APPG Inquiry into the Use of Armed Drones: Terms of Reference



The purpose of this inquiry is to analyse the emerging technologies of drones and the ways in which the UK works with allies with regard to use of armed drones, and make recommendations to ensure an appropriate level of transparency and accountability for this in Parliament. It will build on the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which found that the Government has a policy to use lethal force abroad outside armed conflict for counter-terrorism purposes, focusing on areas outside the remit of that inquiry.

The UK is dependent on the US for the operation of its 10 armed Reaper Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (known as ‘drones’) and works collaboratively with the US in various ways. Other European governments appear to be following the UK-US model: the US recently granted Italy permission to arm its 6 Reapers and France has committed to acquiring a second batch of 12 Reapers, adding to its current fleet of 3. A ‘Reaper Users Group’ has now been established.

This inquiry will review the context, nature, emerging technologies and governance for new forms of drones operations, and in particular collaborative working with regard to the growing use of armed drones – the forefront of modern data-driven warfare. It will examine working practices and emerging trends through the prism of Reaper use and the networked systems that support the operation of this platform. It will consider the implications of relevant reports published recently by investigative journalists and others.

Drones gather data and project lethal force within a complex interconnected system involving multiple intelligence sources, different operating methods, and personnel working in widely dispersed locations. This makes collaboration both easier and more sophisticated, especially in relation to a shared model of unmanned aircraft.

The inquiry is launched at a time when the UK plans to acquire up to 26 additional Reaper variants (‘Protectors’) and plans for the Reaper User Group members to enhance interoperability and collaborative working are under way. In the UK, the SDSR 2015 highlighted the importance of the Reaper’s intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (‘ISR’) to ‘find and track’ terrorists in hostile environments, and announced the Government will enhance the UK’s ‘global strike capability’ to protect both British interests and those of allies.

Since last year, UK Reapers have been used both offensively in battlespaces approved by Parliament as well as in self-defence. Drone strikes carried out by the US but in consultation with the UK mark a new phase of collaboration with allies.

These factors raise novel questions: what forms of collaborative working with allies exist? What differences are there between Reaper users in terms of training, military practice and interpretation of the law?  How do these play out and how are they resolved? Do they affect the conduct of British or joint operations? To what extent is the UK dependant on US contractors or support systems? Are there implications for British sovereignty? Do strategic, legal or other risks exist for the UK Government or military personnel? How are these managed? What governance is there for decisions concerning joint or supported operations? How much does Parliament know?

The inquiry is particularly interested in considering the following:


  • What are the key elements of operating and maintaining the armed Reaper
  • To what extent is the Reaper interoperable with US and EU state models
  • How does the training of UK personnel compare with that of our partners

Asset-sharing between partners

  • How integrated are the following assets: (i) platforms (ii) personnel  and (iii) infrastructure
  • What arrangements are in place to regulate these different forms of asset sharing
  • What parliamentary and other oversight is there

Joint and assisted operations 

  • How has the UK/US Reaper arrangement developed
  • How do lines of command work in practice when Reaper assets and personnel are used jointly or to assist partners
  • What key mechanisms exist to address differences in approach
  • What parliamentary and other oversight is there


  • What is the position of the UK on the applicable international legal framework, including the following key concepts: individual self-defence, armed conflict, combatant, civilian, direct participation in hostilities, state responsibility
  • How does this compare with the position of partners
  • What is the effect of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and UK domestic law on practice
  • What is the effect of ECHR and UK domestic law on potential for liability of British service personnel involved in joint and assisted operations


  • What is the role of the National Security Council in decisions to use, approve or assist the use of force
  • What parliamentary or other oversight and accountability mechanisms exist for joint and assisted operations
  • Is there scope to improve transparency and accountability


  • What are the strategic objectives of armed drone use
  • How does this compare with the strategic objectives of partners
  • How does collaborative working fit into this vision
  • What are the strategic advantages and risks of an integrated Reaper fleet