Drone Operations: A Jurislogue
Gp Capt (Retd) Ajey Lele ·       

Drones have caught people’s imaginations particularly after their much publicised use in the wars against terror in Afghan and Iraqi theaters. Drones are unmanned aerial systems and are found being used in a combat role in few parts of the world. Now, this technology has stabilised as an additional and effective aerial platform in warfare.

Presently, as research in robotics is being undertaken in different parts of the world, drone technology is also making it relevant for multiple civilian and commercial usages. Most of the debate on such systems is about the efficacy of such systems in modern warfare. There also is an ongoing global debate on issues concerning collateral damages, civilian deaths and human rights vis-à-vis these platforms. However, the one important aspect that often gets sidelined in this debate is that of legalities.

Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones operate in the aerial medium. Today, airspace is extensively being used for both civilian and military aviation. Additionally, blimps, balloons, missiles and spacecraft too use this medium for total or partial travel. There are set rules and regulations available for air travel and airspace management. However, increasing use of drones is being found to be encroaching upon the available airspace.

There are various legal aspects related to air traffic management, safety measures, and third party liabilities and issues concerning bandwidth, electromagnetic interference etc. that demand discussion; and this debate should eventually lead to a process to create a viable legal regime to address all these issues. This book is one such attempt to highlight such issues.

The book has 11 chapters that examine various important legal aspects involving drone operations. The initial few chapters provide useful information about drone operations, including history; details of its overall paraphernalia; manufacturing; employability, including command and control structures; and the advantages of such platforms for civilian operations. To discuss the available legal architecture, the book starts with the discussion on regulatory provisions for national airspace under domestic statutes. The author makes this subject interesting by providing various real life examples and presenting country/region-specific case studies to make the reader aware of what the problem actually is, what the available legal provisions are, and what needs to be done the resolve the legal challenges. The book also presents various issues in the backdrop of existing international mechanisms such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, International Civil Aviation Organization, the Rome Convention etc.

The book provides subtle differentiation between drone operations during wartime and peacetime periods and debates issues under the doctrine of hot pursuit, state sovereignty, killing of non-combatants etc. There is a brief chapter where the appraisal is carried out under the United Nations Charter. This section discusses the validity and legitimacy of armed attacks and other related issues. However, the author could have expanded the debate by mentioning specific cases here, and could have also debated in greater detail the merits and limitations of the UN mechanism and how few states could exploit it to their advantage.

Differing interpretations of the legalities of the purpose and outcomes of drone strikes has been explained in detail.  The reading on Pakistan’s case in particular, makes this chapter more interesting. It clearly highlights Pakistan’s dilemma about addressing the issues of terrorism and also identifies their limitations to talk about sovereignty.

On the whole, ‘Drone Operations A Jurislogue’ addresses an important yet less discussed issue in a rather systematic manner. The book is an easy read and makes a significant contribution towards understanding the issues of legality with respect to the use of drones as an aerial combat platform. The author’s background as a former Air Force officer and an aerospace lawyer and professor has definitely helped him bring the nuances of the subject to the fore, and both technical and legal aspects can be found to be extremely professionally handled and presented in a lucid form.