UK to Double Drone Fleet, Move Control From Nevada to England

While David Petraeus continues stewing over whether his request to expand the CIA’s fleet of drones will be honored, The Guardian announced yesterday that the UK will double its drone fleet and move control of its drones from Nevada to England.

It will come as a surprise to most that the UK already has a fleet of five drones. They are operated out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. From the article in The Guardian:

The UK’s existing five Reaper drones, which are used to target suspected insurgents in Helmand, have been operated from Creech air force base in Nevada because Britain has not had the capability to fly them from here.


The most recent figures from the Ministry of Defence show that, by the end of September, the UK’s five Reapers in Afghanistan had flown 39,628 hours and fired 334 laser-guided Hellfire missiles and bombs at suspected insurgents.

The blog Drone Wars UK has collected the public reports it could find of the missiles fired by the UK’s fleet of drones. Skimming the list of entries, it appears that so far, the bulk of UK drone strikes have been aimed at presumed insurgents in the process of engaging with coalition troops in Afghanistan.

For information on how these attacks have turned out, we go back to The Guardian:

The MoD insists only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its strikes since 2008 and says it does everything it can to minimise civilian casualties, including aborting missions at the last moment.

However, it also says it has no idea how many insurgents have died because of the “immense difficulty and risks” of verifying who has been hit.

It would seem that in learning from the US how to operate drones, the UK also has learned from the US how to declare with certainty that exceedingly few civilians have been killed, but at the same time admit that it’s just too darned difficult to count all those bad guys we splat. The public is asked to simultaneously trust the military that civilians aren’t killed but we must accept that verifying just who has been killed is not possible.

It seems that the UK has built its own video game room drone control facility:

Pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire will fly the recently bought American-made UAVs at a hi-tech hub built on the site in the past 18 months.

The most recent post currently at Drone Wars UK has conveniently provided a map for the location of this facility, presumably to aid protesters who may wish to be there on Friday when the new RAF squadron (“XIII”) is officially commissioned.

With a fleet of ten drones and the ability to control them anywhere in the world from the facility in Lincolnshire, how long will it take for mission creep to set in? After all, NATO says that it will have withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Where will these drones go then? As the article in The Guardian points out, there are not many areas within the UK where drones can be allowed to fly under current regulations. The allure of developing their own “hit list” must be overwhelming to the folks at 10 Downing Street about now.

Oh, and one last thought. The next James Bond film is set to release in about two and a half weeks. It’s title? That would be “Skyfall“. That is most likely just a coincidence, but seems entirely fitting as further advertisement of the fact that the UK is now announcing its drone capability and independence.

Pakistan Press Reporting UK Lawmakers Wrote Letter Urging Obama to Stop Drone Strikes in Pakistan

Virtually every press outlet I scan in Pakistan is reporting today that a group of at least twelve member of the House of Lords and House of Commons have written a letter variously reported as addressed to Barack Obama, the United States and to NATO, urging an end to US drone strikes in Pakistan. So far, however, I have seen no mention of the letter in the British or US press. [Update: Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism points out in comment number 1 below that the letter was sent to the London Times and provides a link to its full text.]

It appears that two major concerns are stated in the letter. First, it is claimed that the drone strikes put the UK and US at risk because the drone strikes provide justification for terrorist strikes. Second, the letter expresses concern for the killing of innocent people in the drone strikes. There is also concern that the strikes do damage to Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Here is the description from the Express Tribune:

A squad of UK parliamentarians have written to President Barack Obama to stop drone attacks in Pakistan, Radio Pakistan reported on Thursday.

The 12 parliamentarians in a letter written to the United States said that the Britain and Western countries are under threat because drone attacks provide justification for future terrorist activities.

The letter also stated that innocent people are killed in drone strikes.

The parliamentarians said that the attacks are creating hatred for the US amongst Pakistanis and they are also harming a British allied country’s sovereignty.

Both Dawn and Pakistan Today list the same twelve MP’s (although in different order in their lists) as having signed the letter. From Dawn:

George Galway, Yasmin Qureshi, John Hemming, Jeraldko Famin, Paul Flain and Simon Disnek include members of House of Commons while Lord Nazir Ahmad, Lord Hussain, Lord Steel Acowood, Lord Jad, , Lord E Escadel and Lord Eubarry are from House of Lords who have signed the letter written to the US President.

This is a very interesting development, coming just on the heels of complaints from the left in Denmark:

Danish lawmakers are levelling unprecedented criticism at the US president, Barack Obama, for his use of remote-controlled attack drones in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Rasmus Helveg Petersen, Radikale foreign policy spokesperson, told Politiken newspaper that Obama’s actions mirror those of the terrorists he professes to be fighting against.

“It’s terrible,” said Petersen. “The United States has no right to carry out these types of executions of suspected political adversaries. It contravenes international law.”

Petersen added that executing political adversaries within another country’s borders was tantamount to terrorism.

But there is even more:

The comments came after Søren Pind, of the opposition party Venstre, in an interview with the magazine Ræson, likened the drone attacks to “assassination”.

“I criticised George Bush for allowing torture during his presidency,” Pind told Politiken. “But what he is doing is much worse and violates the principals of the Western world.”

Finally, the article quotes “Ole Wæver, who teaches political science at the University of Copenhagen” who points out that Obama has not lived up to the expectations of Danes and that he has “used up his goodwill account.”

With the opening ceremony of the London Olympics just hours away and the nonstop coverage of the Romney gaffe-orama, it will be very difficult for the drone letter to break into the British press, but if it does, it is hard to see how the Obama administration can avoid putting out a response of some sort.