The UK and US's drone programmes share infrastructure, manufacturing, intelligence and coordination to such an extent that their two programmes are inextricably linked to each other, according to the latest report from the monitoring group Drone Wars UK. A Joint Enterprise: How the UK and the US co-operate on drone warfare is the product of 18 months investigation by the NGO which also includes responses to freedom of information requests submitted to the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) by Drone Wars UK.
Chris Cole, the director and founder of Drone Wars UK, explains to Sputnik that being embedded with the US drone programme including their bombing campaigns may well make Britain culpable in any crimes which are being committed.
Sputnik: What evidence is there of the UK's armed drone programme being integrated with the US's rather than being independent from it?
Chris Cole: Close historic ties, shared use of infrastructure and tightly integrated operations draw the two programmes together as a joint enterprise. This includes RAF pilots being embedded within the US Air Force operating US drones, and UK use of US communication and satellite infrastructure for UK operations.
Sputnik: Are US drones being operated from within the UK and why should it matter if they are?
Chris Cole: The US is not operating US drones from the UK, although US bases within the UK are being used to gather analysis and communicate intelligence.
Sputnik: Why should it matter whether Britain's drone programme is "separate and independent" from the US drone programme?
Chris Cole: The US is engaged in drone strikes which are widely seen as in violation of international law. The UK has in the past distanced itself from these US targeted killings outside active areas of hostilities and is keen to be seen as separate and independent and not connected to this unlawful activity.
Sputnik: Explain what you mean when you say there may be "joint liability" as a result of the UK and US operating a jointly managed drone programme.
Chris Cole: Partners engaged in a joint enterprise can be said to be jointly complicit and would be liable legally. Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden have shared evidence of UK involvement in US drone programmes, especially in regard to the provision of intelligence information on potential targets.
Sputnik: To what extent is the apparent use of UK drones on secret missions evidence of Britain's independence, or lack thereof, in so far as their UAV programme is concerned?
Chris Cole: The secret missions are not apparent - their existence has been confirmed by the MoD. However they will not say where they are taking place or for what purpose.
It is possible these secret missions are closely tied to US drone operations, but we simply don't know because of the secrecy. We are arguing that if the UK wants to verify and demonstrate its independence it has to be much more transparent.
Sputnik: If the use of drones in armed conflicts reduces the number of civilians killed, isn't that a good thing?
Chris Cole: Drones are lowering the threshold for the use of armed force and transferring the cost of armed conflict from the shoulders of combatants onto civilians. Areas occupied by civilians which would not previously have come under aerial bombardment, are now doing so because of the narrative that drones are precise and 'save' civilians. The reality is, as journalists and casualty recorders have demonstrated over and over again, there are numerous civilian casualties from drone strikes.
Sputnik: What are you calling for now as a result of the findings of your report?
Chris Cole: We are calling for the UK government to be transparent about its drone operations - to details how many are deployed, where they are based, what is the purpose of the missions they are undertaking.
The UK should also ensure that intelligence supplied to the US is not used for operations that breach international law.
We also believe that due to the unique nature of drones, deployment of UK drones should be approved by parliament.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.