back to article Q: How many drones are we bombing ISIS with? A: That's secret, mmkay

The UK's Information Tribunal has rejected an appeal by campaigners trying to find out how many British Reaper drones are being used for warlike missions in the Middle East. The Tribunal ruled that Blighty's Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) was right to reject anti-drone campaign group Drone Wars UK’s Freedom of …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Wrong comparison

    It would, however, be entirely understandable why the government would be reluctant to reveal how many Lancaster bombers it actually had at its disposal on that particular night."

    During WWII, against an enemy who had an Air Force and trained pilots.

    So, am I to understand that ISIS has an Air Force that can down drones if they know how many there are ?

    Don't think so.

    There may well be some reasons for keeping the number of drones secret, but this comparison is not one of them.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Wrong comparison

      So, am I to understand that ISIS has an Air Force that can down drones if they know how many there are ?

      Future wars may be against a more technologically advanced enemy who may well find that information very useful.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Wrong comparison

        "Future wars may be against a more technologically advanced enemy who may well find that information very useful."

        Or just embarrassing that we actually have so few of them.

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      WTF?

      anti-drone campaign group Drone Wars

      Why does anti-drone campaign group Drone Wars* think that being bombed from a drone is worse than being bombed from manned aircraft?

      *Which a Google search didn't produce even one first page hit for.

      1. Disarmingman

        Re: anti-drone campaign group Drone Wars

        Your Google must be broke*

        *Its on the first page

        PS https://dronewars.net/2014/03/20/whats-wrong-with-drones/

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: anti-drone campaign group Drone Wars

          In summary, DroneWars has two very cogent points about war drones:

          1) Politicians can sorta prosecute war on somebody without actually placing any voters or their relatives in harm's way.

          Drones bypass one political problem that our leaders face when considering warfare. How important is it? Who knows...?

          3) Politicians can rub out alleged bad guys without involving a physical pilot in the act.

          Again it eases the way for belligerent leaders to employ what would have been called assassination in earlier, simpler times. Obama made considerable use of this capability.

          Both these points are strong, but something tells me war drones won't be going away soon. And any attempts to publicly outlaw them would be highly controversial, since it would be hard to enforce such laws internationally.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. nijam

      Re: Wrong comparison

      >... ISIS has an Air Force that can down drones...

      An Air Force is not required for that task.

  2. TechnicianJack
    Coat

    How many drones are we using to bomb ISIS? None hopefully. It would be much more effective to bomb them with bombs.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      I think you've drone their cover there....

  3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Group Captain Mark Flewin

    A nice bit of nominative determinism there

    1. Mephistro Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Group Captain Mark Flewin

      Don't think he's "flewing" much nowadays, with all those drones!

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Most likely answers

    > trying to find out how many British Reaper drones are being used for warlike missions in the Middle East.

    Given the reluctance, it is reasonable to assume the answer is one of the following MoD responses:

    None. We're thinking about building the drone-craft carrier for them. It should be ready by 2050

    One. Yeeeeees, of course we have drones! We have lots of drones. So many that it's a secret. Look! here's a photo.

    We don't know. Well, we bought a load of them. Some have been delivered. Some will arrive next month. We've crashed a few, Some don't work. We haven't got the right batteries for some (they do use batteries, don't they? The Minister of Defence's son has one, that's got batteries). And some are in Afghanistan - or is it Syria or Iraq? I get terribly confused with all these foreign names.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Most likely answers

      Or variable: we lease them from the US and it depends how many they let us play with and if they agree with what we bomb.

    2. DagD

      Re: Most likely answers

      "we don't know" is probably most accurate. One department doesn't know what the next is doing when it comes to the military/government.

  5. Alistair Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Don't wanna tell us what you got in that hand there RAF?

    ISIS doesn't seem to have much in the way of airforce, but there have been suggestions that they've stolen a helicopter or four. And possibly a couple of small cargo aircraft. But those suggestions come from relatively questionable sources. Considering the financial support thrown at ISIS by the regime change specialists in the region when they were spun up (anyone recall all the brand spanking new toyotas?) I would not be surprised to find that their upper echelons have air travel.

    All that considered, my largest sympathies go to the Syrians, Afghani's and Iraqi's who have had their real lives ripped out from under them in the last 12 years or so, and are trying to get something approaching normal life back. I've an 'adopted' relative (sort of) who has lost most of his biological family, and is currently awaiting a UN emigration visa in Jordan. Had not heard from him or his in 4 years, and last we heard he was trying to pack up and get out of a town ISIS was assaulting.

    I for one certainly hope that there is some hope of gluing a country (or two or three) together out of what remains of Syria.

