SSWG e-Conferences



Featured Essays

Save: The Case for Humanitarian Drones
by Jack Chow

In an April 2012 for Foreign Policy, “Predators for Peace,” Jack Chow, a 2013 fellow of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, sketched a vision in which Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”), now a predominantly military-backed technology, might be adapted for civilian and humanitarian purposes.  With their versatility, drones offer new capabilities in the provision of essentials to stricken populations, especially in hard-to-reach or conflict-ridden zones.  This emerging flight technology offers inventive options to bolster peace operations and humanitarian relief efforts and extend their reach.


Response Paper
Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law, Joshua Foust, Fellow at the American Security Project and a contributor to the Atlantic, Honourary Colonel Fraser Holman, who has served as a Director and Chairman of the Board of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, Derek Gregory, Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the University of British Columbia, and Chris Tuckwood, the director of the Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention respond. 

Info sheet: How Humanitarian Drones Could Be Used


The Robotics Revolution: What It Means and What to Watch for Next
by Peter Warren Singer
Whether it is a report about the latest drone strike into Pakistan or an awesome web video of a cute robot dancing in the latest style, it seems like robots are taking over the world, figuratively if not yet literally. But within their growing appearance in the news is perhaps something bigger, a story that is reshaping the overall history of war and politics, and even humanity.


Response Paper
By Matthew Schroyer, Founder, “Drones for Schools” developer for EnLiST, a grant from the National Science Foundation.


Lethal Drones
by Micah Zenko

Micah Zenko, the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), examines the development of drones, and the additional applications decision-makers have found to employ them beyond their original purpose. He concludes that "since military force is a fungible tool to achieve a range of policy goals, the policies, justifications, and precedents of armed drones that the United States sets may be followed by others in unanticipated and unpredictable ways."  


Reponse Papers
Amitai Etzoni, Professor of international relations at George Washington University, and Denis Stairs, CDFAI Fellow and Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, and Jennifer Welsh, Professor in International Relations at the University of Oxford, and Renee Filiatrault a former diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade  respond.  

Feature Interview
Gregory Johnsen, a leading expert on Yemen, and a member of the United States Agency for International Development's Conflict Assessment team for Yemen in 2009.  

#DroneWeek Blog 

The Cost of Drones
by OpenCanada/CDFAI Staff
December 5th, 2012

The Predator drone is now a household name, having become infamous as the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism weapon of choice. The name of the man behind the most successful UAV in human history, however, is rarely mentioned. A recent economist article sheds light on the identity of the Predator’s inventor, Abe Karem, or as the article nicknames him, “the dronefather”. Abe Karem’s story is a familiar one – a passionate, innovative thinker moves to the U.S. to make his vision a reality (and in this case, then starts the process over again – Karem is currently seeking to develop aircraft capable of vertical take-offs and landings).

That this latest game changer was developped in the U.S. drives homes the importance of creating a hospitable environment for technological innovation. The U.S. is the global leader on this front (if by a smaller margin post-2008). A critical reason for this, of course, is the amount that country spends on defense. Government backed research by military scientists and engineers has proven definitive in past decades. While game-changing, ‘disruptive’ innovations may have low startup costs, they eventually need serious support in order to move mainstream.

Over in Europe, the U.K. has reportedly spent more than £2 billion developing their own drone fleet (many of which were bought from the U.S.), and are poised to spend another £2 billion on the program. And group of six European countries has only just succeeded in developing an attack-sized stealth drone. The nEURON was launched from a French air base on Saturday, but is still only for demonstration purposes.

Given the enormous costs of breaking new ground with these kinds of systems in-house, Canada will need to enter the drone age via research partnerships or settle for buying American (likely dated) technology.


Drones, Drones, Drones – Which are Good, Which are Bad?
by OpenCanada/CDFAI Staff
December 4th, 2012

Drones are most often associated with images of deadly force, eliminating targets hundreds of kilometres away at the touch of a button. However, their utility can go far beyond the battlefield. Developments in new generations of this tool have allowed them to be utilized predominantly, but not exclusively, by emergency services in urban environments. Police forces, medical services, fire departments and others have the potential to utilize drone technology.

Today, urban drones are operated by either law enforcement agencies or local emergency services, and are primarily used for reconnaissance and information gathering. They allow for live, on-the-ground data collection that can be transmitted quickly. This quick communication is essential to react to unfolding events such as fires, protests, large-scale celebrations, and natural disasters.

Based on the technology and equipment used, these urban drones can be deployed in many different situations and by a variety of agencies. Fire departments can use them to assess the situation before crews arrive on the scene: urban drones can enter into buildings before crews to evaluate the stability of the building and help determine if there are people trapped inside. Police forces can conduct close or long-range surveillance, track fleeing suspects, and provide support to officers when entering a building.

