Hunter Killer Missions


BERLIN (Own report) - A scientific agency of the German parliament considers the development of armed combat robots to be "absolutely essential." Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or so-called drones, should be given special consideration, not only to carry out reconnaissance of potential targets, but to also "instantly" engage them (Hunter Killer Missions), writes the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB). This is necessary, so that the Bundeswehr can participate in "larger conventional combat" within the framework of global "robust military missions," without endangering its own troops. "Military target" is defined very broadly. UAVs could therefore engage their weapons also against "interference" in the combat zone, explains the TAB. The TAB considers armed combat robots as "legal weapon platforms," indicating that soldiers would "not be at risk only to provide the best possible protection to the civilian population." But because the drones are partially under remote control from command posts in the belligerent countries, enemy combatants could take "counter measures" in those countries, warns the TAB. International law does not categorically prohibit "attacks in the hinterland of the opponent party in the conflict."

Unmanned Systems

According to a current study by the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB), the so called Unmanned Military Systems (UMS) have had an "impressive career" on the battle fields over the past few years. Particularly in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the UMS have provided western intervention forces the possibility of carrying out "numerous missions at minimal troop risk." The Bundeswehr is therefore planning to "increase the deployment of unmanned systems," according to the TAB. Thanks to the UMS, the German military not only expects "enhanced reconnaissance and intelligence," as well as "enhanced troop protection," but also increased "effectiveness in combat." And to achieve this, the TAB writes, the "use of unmanned systems as arms carriers" will be "inevitable."[1]

Drone Weapons in Kill Operations

The German Air Force is particularly advanced in its reflections on these questions, the TAB reports. According to the scientific agency, the Air Force considers the "effect on ground targets" to be the "special strong point" of the UAVs or drones: "Sustained missions in the theater of operations, combined with the capacity to commit firepower, open the option of a sustained possibility of engaging the enemy." The "wide area surveillance capability" in the "depths of the theater of operations" must be supplemented with a "rapid armed engagement capability." The Air Force could clearly enhance its capacity profile with the "introduction of armed reconnaissance UAVs, as a first step, with a perspective of fielding UAVs optimized with drone weapons ready for commitment. (...) Combining unrelenting reconnaissance and a permanent engagement capability, will enable the engagement of suddenly - and only momentarily - appearing high priority targets, even in close proximity to our forces." Hence, the TAB is particularly praising the use of drones by US Forces for targeted assassinations. "Beyond their reconnaissance function, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have established themselves as weapon platforms in so called 'Hunter Killer Missions'."

Civilian Casualties

The TAB interprets the terms "adversary" and "military target" quite extensively. Since the Bundeswehr's "global missions" are demanding "participation in larger conventional combat missions," the "range of functions" Unmanned Military Systems assume, must be "broadened," explains the agency. They have in mind, not only the "use of weapons against ground targets" but "also against interference." At the same time, the TAB parts from the assumption that particularly drones can be of "great assistance" in "observing the precept of distinction" between belligerents and civilians as required by international law. It is "undeniable that advanced unmanned systems can conduct reconnaissance of the local conditions on the ground with great precision. UAVs can hover over the target for hours and through the continuous surveillance provide a relatively reliable assessment of the situation for the operator in the control station. (...) With laser, the targets can be precisely (...) marked." What is not mentioned is that in the Afghan-Pakistan border region US military drone attacks have regularly led to a large number of civilian casualties.

Legitimate Targets

The TAB basically considers combat drones "legal weapon platforms" in line with international humanitarian law. In this context they make reference to the stipulation that the armed forces need "not take risks, only to provide the civilian population with the highest degree of protection." Inversely, the scientific agency writes that the personnel charged with steering combat drones from ground stations, have "combat status." The "operator" is "a legitimate target of attack in the international legal context." According to TAB, this remains true in spite of the fact that combat drones' command posts are often "located far away" in the homeland of the belligerent. "Attacks on the homeland of the opposing party to the conflict (are) in principle, not prohibited," which is why TAB recommends that those "running the ground station" should avoid locating these "within or in the proximity of highly populated areas."

Experienced Authors

TAB is administered by the Karlsruher Institute of Technology (KIT), which in cooperation with the Bundeswehr University in Munich has been dealing with the development of combat robots, since some time. ( reported.[2]) It also evidently has a good relationship to the arms industry. One of the three expertise used in the study "Status and Perspectives of Military use of Unmanned Systems" had been written by Rheinmetall - an earlier bidder for German combat drones.

[1] Zitate hier und im Folgenden: Büro für Technikfolgenabschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag: Stand und Perspektiven der militärischen Nutzung unbemannter Systeme. Endbericht zum TA-Projekt. Drucksache des Bundestagsausschusses für Bildung, Forschung und Technikfolgenabschätzung 17(18)179a, Berlin 29.06.2011
[2] see also Kampfmaschinen