    And if I ever have the option to meet with the Royal family of Jordan, I'll take that opportunity. They seem to be unique in that part of the world.

    1. Jon 37

      > I would not be surprised to find that their upper echelons have air travel

      I would be surprised if they have air travel in ISIS-held territory - that would make them easy and obvious targets for Western fighter jets. NATO seem to be very good at the "air superiority" thing.

      Of course, the upper echelons probably have access to private jets when travelling outside ISIS-held territory, given how much money they were reportedly capturing and/or making from oil etc.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would assume a good reason they don't disclose the numbers is so it's not used in promotional videos for the medieval terror bastards.

  7. DagD

    Ted Striker: My orders came through. My squadron ships out tomorrow. We're bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 1800 hours. We're coming in from the north, below their radar.

    Elaine Dickinson: When will you be back?

    Ted Striker: I can't tell you that. It's classified.

    1. JJKing Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      It was above my security clearance.

      Damn, 37 years after I first saw that movie, I have finally gotten that joke. Duh me!

  8. rmason Silver badge

    Interesting stuff

    I read it through, learned a few things.

    One key thing I couldn't glean though is I think quite crucial;

    Why on earth do they care? Why do we need to or want to know this? Does it matter if we are using unmanned (piloted by a person or people still) drone, or a more traditional aircraft?

    What I don't get it why does it matter?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interesting stuff

      What I don't get it why does it matter?

      I think you'll find that this does matter to certain parts of the political spectrum, specifically the liberal and extreme left. Many of the liberal left object to the idea of "death by videogame" (no, I don't follow their arguments either, but that's a view some hold and express). The extreme left object to us conducting wars full stop, and complaining about drones is simply an opportunity for cheap publicity.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Interesting stuff

        'The extreme left object to us conducting wars full stop, and complaining about drones is simply an opportunity for cheap publicity.'

        That's the crux of it. If you've seen either of the two films about drone strikes (Eye in the Sky?) you'll get a bit of an idea of the approval process for conducting a strike with an unmanned aircraft. With a manned aircraft there's a lot less oversight from lawyers, senior officers, etc. and much less time loitering over the target deciding what to do, because who wants to get shot down over ISIS territory?

        So realistically drone strikes are less likely to result in collateral damage and logically the Stop the War crowd should be more in favour of them than manned strikes. Of course logically they should have also opposed Russian intervention in Syria but for some reason they didn't have a big march about that....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Interesting stuff

          With a manned aircraft there's a lot less oversight from lawyers, senior officers, etc

          As it should be. And also with drones. If retard politicians want to have either the most senor officers press the button (or indeed lawyers), then lets take away the drone operators, we needn't have death-by- committee-of-uninvolved-fuckwits, decide whether brasshats or lawyers are in charge, then one person again does the deed.

          I'm not sure how we ended up with the mess we have now of "battlefield lawyers" (who would shit their pants if actually asked to fight for real) but it seems the politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats don't understand war, and think that it is somehow codified, and it follows or should follow rules.

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Interesting stuff

            and think that it is somehow codified, and it follows or should follow rules.

            What are you, a Geneva Convention denier? Do you think war would be better without any possibility of any act ever being considered a war crime, perhaps?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Interesting stuff

              What are you, a Geneva Convention denier?

              Not at all. But in reality the Geneva convention is a piece of paper that means little. It sometimes protected our PoWs in WW2, but there were many breaches. And not just on the Axis side.

              By modern standards, WW2 carpet bombing would be a crime. Arguably, WW1 starvation strategies would be a war crime. There's plenty of weapons and tactics in all historic wars that twatty liberals now consider a "war crime". But that's because they don't understand war. War is about violence, brutality, death, reprisal, vengeance, destruction. Lawyers and academics don't get that.

              ""Forth, and fear no darkness. Arise, arise Riders of Théoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered. A sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now! Ride now! Ride! Ride for ruin, and the world’s ending! Death! Death! Death! Forth Eorlingas! "

              That's what war is about. Kill, or be killed, and fuck collateral damage.

              1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

                Re: Interesting stuff

                @Ledswinger "That's what war is about. Kill, or be killed, and fuck collateral damage.."

                That's killing your friends, remember? Sure, accidentally or inadvertently, but still your own side! If you were in Théoden's charge, you'd be the one wildly swinging his weapon (nominative determinism?) and injuring your companions!

                The Geneva convention may be often breached, but it is part of what keeps us from becoming as bad or worse than those we fight. Protect civilians, care for prisoners. Who wants an endless cycle of escalating revenge?

