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Drone Wars for May 2014 was compiled by Elayne Jude for Great North News Service
Writing in The New York Times 21 May 2014, Jacob Wood, a former Marine Corps sniper team leader, and Ken Harbaugh, a former Navy pilot and mission commander, express "a deep appreciation for the work of drone pilots. Whether patrolling the Helmand Valley with a sniper team or relying on drone-driven intelligence to plan manned aerial missions, we often prayed that the drone operators supporting us were cool, calm and collected".
But they are worried by recent decision-making in the White House and the Pentagon. The proposed scrapping of the functional but unfashionable heavily armed close-air support plane, the A-10, and the creation of new medal, the Distinguished Warfare Medal, specifically for remote operators, which would outrank the Bronze Star and the mythic Purple Heart (the idea was abandoned after a public outcry), have stirred a deep unease in Wood and Harbaugh about fantasy-besotted attitudes to new tech versus battlefield realities:
"Our most senior leaders in the Pentagon, civilian and military alike, increasingly understand warfare through the literal lens of a drone camera...The American public, which has largely absolved itself of responsibility for sending nearly three million of its citizens to fight, neither knows nor cares to know the real price of war...The controversy surrounding the A-10 retirement and the Distinguished Warfare Medal should be a wake-up call... Lost in all the allure of high-tech gadgets is the fact that, on the ground and in the air, thousands of men and women continue to risk their lives to promote America's security and interests.
"We both owe a great deal to the drones and operators that cleared routes ahead of us or provided intelligence for a manned flight. But while we appreciate their role, we know that they can never provide the kind of truly connected battlefield support that a well-trained pilot can. And when we recognise them, we do so for their skill, not their courage."
Reuters published a piece claiming that, despite Obama's new attitude to UACV warfare, there is 'no end in sight' to this method of targeted killing.
"Even with the recent surge of strikes in Yemen, the overall pace of attacks and the rate of civilian casualties have fallen appreciably. There has even been an unofficial pause in attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of the year, after a Pakistani request for restraint while it negotiated with the Taliban and a dwindling number of "high-value" targets in border areas...The Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command is widely believed to have been behind the December 12 drone strike in a remote part of Yemen that hit a convoy later identified as a wedding procession, killing 15 people. An official U.S. inquiry was launched but no findings have been released."
Reuters quoted an unnamed US military source as saying that the number of allegedly bungled military strikes in Yemen led to a suspension of the Pentagon's UACV operations there earlier this year, while the CIA continued to fly its own fleet.
Northrop Grumman announced the first flight of the Rotary Bat (R-Bat) unmanned helicopter, a new version of the Yamaha Motor RMAX, a 61lb aircraft with a 246cc, 2-stroke engine which has operated as a cropduster in rice paddies since 1998.
The R-Bat integrates new autonomous control and intelligence-gathering technology to perform in new roles, such as military reconnaissance, search and rescue, power line inspection and forest fire observation.
The R-Bat joins Northrop's family of flying-wing Bat unmanned air systems (UAS), such as the Bat 12.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies held a panel discussion on the US's limitations on the exportability of unmanned systems. Without a change in export policy, partners "will be incentivised to build them themselves, or they will simply buy them from others," said Michael Horowitz, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "Building partner capacity to substitute or supplement for American capabilities is an important national security priority, and there is a strong demand signal." He claimed that flexibility is possible if the government is willing to work with allies on the issue.
"If you...focus on the longer range systems and those that are armed, it really reduces the set of countries and places that can develop those and be likely to acquire those," noted Lynn Davis of the RAND corporation. "Many of our partners but also our adversaries, when looking at these systems, might also find other systems that are more attractive militarily or in terms of costs."
She observed that the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a sizeable roadblock in exporting unmanned systems like the MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper, which"is standing in the way of everything we wanted to do to develop these system and sell them to partners," Davis said.
Before the discussion on proliferation of unmanned systems, a panel of military representatives noted that cooperation and collaboration among the branches of the US military is going to be increasingly important for UAVs. Navy Capt. Chris Corgnati
identified the origin of increased cooperation as a meeting last year between top generals from the services. Cooperation has filtered down through the ranks. He wants to see cooperation increased in sustainment and maintenance operations, eg sharing overseas bases and depot work.
Lt. Col. Michael Hixson of the Marines, and Air Force Col. Kenneth Callahan, both noted the influence of declining budgets on smarter working practices around UAVs.
Stratfor reports tensions between Algeria and the United States, who both view UAVs as useful tools in the fight against terrorism. Deep divisions remain on who owns oversight of technology and operations. The United States is committed to improving indigenous counterterrorism capabilities in MENA, but is frustrated that Algeria, a promising potential partner, continues to pursue its own prerogatives. Algeria rejects foreign oversight over domestic decision-making,and remains wary of expanded Western influence in its backyard.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a martyrdom statement for a military commander who was killed in a strike last summer in Yemen. AQAP released the biography of Sarhan Abdullah Ali al Nasi, also known as Khishiman, on May 12 on its Twitter feed.
12 May 2014 - Yemen. Six AQAP fighters reported killed, in the first strike recorded in Yemen this month.
Missiles targeted a vehicle as it was driving in the village of Husoun al-Jalal, in the Wadi Abida district in the central province of Marib. The exact target of the strike was not disclosed. No AQAP leaders or operatives were reported killed at the time.
The region is said to be a haven for AQAP in central Yemen. Today's is the sixth strike conducted in Wadi Abida since October 2012., killing 28 AQAP fighters and two civilians
The Yemeni military has been on the offensive against AQAP in its southern strongholds of Abyan and Shabwa provinces, reporting success in reclaiming AQAP strongholds. It claims to have retaken Azzan and the Al Maifa district in Shabwa, and the Al Mahfad district in Abyan province. A Yemeni military official has stated that hundreds of AQAP fighters and dozens of leaders by the latest operations in the south, including fighters from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Somalia, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and France.
The US has launched 12 strikes in Yemen so far this year.
14 May 2014 - Afghanistan. Three strikes in three locations in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar killed more than ten fighters from the Lashkar-e-Islam, a Taliban-linked group active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One strike may have targeted a jirga, or meeting, between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban.
Upwards of 10 "militants" were killed and 14 more were wounded, according to the political agent for Khyber. He said that the district where the strikes took place has become a sanctuary for fighters from the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e Islam.
No strikes have occurred inside Pakistan since Dec. 26, 2013. The Nazyan district is close to Pakistan's tribal agency of Khyber, which led to conflicting reports about on which side of the border the attacks had occurred. No strikes have been launched inside Pakistan since Dec. 26, 2013. The US moratorium on strikes in Pakistan is a political decision. The US suspended strikes during negotiations between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban. Lashkar-e-Islam, affiliated to the Taliban, is highly active in the Khyber tribal agency. The Pakistani military has failed to dislodge Lashkar-e-Islam from power.