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Did Brits use Afghan drone strike to sell Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone to the French?

France continues to debate the replacement of its older drones, and may buy an Israeli product. The UK military-industrial complex is trying to sell it to them.

Some elements of the French military support purchase of the Anglo Israeli Watchkeeper drone, which they viewed in Afghanistan, and pronounced satisfactory for their purposes. French chef d’état-major des armées,General Pierre de Villiers is advocating for Watchkeeper. France is holding a competitions for replacement of its tactical drones, to be completed in mid 2015. The competition would chose between offerings from Elbit/Thales, Sagem, Airbus, and a joint venture of Latécoère and Israeli Aircraft Industries. At least one of the proponents, Sagem, is attempting to ensure their ‘Shadow’ drone has civilian airspace certification, like Watchkeeper. (The French military was less enthusiastic about Watchkeeper after earlier trials).

The French debate is taking no account of the Israeli origin of two of the competitors. Watchkeeper is based on Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 drone, widely used by the Israeli military. The British version is produced by a joint venture of the Israeli company and Thales of France, in which Elbit is the senior partner. Much of the intellectual property on which Watchkeeper is based is owned by Elbit; Elbit will benefit significantly from any sale of additional Watchkeeper drones. Thales is a French arms company favoured by the French Socialist party. Elbit markets its drone products as ‘combat proven’, thanks to its use in attacks on Gaza and the suppression of the West Bank.

Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) is teamed with French company Latécoère to sell the Israeli Heron drone. Heron is also used by the Israeli military in its illegal occupation of Palestine and has been sold and leased widely to other countries.

French generals viewed Watchkeeper in Afghanistan in mid 2014. It seems likely that a major reason for taking the new drone to Afghanistan was for sales promotion and public relations, since there don’t appear to be any significant military reasons for having it there, given that the last British forces with withdrawn immediately afterward (and the military already had fit for purpose drones in Afghanistan). Flight Global reports that Watchkeeper was used to pass information along to a Reaper drone which carried out a strike on an unspecified target.

If that is true, UK MOD was in the position of making a combat mission for the purpose of helping a French company sell a mostly Israeli drone to the French military. ‘Combat proven’ indeed.

(UK MOD denied the obvious conclusion that the Watchkeeper deployment was a demonstration or trial, in an interview with Tim Ripley of IHS Janes Defence Weekly. It isn’t clear whether Ripley was aware of the French contingent viewing the Watchkeeper deployment).

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British-Israeli Watchkeeper Drone-Embarrassing for British Political Parties

Several years late, and costing almost a billion pounds, Britain’s Watchkeeper drone was finally introduced to combat in Afghanistan this summer just in time to be withdrawn again. As predicted, the introduction was little more than a ‘fly-around’ to give the military a chance to say their new drone had been useful.

The Watchkeeper drone is based on the Israeli Hermes 450, built by Elbit Systems, and widely used in surveillance in the West Bank and attacks on Gaza. The British version was created by a consortium of Elbit System, and Thales of France, using an engine produced by an Elbit subsidiary in England, and other parts made in the UK or imported.

In November 2014 the UK military proclaimed themselves satisfied with their new drone, claiming to have used it for surveillance leading to a strike against the Taliban. Then the Watchkeeper was packed up and taken back to the UK, with no word on future deployment. Watchkeeper is pointedly not being used in Iraq. Unarmed Watchkeeper is best suited to support of ground troops, and there isn’t a significant role for it at present.

For a major, very costly,  military procurement of a ‘leading edge’ technology, the Watchkeeper drone programme has had little coverage. No doubt this results from military and government fears of raising a public backlash, for dealing with an Israeli arms company at a time when Israel was attacking Gaza and killing hundreds of people, many of them women and children. As one of Israel’s largest arms companies, Elbit Systems is deeply involved with all aspects of the Israeli military, the occupation, attacks on Gaza, and any large scale surveillance of Palestinians. Many Elbit principals are part of the Israeli military establishment, and Elbit advertises its products as ‘conflict tested’.

None of the major political parties have taken any interest in Watchkeeper. It is a legacy project of the Blair government, and none of the parties appear willing to own up to having transferred several hundred million pounds to an Israeli arms company while Israel was using similar drones in committing atrocities in Gaza.

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Key Watchkeeper drone questions not being asked

Once again, taxpayers have financed the development of an arms system that will primarily benefit shareholders in other countries. Worse, there are risks that the technology developed will find its way into the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and be used to further the Israeli colonisation project.

Thales, the giant French arms company, has started a new campaign to sell the Watchkeeper drone around the world. Watchkeeper is a medium altitude, long endurance drone, based on the Hermes 450 drone which has long been used by Israel in the suppression of Palestine. Watchkeeper uses Elbit Systems technology, and many component parts supplied by Elbit. Additional technology was developed by Thales, allowing Watchkeeper to get certification to fly in civilian airspace.

Though Thales is (presumably) still in a minority partnership on the Watchkeeper project with Elbit as majority partner (UTacS), Thales appears to be downplaying its Israeli connection in its current publicity and sales campaign. Not surprising, since at the time that Thales is flogging the Israeli French drone worldwide, Elbit Systems drones are part of the  attack on Palestinans being waged by the Israeli army on Gaza.