                1. ITS Retired

                  Re: Interesting stuff

                  "Who wants an endless cycle of escalating revenge?"

                  Why do you think we have a terrorist problem now? We are over there interfering in their countries, killing their people. The more "terrorists" we kill, the more terrorists we make. Somebodies must want this endless cycle of escalating revenge, because it si sure happening.

                  1. SkippyBing Silver badge

                    Re: Interesting stuff

                    'Why do you think we have a terrorist problem now? We are over there interfering in their countries, killing their people.'

                    Except most of the terrorist attacks have been committed by second generation immigrants. They're blowing up (in) their own countries. Because ISIS seek a full blown war between the Islamic world and the infidels, which makes it very hard to stop.

              2. Fink-Nottle

                Re: Interesting stuff

                >""Forth, and fear no darkness. Arise, arise Riders of Théoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered. A sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now! Ride now! Ride! Ride for ruin, and the world’s ending! Death! Death! Death! Forth Eorlingas! "

                Mind you, even Sauron was quite forthright about the number of air force units.

              3. JLV Silver badge

                Re: Interesting stuff

                @Ledswinger It's interesting to note that, by "classical" Geneva conventions, Guantanomo was fully justified, even tame. Enemy combatants are expressly required to be uniformed, otherwise their treatment is not covered.

                Your point is well taken but there is little benefit in an all-out struggle that just ups the nastiness without really improving the prospects of either party if the new nasty just balances out. That's more true of WW1 gassing than WW2 strategic bombing. Plus, at some point excessive inhumanity "soils" the country and society doing it.

                Even Hitler did not use chemicals _in combat_ (note qualifier: I aint no Spicer). We've also successfully disallowed blinding lasers.

                It's hard to find a balance between "humane war" and making war generally too palatable (cf old Star Trek). Methink a good start is defining "war crimes" and holding people who knowingly and wilfully infringe them very, very, accountable. I think we're, very roughly and clumsily, heading in the right direction - the Middle East wars of the last 15 years or so would have been much more indiscriminate if carried by early/mid 20th century Western democracies. With lil more success than Nam, Algeria, Soviets in Afghanistan.

                1. strum Silver badge

                  Re: Interesting stuff

                  >@Ledswinger It's interesting to note that, by "classical" Geneva conventions, Guantanomo was fully justified, even tame. Enemy combatants are expressly required to be uniformed, otherwise their treatment is not covered.

                  Not that garbage again. The Geneva Conventions have been carfully scoped so that they explicitily apply to everybody.

        2. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Interesting stuff

          Of course logically they should have also opposed Russian intervention in Syria but for some reason they didn't have a big march about that....

          Not every protest makes it to your television screen in glorious technicolour. It doesn't mean they don't happen.

          Your implication that the left in the UK loves Russia is also ridiculously out of date (if it were ever true of all but the extreme left), but please carry on making that mistake because it helps warn people that you haven't been paying attention for 30 years or more.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Private Eye always has

            Rich, the article you link to is the exception that proves the rule. "The Syria Campaign" and "Syria Solidarity UK" are hardly mainstream movements and I am not even sure "The Syria Campaign" can be claimed by "the left". Lets have a think back to one organisation that most definitely didn't protest about Russian aggression in Ukraine or Syria or anywhere for that matter: the Stop The War Coalition (part of the mainstream left of which Jeremy Corbyn is a member).

            Have a look at their mainstream newsfeed and try to find a single story that isn't about evil Western aggression. Their demonstratably untrue assertion that they are only concerned with British meddling in foreign climes is immediately evident from all the bitching and whinging about Prez Trump and his exploits in the region. A shameless, mainstream vomit hole for anti western, anti imerialist bollocks...with Russia as the exalted warrior riding in on its T62 to save the day. The implication that the left loves Russia is not out of date...it's just most on the left are too stupid to see they have been had. Have a quick look on The Canary or even that toilet paper online rag "The Independent"...all of which have been set up by or occupied by useful idiots towing the Kremlin line. The Cold War has defeinitely move on from 30 years ago...but it is still there, and people like you need to see that.

          2. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: Interesting stuff

            'Not every protest makes it to your television screen in glorious technicolour. It doesn't mean they don't happen.'

            Although notably that didn't seem to have any involvement by the poorly monickered left leaning 'Stop the War' coalition. But I'm sure that's nothing to do with their sometime president, one J Corbyn, not wanting to upset his occasional paying gig on Russia Today...

            'Your implication that the left in the UK loves Russia is also ridiculously out of date (if it were ever true of all but the extreme left)'

            'Labour and the Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left' by Giles Udy literally details occasions Labour politicians and others on the left covered up mass murders by the Communists in Russia. Unless you think George Bernard Shaw was extreme left...

