easier it is to kill.’’ In Britain, only RAF pilots withcombat experience are allowed to control drones, but in the UnitedStates, soldiers who have never seen combat are being given shorttraining courses to identify those who have quick reactions. Themilitary is, in fact, recruiting young people who are good at computergames. The Israeli Harpy robotic aircraft is already close to removinghuman control from the loop. It flies around searching for enemy radarsignals and if it identifies one from its database, it homes in on thesource. Sharkey points out that the role of the human controller isincreasingly being phased out by a move toward just one personmonitoring a large number of drone craft, with little power to intervene.He is concerned about ‘‘the next thing that’s coming, that really scaresme, is totally autonomous robots. It could happen now. The technologyis there.’’ Other possible uses of drones are also under discussion,including the delivery of chemical or biological weapons. Concerns thatUAVs could have been used for this purpose against Coalition forcesduring the Iraq war were expressed publicly by the Bush administra-tion. Laurence Newcome has discussed the distinct possibility of the useof UAVs to transport chemical and biological agents into an urbanenvironment. Other, perhaps more obvious, uses for small robot planesare for frontier patrol on the one hand, and drug and arms smugglingon the other.P eace activists around the world are beginning to focus on the importance of these technologies, and are reminding people thatstandoff war using robotic technology is neither surgical, nor antiseptic,nor moral. It can be appealing to the White House and to the Americanpublic, because it allows nearly infinite kill ratios; thousands of so-called adversaries can be killed with very little chance of U.S. casualties.With no American soldiers coming home in body bags, few U.S.citizens will care about what else is happening. Yet turning the
  8. 8. 38 DAVE WEBB, LORING WIRBEL, AND BILL SULZMANAfghanistan–Pakistan war into a UAV turkey-shoot is not far removedfrom the assassination squads approved by former Vice President DickCheney. In fact, it is no accident that, on two successive days, the NewYork Times reported on Blackwater being assigned to the Bush–Cheneydeath-squad team and the same Blackwater group being used for theoutsourcing of armed UAV flights. One method of killing is being usedto replace the other. A moral review of space policies is very difficult because the criticcan never have access to the ‘‘secret information’’ that is required forany evaluation. Hiding the truth from the enemy also means hiding itfrom the public. Real public discourse cannot happen either, becausethe body politic cannot be trusted with all the facts. Despite this, thereappear recently to be some grounds for optimism: no actual weapon inspace has yet been fielded by any nation; President Obama has beenawarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his aspirations for a nuclear weapons–free world and other world leaders are pledging to work harder tobanish nuclear weapons; and the U.S. president has called for a reviewof the October 2006 National Space Policy that proposes the virtualU.S. ‘‘ownership’’ of orbital space. Like so many national-security realms where President Obama hastaken tentative half-steps, the struggle for peace in space is far fromover. The U.S. military remains, by far, the largest user of orbital space.Its satellites for intelligence, communications, and navigation remainthe key enabling components that allow the United States and its alliesto conduct war. The president’s new sea-based missile-defense plansallow a more provocative stance in challenging nations like Russia andChina, who might try to foil U.S. global management plans. Activists throughout the world need to examine closely all claimsfor ‘‘sanitizing’’ warfare. Citizens should not be swayed into thinkingthat a war allowing more invisible means of killing others is somehowone that can be accepted better than bloody battles on the ground.Space is the ultimate commons, and no one has the right to dominatethe planet through unilateral control.RECOMMENDED READINGSCapurro, R. and M. Nagenburh (eds.). 2009. Ethics and Robotics. Amsterdam: IOS Press.Cummings, M. L. 2004. ‘‘Creating Moral Buffers in Weapon Control, Interface Design.’’ IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 23(3): 28–33, 41.Feickert, A. 2003. ‘‘Iraq: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Capable Missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).’’ CRS Report for Congress. Available at < RS21376.pdf>.Sharkey, N. 2008a. ‘‘Grounds for Discrimination: Autonomous Robot Weapons.’’ RUSI Defence Systems 11(2): 86–89.Sharkey, N. 2008b. ‘‘The Ethical Frontiers of Robotics.’’ Science 32 (5909): 1800–1801.
  9. 9. FROM SPACE, NO ONE CAN WATCH YOU DIE 39Sparrow, R. 2007. ‘‘Killer Robots.’’ Journal of Applied Philosophy 24(1): 62–77.Singer, P. 2009. Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. New York: Penguin.United States Air Force, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009–2047. Available at <http://>.Dave Webb is convener of the Global Network, and Director of the Praxis Centre at LeedsMetropolitan University. E-mail: Wirbel is a member of the board of directors of Global Network Against Weapons andNuclear Power in Space, and author of the book Star Wars: US Tools of Space Supremacy (PlutoPress). E-mail: lwirbel@aol.comBill Sulzman was a founder of the Global Network and coordinates the Colorado Springs–basedCitizens for Peace in Space. E-mail:
  10. 10. Copyright of Peace Review is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailed tomultiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holders express written permission. However, usersmay print, download, or email articles for individual use.