Almost a billion pounds of British taxpayer money was spent on Watchkeeper, on a programme that was delayed by years, and never fulfilled its mandate of being available to British troops in Afghanistan. Despite taxpayer money funding development of Anglo Israeli drone, it appears that profits from new sales will accrue exclusively to Thales and Elbit Systems. It isn’t clear who will own the new technology developed for the Watchkeeper programme, whether Thales as the active contractor will own it, or whether it is available to be used in upgrading Elbit System’s other drones.

Although new frones to fill Watchkeeper orders will be manufactured in Britain, many components will likely be purchased from Israel or Elbit’s subsidiary in the UK. The partnership agreement between Elbit Systems and Thales isn’t in the public domain; presumably it allows for considerable repatriation of profits to Israel, as well as fees for the use of Elbit System’s intellectual property. Thus UK taxpayers are doubly in the position of supporting the Israeli military industrial complex at a time when Britain should be seeking to demilitarise the region.

Thales claims to be confident that France will buy some of the drones, and that other NATO countries will also buy it. Thales is more in favour with the French government that rival Dassault, however many European governments are slowly seeking to isolate the Israeli regime as pressure to end its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

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British Watchkeeper drone to fly in Canada this summer

There was more confirmation this week that the UK will be flying its Watchkeeper drone in Alberta this summer. Watchkeeper is Britain’s new large surveillance drone, which uses technology purchased from Israel. It is based on the Hermes 450 drone produced in Israel by Elbit Systems and used by Israel forces in the suppression of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Watchkeeper programme has been kept low profile because the technology was acquired from the Israeli company shortly before Operation Cast Lead, when the Israeli military killed more than a thousand people in Gaza, including hundreds of women and children. The Hermes 450 on which Watchkeeper is based is believed to have been integrally involved in these attacks.

Watchkeeper is years behind schedule, to the extent that it may never be used in the Afghanistan conflict for which it was intended. The UK claims that Watchkeeper will have ‘civilians airspace certification’, though it hardly needs it in Canada where the Defence department asserts its right to fly drones in Canada without reference to civilian flight rules.

The UK MOD is closely connected to the UK war industry, and often helps the war industry sell products to foreign state buyers. The UK is promoting Watchkeeper to the French military, which presently has representatives in Britain observing flight tests and operational use on the Salisbury Plain, where one of Britain’s military training facilities is located. We have reported before in this blog that the UK has offered to further demonstrate Watchkeeper to the French military during training exercises with Watchkeeper on Britain’s training ground at Canadian Forces Base Suffield, in Alberta, this summer.

If Britain manages to sell Watchkeeper drones abroad, it will be a boost for Israel’s Elbit Systems, which manufactures some of the components from the drone, and co-owns the company which produces it in Britain.

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France still considering Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone

Defense News reported this week that units of the French army plan to work with the Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone in Afghanistan, if the new addition to the UK drone fleet is deployed there. French artillery officers are working with Watchkeeper as it is being introduced in the UK’s Salisbury Plain training area. (They are also expected to train with Watchkeeper crews in the Suffield training area in Alberta, Canada later in 2014).

Elements of the French army want the defence minister to acquire Watchkeeper, but that would likely depend on Britain acquiring French armoured combat vehicles.

Watchkeeper was built for the UK by Thales of France and Elbit Systems of Israel, based on the Hermes 450 drone. The latter has been ‘conflict tested’ in the repression of the West Bank and the attacks on Gaza.

For background search other posts on wanderingraven.wordpress.com

For detailed background of European drone policy see this report by Statewatch.

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Manroy to move from Beckley, East Sussex to Slade Green

Unconfirmed news is that Manroy Engineering is closing its facility in Beckley, East Sussex, and moving those operations to its other facility at Slade Green. There will be redundancies at the Beckley facility. Slade Green is a ‘leafy green suburb’ on the extreme eastern margin of London.

Manroy was purchased by the Belgian arms company Herstal last month. Started as a small operation supplying heavy machine guns to the UK military, Manroy was bought out  a few years ago by venture capitalists who planned to expand the company with sales abroad. But their aggressive sales plans were thwarted by declining arms budgets and the Arab Spring, which thwarted the plans of Britain’s new Conservative government to expand arms sales to a range of authoritarian regimes.

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Belgian arms company Herstal takes over Sussex machine gun maker

Manroy, the British arms company with a manufacturing facility in Beckley, East Sussex has agreed to be purchased by the Belgian arms company Herstal. Manroy’s main products are heavy machine guns and turrets.

Originally a small company selling heavy machine guns to the UK military, a few years ago Manroy was taken over by aggressive  new owners who planned large expansion and took the company public. They also purchased a troubled American arms company.

Recently Manroy’s plans had fallen on hard times as arms budgets dropped, but especially as a result of Arab Spring. Before Arab Spring the UK Conservative government had pushed to expand British arms sales to countries previously forbidden, including several repressive regimes. Manroy was attempting to sell arms to Libya’s Gaddafi (with the full support of the UK government) when British policy towards Gaddafi sudden shifted. Quickly following, the government was forced to abandon plans to expand arms sales to many of the repressive regimes it had previously targeted.

Manroy’s ambitious expansion plans were never realised, and the company was eventually put up for sale, culminating in the acquisition by Herstal this week. Conditions of the sale included shearing the American branch from the British company.

It isn’t clear whether the huge Belgian arms company will maintain a presence in the sleep Sussex village of Beckley.

 

 

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