Drones typically deployed in urban environments are much smaller than those conducting aerial strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Larger scale UAVs, known as airships, have not yet been used over cities, but the idea has been floated (no pun intended). These airships could be used to provide traffic updates, surveillance of large gatherings or sporting events such as the Olympics, as well as logistical guidance to emergency services in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. However, the use of theses airships and UAVs in general raise serious questions regarding privacy and the gathering of information. Just as UAVs used for air strikes in conflict zones have become increasingly controversial, UAVs used in urban environments for surveillance may become just as contentious.


One Fish, Two Fish, Swordfish, Kingfish
by OpenCanada/CDFAI Staff
December 3rd, 2012

When it comes to unmanned systems technologies, most analysis has focused on aerial innovations, and for good reason – the vast majority of the drones being tested and deployed today hover in the air, at altitudes ranging from a couple of feet to tens of thousands of miles above the earth.

But significant innovation is also taking place far below sea level. The U.S. Navy is developing unmanned underwater vehicles (AUVs), as are university researchers and private companies around the world (including Canadian-based ones), not to mention DIY hobbyists. Some observers have speculated that unmanned naval systems will revolutionize naval operations.

According to the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Applications Center:

“Part of the current effort is the Mk 18 family of unmanned underwater vehicles with side-scan sonar technology and a camera. Mod 1, the Swordfish, is about 80 pounds and 7 inches in diameter. The smaller variant is designed to navigate the surf and beach zones -- less than 40 feet of water -- which includes the most turbidity of all the water column zones, complicating the UUV's efforts to determine depth…”

The Swordfish has now been joined by the Kingfish, a robot that can gather information underwater for 24 hours.

The U.S. Navy used to train dolphins for underwater mine-hunting, but now the mammals are being nosed out by the Kingfish – although dolphins still retain advantages over robots for jobs on the ocean-floor.

Drones are a more humane and cost-effective alternative to dolphins or mine-sweeping ships. When Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz last year if their nuclear weapons program was targeted, the U.S. deployed four mine-sweeping ships. A new Kingfish drone may be introduced to the region next year, which would allow fewer of these ships to be deployed.

The Khaleej Times reported that:

“…the Kingfish Mark 18 Model 2 is an upgrade of the first model [the Model 1 Swordfish UUV] and was tested during the recent mine countermeasures drills in the region and came up trumps. It is about 12-feet and resembles a torpedo. Guided by GPS, it also has a WiFi connection and can operate in the shallow waters of the Gulf and search a wide area and map them. There are three Kingfish vehicles in each system. The system can be operated from a rigid-hull inflatable boat, giving naval forces more mobility and speed to locate and detonate mines.”

“Another new deployment is the SeaFox mine disposal system. While Kingfish helps to detect mines, the SeaFox drone is sent out to put them out of action. They are being used on ships and MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters in the Gulf.”

You can find a photo of a Kingfish here, and more information on SeaFox and related technologies here.

For those excited by what one sea drone can do, from disarming a mine to detonating a potentially lethal bomb, imagine if you could deploy not just a single KingFish but a whole swarm. Researchers in Germany have moved from the realm of imagination to experimentation, building AUVs that swim together as would a school of fish:

“The most important capability a swarm brings AUVs is redundancy. Rather than relying on a singular, expensive platform, MONSUN [a 4 kilogram AUV designed for underwater environmental surveying] uses a handful low-cost, homogenous robots that can alter their role within the swarm.  While a portion of the AUVs conduct tasks underwater, the others act as communication relays.  If one of these vehicles has a mechanical failure or is lost, the swarm continues to operate.”

And so innovation below the surface appears to be taking place at a similarly rapid pace as that above ground, with new models and prototypes continuing to be tested. One impetus may be the argument that as defence budgets shrink, shifting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capacities from land-based to sea-based platforms may help cut costs, as the latter would be less vulnerable to attack. Whether the costs of maintaining these platforms will prove prohibitive is unclear, as is whether fueling AUVs will prove an insurmountable obstacle to lengthier missions.


Drones: To Report or Not to Report
by OpenCanada/CDFAI Staff
November 30th, 2012

Yesterday in Pakistan two attacks took place. The first, widely reported by the North American media and Western Europe, saw Pakistan military leader Mullah Nazir injured in a suicide bombing. Seven have been reported dead. The second was a drone attack that targeted a vehicle carrying three militants, including “foreigners” – a term used to describe Arab al-Qaeda operatives. Three have been announced dead. Reports of the drone attack have not appeared in the Western media as of yet, other than the “Long War Journal”, an American blog that reports on the War on Terror, while reports of the suicide bombing are widespread (here, and here).

