Armed drones may be prone to targeting errors

1200px-MQ-9_Reaper_-_090609-F-0000M-777We learned on June 7th that Canada intends to acquire armed drones for “precision targeting”. Despite widespread concerns about their misuse both in situations of armed conflict and otherwise, the government has provided no real rationale for why Canada needs them nor any policy framework to guard against their abuse.

The use of armed drones to date has been characterized by a lack of transparency, particularly in relation to the number of civilian casualties and a commensurate lack of accountability for their misuse. For a comprehensive examination of the problem, see the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s drone warfare database.

Proponents of armed drones argue that they are better than the alternatives — manned aircraft and cruise missiles — but an American military analysis found that:

Drone strikes in Afghanistan were… an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement [than manned aircraft]. (page 46)

In trying to understand why this could be so, an analysis published in the International Journal of Human Rights by Canadian law professor Craig Martin examines the unique characteristics of drone systems and the policies and practices surrounding their use. He concludes that both the “means” and “methods” of drone use may contribute to targeting errors.

Paradoxically, the very features that are most likely to make the drone compliant with IHL [International Humanitarian Law] — its ability to linger undetected for protracted periods over potential targets, feeding intelligence back to an operations team that can make targeting decisions in a relatively stress-free environment — may facilitate targeting errors caused by misperception and misinterpretation of the data.

Click here for a summary of the article and here for the full text in PDF format.

In light of these problems, the Rideau Institute and a range of other Canadian civil society organizations have called for:

…. the establishment of an international control regime for armed unmanned aerial vehicles and other armed drones. Canada should actively pursue, preferably through the United Nations, the creation of a tight international regulatory regime for the restricted deployment and use of these weapons. This regime should build on current international law, be rooted in the principles of responsibility, transparency and accountability, and focus on protection of civilian populations and property.

Prime Minister Trudeau says we’ll wait until we’ve acquired the drones and are ready to use them before we develop a policy on their use.

Surely, the innocent civilians that could be mistakenly targeted by Canada’s armed drones deserve far better.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


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5 Responses to “Armed drones may be prone to targeting errors”

  1. Nola LanducciJuly 28, 2017 at 9:20 am #

    Why are we not helping Japan to contain Fujikama’s increasing nuclear cooling water that protects the world from sharing the ongoing Fujikama disaster, instead of clinging to our racist belief that we can escape the global results of every nuclear explosion by looking away?

  2. James WrightJuly 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

    I’m surprised that is trying to mount this campaign on its own, without working with other anti-drones campaigners in Canada and in other places like the UK and USA.

  3. Agnes WurfelJune 16, 2017 at 11:10 pm #

    I agree with Demetrios. It is outrageous that at this dangerous stage in world affairs money is being spent on acquiring such dangerous weapons that are prone to errors. Canada has a reputation to be a peace loving country. How can we lose by making sure that we deserve that reputation?

  4. DemetriosJune 16, 2017 at 5:52 pm #

    Armed UAV drones are a curse to humanity! They make it possible to kill long distance without conclusively knowing their accuracy and lets the offending country act with impunity, even though its intentions may be highly questionable. It has been proven repeatedly that the “collateral damage” of drones have killed thousands of innocents, the very fact that the populace has hardly raised a whimper over this injustice gives them even more determination to use them again.

    That this Trudeau government is even CONSIDERING to acquire them is outrageous! Over and over, the Liberals are saying one thing and then doing what they think fits in their agenda of making friends with the big corporations and governments who only have greed in their hearts.


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