Drone technology, both civil and military, under proper legal regulation, can continue to deliver ‘significant benefits’ for the UK’s national security policy and economy in the coming decades.

That is the conclusion of a University of Birmingham Policy Commission report. But the Government, and especially the Ministry of Defence (MoD), ‘should do more’ to reach out to the public over what the Commission sees as the globally inevitable use of drones in armed conflict and in domestic surveillance.

Aerospace capability

The Report, titled The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK (PDF - 9.62MB), finds that over the next 20 years, drones – or what the Commission and the RAF prefer to call Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) – will become an integral part of Britain’s aerospace capability, providing both advanced surveillance and precision weapons delivery.

The report brings together the expertise of leading academics at the University of Birmingham and senior figures with backgrounds in the military, aerospace industries, the UK’s intelligence and policing communities, and international law.

Innovative technology

Policy Commission Chair Sir David Omand, the first UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator and a former Director of GCHQ, said: ‘For too long drone technology has carried a burden of ethical suspicion given its controversial use for counter-terrorist strikes by the US…This Commission has highlighted the need for more work on the policies for such applications, and we hope that our findings will help clarify the issues that will need more attention, as well as providing a vision for how the UK can exploit this innovative technology.’

Academic lead Professor Nicholas Wheeler, Director of the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at the University, said: ‘I am delighted that this Policy Commission, like its five predecessors, has built on this distinguished record.’

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