Why isn’t the Western media covering drone attacks more consistently, especially ones that eliminate a terrorist target with zero unintended casualties, not to mention at low costs? Canadians and Americans alike are proud of their military; Canada leapt to the collective defence of General Leslie following scathing comments from Fox News, and while the CBC and Sun News may squabble over the definition of appropriate, they both support the men and women that serve and their families. Following the completed US assassination of Osama Bin Laden, President Obama praised the work of the service men involved: “We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.” So, why not tout the successes of the forces when it comes to the use of drone technology?

A recent UK Guardian article stressed that it is because soldiers are not placed in harms way during a drone attack that the military becomes “sheepish” when it reports on drone use: drones, “piloted by remote control from thousands of miles away, … have been the one unqualified military triumph of the war in Afghanistan”. Perhaps it is the lack of accountability or the general secrecy of these missions that detracts the Western media from reporting on them. Or, as the report “Living Under Drones” suggests, drones may not be as effective as they are made out to be.

The report is critical of the drone campaign in Pakistan, arguing that drones are not the precise, accurate, and limited weapon they have been portrayed to be: “the civilian toll from drone strikes is far higher than acknowledged”;  “many problems with the drone campaign go unreported”; and “government transparency is essential to gaining a better understanding of the campaign and its consequences.”

But the media isn’t the only group not publishing news of drone attacks. In a post from Claire Schachter of the Canadian International Council the lack of information around drones and their use is examined. Claire referencesJosh Begley, a New York-based app developer, who “created an app that aggregates the Bureau’s data on drone strikes and sends users a push notification whenever there is a new report of a drone strike. Apple has rejected the Drone+ app three times, and continually blocked it from the App store on grounds that the content is ‘objectionable and crude’.”

Why is the use of drones shrouded in such secrecy? "DRONE WEEK: KILL, WATCH, AID", hosted by OpenCanada in partnership with CDFAI from Dec. 10th to 14th 2012, will explore this question and many more. Remember to tune in.


The Drone Wars: Episode Hype?
by OpenCanada/CDFAI Staff
November 29th, 2012

When security analysts strategize about how to deal with the proliferation of drone technology, they aren’t working with a George Lucas inspired hypothetical. Headlines now remind us daily that the United States is no longer alone in possessing unmanned systems technology, and the capability to deploy these systems to conduct remote warfare. We’re not just talking about broadening the UAV club to include other U.S. allies besides Israel – The NYT’s International Herald Tribune recently reported that China displayed a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles at an air show in Zhuhai this November. The Tribune article quotes a Defense Science Report that declares China could “easily match or outpace U.S. spending on unmanned systems, rapidly close the technology gaps and become a formidable global competitor in unmanned systems.”

China’s progress, as well as a spate of drone-related incidents involving Iran, Israel, Hezbollah has led some to declare that a drones arms race is underway. Buy beating the drums for a drone war among the superpowers, whether China vs. the U.S., China vs. Russia, or some other Cold War game scenario, distracts from a more pressing concern: the potential for export of militarized drone technology by China or others with more lax export regulations than the U.S. to rogue actors – state and non-state – whose agendas may include retaliation against the U.S. for drone strikes in the Af-Pak region and Yemen.

A drone arms race implies neck and neck competition in innovation and production, but the capabilities of Chinese models leave a lot to be desired when compared to American ones. As Wired Magazine writes, however, that’s unlikely to deter smaller states looking to buy unmanned systems on the cheap, “bargain shopping for flying death robots”.

So, while a drones arms race among superpowers may be on the horizon, the more immediate danger would seem to be drone spillover. The frame for the questions we’re tracking should be less Cold War inspired and more in line with the post-Cold War debate over how to deal with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons – should we enforce limits on the development of a now widely accessible technology? Can we effectively monitor who develops what and for what purpose, as well as what's for sale and who's buying?

It’s what we don’t know – i.e. those states that don’t parade their drones at air shows for the world to see – that probably ought to worry defense analysts most.


Using Drones to Secure the Arctic
by OpenCanada/CDFAI Staff
November 28th, 2012

Canada has a deficiency when it comes to Arctic surveillance. Our military presence in the Arctic consists of the brief deployments of two CF-18 warplanes to Inuvik and the occasional patrol of the vast area by an Aurora aircraft – a manned maritime surveillance aircraft introduced in 1980. Our warships and submarines are rendered useless in this environment as they can’t work in, or under, the ice. And we are reliant on a Polar satellite that takes very narrow pictures of the territory and needs three weeks to collect information in the entire area.

At present Canada has very limited ability to assert its sovereignty over a region fiercely contested by several countries. … So far Denmark, Norway, Canada, Russia and the US, all of which lay claim to parts of the Arctic, have taken a relatively diplomatic approach, though there has been some notable flexing of military muscles. Canada felt severely threatened in 2007 when Russia sent a submarine to plant its flag 4km beneath the ice at the North Pole. At the time Stephen Harper, prime minister, responded by announcing that the Nanisivik mine, on the northern tip of the Baffin Island, would house a deepwater docking facility, adding to Canada’s military presence in the region. He added that Canada knew it had to “use or lose” the Arctic.