            Available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1785902040/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=39KUP4K1RWV1L&coliid=IWHIVPWDJT5D8

      2. Disarmingman

        Re: Interesting stuff

        If you really want to know and not just being snarky

        https://dronewars.net/2016/11/21/where-are-britains-armed-drones/

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting stuff

        @ledswinger

        "The extreme left object to us conducting wars full stop" no. I think it is more likely they object to fighting another country's wars for them. Especially when the country we are supporting is the one that destroyed what remained of our economy

        However given that you are best buds with the guys who are all for wasting tax payer's money on the otherside of the world, with the result that Europeans are being targetted here, you can no doubt explain why this is a good thing for the general population.

        Personally I would have thought it would be cheaper to just keep them from getting out of the country and cutting off all communications. Then we could let any of their supporters from here over to join them (at their own cost) and everyone can live how they like. Sadly this approach doesn't sell nor advertise "British weapons" nor does it get discounts on petrol so the general population suffer so your mates can get richer before they up sticks when we seperate from Europe

    2. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: Interesting stuff

      > Does it matter if we are using unmanned (piloted by a person or people still) drone, or a more traditional aircraft?

      The way it was explained to me is that some groups have a concern that using drones lowers the bar for armed interventions. With piloted aircraft, we have some "skin" in the game. There is risk (both to the aircrew and the politicians) of "our side" sustaining casualties. That makes people in command think twice about committing forces. Add to that, a manned operation is a dam' sight more expensive.

      But with drones, the operation is conducted from an office environment, thousands of miles away. There is nothing at risk except the cost of the drone. That makes the decision of when and where to intervene merely an accounting exercise. And therefore the prosecution of war becomes much more likely.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Interesting stuff

        >There is nothing at risk except the cost of the drone. That makes the decision of when and where to intervene merely an accounting exercise.

        Problem is that drones don't solve the real problems, firstly: who and what to target? and secondly: winning the peace, both of which seem to have been overlooked to varying degrees in the various Gulf wars that the US and UK have got into in recent times.

        So actually "sending in the drones" is a way of being seen to do something, but not actually having to commit to any real action or outcome.

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Interesting stuff

          'There is nothing at risk except the cost of the drone. That makes the decision of when and where to intervene merely an accounting exercise.'

          Because not having drones really slowed them* down invading Afghanistan in 2001...

          *The US may have had some the UK definitely didn't, nor for the '03 invasion of Iraq.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Interesting stuff

        > Does it matter if we are using unmanned (piloted by a person or people still) drone, or a more traditional aircraft?

        The way it was explained to me is that some groups have a concern that using drones lowers the bar for armed interventions. With piloted aircraft, we have some "skin" in the game.

        So it would seem that anti-drone campaigners and others really want is a return to 'real' war where combat was hand-to-hand and opponents could see the white's of each other's eyes. I expect they would also like combatants to wear red uniforms and abide by some code of honour about what is and isn't a good death - none of this camouflage or looking like civilians...

      3. JLV Silver badge

        Re: Interesting stuff

        I suggest reading 'Forever Peace' by Haldeman. Quite prescient, though I did not find the magical empathy effect in the latter half very convincing. Still, clever antiwar SF.

    3. Smooth Newt
      Meh

      Re: Interesting stuff

      What I don't get it why does it matter?

      Because it is an embarrassingly small number, like 0 or 1.

      "Prejudicing the promotion or protection by the United Kingdom of its interests abroad" means that various troublemakers will start questioning what sort of capability £50 billion a year on defence should actually be buying.

  9. frank 3

    "Part of the three-judge tribunal’s unanimous decision that the public interest was not strong enough to order disclosure rested on reasons given in its closed judgement."

    That's the really crappy part - can't even challenge the validity of their judgement because the grounds on which they made the judgement are secret. Huh. Love a secret kangaroo court, me.

  10. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Slippery slope?

    Presumably the MoD would like to maintain the option of not disclosing how many aircraft/ships/personnel are in a given theatre. Just because they currently do disclose how many manned fighters are operating in the area doesn't mean they might later decide it's a bad idea, or the possibility of lying about it to confuse an enemy's intelligence estimates. If they hadn't fought the FOI request they may have set a precedent that would be hard to back down from.

    Incidentally although ISIS don't have a counter-air component, that I'm aware of, that doesn't mean they don't have the means to destroy the drones. Vans seem to be a popular attack medium at the moment, so the less information they have on what's operating where the better. I suspect the manned aircraft numbers are only widely available because there are people who stand at the end of runways counting these things anyway.