Drones present a possible solution to this problem.

US defence contractor, Northrop Grumman is in the process of developing the Polar Hawk. This unmanned aerial vehicle is robotically operated, with human oversight, and is able to stay airborne for up to 35 hours, is not armed, and can fly 10 kilometres up (above the high winds that can be problematic in the Arctic). The drone can be used to provide constant summer surveillance, provide coastal patrol in the Atlantic and Pacific, monitor forest fires and floods, and provide scientific and environmental sensing while operating out of a single base.

The drones would fill an important gap in Canadian security:

“It’s a capability that matches a need here in Canada,” Dane Marolt, Northrop Grumman’s director of international business development. “The Arctic is an issue for Canada. It’s also an issue for the United States. Unless you know what’s going on there, you can’t take any action.”


The problem is in the price:

But if such a military purchase were to be made, it would raise a series of pertinent questions. For instance, is this an appropriate military expenditure in a time of scarce defence resources? Significantly, it would cost roughly $1.6 billion to buy and operate three unarmed Polar Hawk drones for 20 years in the Arctic.

With some $2 billion in budget cuts hanging over the department’s head, it’s easy to question whether a fleet of drones is an intelligent military procurement decision. To be sure, there is no shortage of needs for the Canadian Forces: fighter jets, helicopters, armoured vehicles and trucks and naval frigates. Many in the Forces would wonder about the efficacy of a drone purchase.

For an in depth discussion of the challenges associated with the procurement and use of drones, check out contributions to "DRONE WEEK: KILL, WATCH, AID", hosted by OpenCanada in partnership with CDFAI from Dec. 10th to 14th 2012.


Countdown to Drone Week: Filling the Legal Void
by OpenCanada/CDFAI Staff
November 27, 2012

 The regulatory architecture in place to contain the U.S. drone program is shaky at best. Leaving military personnel to interpret and apply laws of war and rules of engagement designed with more traditional weaponry in mind encourages costly (and potentially criminal) confusion. Scott Shane reports for the New York Times that the Obama administration has acknowledged the need to formalize the rules governing targeted killing, and that drafting a rule-book of sorts became a matter of greater urgency during the lead up to the election. But to go by the lengthy (and still ongoing) process to draft and approve a revised U.S. Law of War Manual, a definitive drone manual is not likely to appear in the near future. The longer it takes, however, the more likely existing practices will become entrenched and resistant to change according to new rules. 

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Defense is likely to continue updating existing manuals and issuing new policy directives in an effort to fill the void, such as the one released on Nov. 21, establishing DoD policy for the development and use of autonomous weapons systems with the intentions of “minimizing the probability and consequences of failures in autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems that could lead to unintended engagements.”

For in depth discussion of the challenges of drafting and enforcing laws to govern the use of drones, check out contributions to "DRONE WEEK: KILL, WATCH, AID", hosted by OpenCanada in partnership with CDFAI from Dec. 10th to 14th 2012.

"The Future of Fighting" Conference Archive"

Conference I:
"What Are the Military and Foreign Policy Lessons of Afghanistan?"
Original e-conference date: May 1, 2012
Featuring Steve Saideman and Roland Paris, moderated by Philippe Lagassé, on the lessons learned from Afghanistan.
Conference II:
"Defending Canada At Home"
Original e-conference date: May 11, 2012
Featuring Stephen Flynn and Wesley Wark, moderated by Philippe Lagassé, on the terrorist threat to Canada.
Conference III:
"Military Relief"
Original e-conference date: May 17, 2012
The Canadian military still uses weapons. More and more often, however, the Canadian Forces are involved in disaster response efforts that don’t require much ammo. Elissa Golberg and Rahul Singh discuss this shift with Philippe Lagassé.
Conference IV:
"Canadian Cybersecurity"
Original e-conference date: May 22, 2012
In the new cyberwar, it’s not belligerent states you have to worry about — it’s belligerent companies and individuals.  The Oxford Internet Institute’s Jon Penney on how Canada can counter these non-state actors.
Conference V:
"New Capabilities"
Original e-conference date: May 29, 2012
Peter Singer and Jennifer Welsh discuss the ethics of drone warfare live with Philippe Lagassé.
Conference VI:
"The Militarization of Aid"
Original e-conference date: June 8, 2012
Retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie chats with Philippe Lagassé about the militarization of aid.
Conference VII:
"The New Warfare"
Original e-conference date: June 14, 2012
Brown University’s James Der Derian and author Noah Richler talk warfare and security in a changing world with Philippe Lagassé.



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