    1. CraPo

      Re: Slippery slope?

      "I suspect the manned aircraft numbers are only widely available because there are people who stand at the end of runways counting these things anyway."

      Nope. Because of jobs, budgets, shareholders and appearing to take a tough stance, these things are generally published.

      https://airbusdefenceandspace.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/2016-11_mrs_gen_ord-deliv-by-country.pdf

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Slippery slope?

        'Nope. Because of jobs, budgets, shareholders and appearing to take a tough stance, these things are generally published.'

        That doesn't tell you how many aircraft are involved in a specific operation though. I'm sure you can easily find out how many drones the UK has purchased. You just can't get a break down of how many of those are actively dropping ordinance over Syria.

  11. sictransit

    Link to judgment

    Link to the open judgment and background papers: https://dronewars.net/2017/08/17/information-tribunal-dismisses-drone-wars-appeal-over-british-drone-secrecy/

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A laosy analogy

    Possibly they're gearing up for War 11.0, against you-know-who, an opponent with more war wains. He maketh the sun to rise and a Nobel prize to descend upon the evil and on the good. To paraphrase.

  13. imanidiot Silver badge

    So either, or

    Either the number is shockingly low and would show Britain is throwing away money hand over fist on it's drone "capability" OR the number is higher than they want to admit for fear of losing funding on manned flight/aircraft carriers/other white wales.

    1. Zmodem

      Re: So either, or

      MoD have brought 10 or something, and they will have 50+ taranis drones

      http://www.baesystems.com/en/product/taranis

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: So either, or

        Are we actually buying Taranis, my understanding, reinforced by reading the advertorial you linked to, is that it's a tech demonstrator not an end product as such.

        1. Zmodem

          Re: So either, or

          the MoD has nothing else which is stealth until the eurofighter 2 comes along, so taranis will probably be in service in 10 years at most, but then it has been caught on satellite/photo's all around the world if you watch UFO channels on youtube

          1. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: So either, or

            'the MoD has nothing else which is stealth until the eurofighter 2 comes along'

            What are you smoking?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So either, or

      Yes, if it turns out a couple of £10-15m drones are doing more work than a multi-billion pound fleet of manned aircraft, then it doesn't look too good for the fighter pilots.

  14. streaky Silver badge

    Easy..

    Freedom of Information request seeking to find out how many RAF MQ-9 Reaper drones are being used to bomb Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

    If you guessed all of them (so 10) you'd probably hit pretty close to the mark. Not really much point keeping any in reserve, they probably have some being serviced and whatever at any given time but principally.. all of them.

    It's moot. If it's > 0 the kind of person who gets upset about this stuff is going to get upset, and it's definitely at least 1 so... But.. all of them.

  15. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I counted them all...

    "I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back."

    Brian Hanrahan, during the Falklands campaign, 1982

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cWCDHD4oFc

    1. Smooth Newt
      Joke

      Re: I counted them all...

      "I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back."

      If Brian Hanrahan was alive today, perhaps he would be reporting "I'm not allowed to say how drones joined the raid, but I counted it out and I counted it back."

  16. ZootCadillac
    Mushroom

    Whatever the number is, it's not enough.

    1. ZootCadillac
      Big Brother

      Actually if anyone cares the UK has 10 MQ-9 reaper drones. These are the only drones available to the RAF capable of carrying out such a mission in Syria. They are all in operation in the Middle East since 2014.

      They are being phased out and replaced with 20 Predator B drones, which have a greater reach and larger payload. These are apart from and in addition to a greater number of differing types of high-altitude reconnaissance drones.

      1. Disarmingman

        Errr, as the MoD is refusing to say how many are deployed how do you know 'they are all in operation in ME'? The Daily Mail??

  17. herman Silver badge

    Published military strength numbers are always bullshit. No defence force will ever disclose real numbers.

  18. Nightblogger

    The main reason the MOD does not comment on Reaper deployments is then unlike manned aircraft they are primarily an Intel and SF asset. Intel and SF assets are deployed under the executive authority of the Prime Minster and the Service Chiefs. Just as the MOD doesn't comment on Special Forces operations so they are not going to comment on Reaper deployments. Simple, no conspiracy, no waging of war without the authority of Parliament because even SF deployments are scrutinized by the appropriate committees - they are just nor commented upon in the public domain - and quite rightly so.

    Also Drones do not 'lower the threshold for violence' as is often claimed. They level the playing field in asymmetric conflicts where the threshold of violence has already been lowered by the terrorist who cares nothing for the laws of armed conflict or for civilian lives.

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