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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.
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.
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.
Brazil has bought four Hermes 450 drones for surveillance over stadiums of the FIFA World Cup football matches to commence in June, 2014. Intended to prevent terrorism during the games, no good case has been made that the Brazilian games will be targets of terrorism. Or that the drones will be useful in preventing it. Rather, the drones are more likely to be used monitoring protests that are sparked by the matches and Brazilian government policies, and building a ‘security state’. People attending the matches can expect pervasive surveillance, from drones overhead to facial recognition cameras on the ground.
As well, there may be a need to protect football fans and nearby residents from the drones themselves. Hermes 450 drones do not appear to have received widely accepted certification to fly in civilian air space,** although the Israeli government has certified them in Israel. Last year, during the Confederations Cup matches, Brazilian officials appear to have acknowledged this failing by planning to restrict civilian air traffic near the game venues.
British-Israeli Watchkeeper drones (which are based on the Hermes 450) have been recently certified by the UK to fly in civilian airspace but the technology that permitted this to occur does not appear to have been incorporated into the Hermes 450 drones sold to Brazil. There has been an effort worldwide to make drones safe to fly in populated airspace, including large European government subsidies documented by Statewatch and the Transnational Institute.
Drones in general have a much higher crash rate than piloted aircraft, and several Hermes 450 drones crashes have been recorded from a relatively small worldwide fleet.
Hermes 450 drones have been widely used by Israel for surveillance and assassinations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. So often used that Elbit Systems advertises their products as ‘conflict tested’.
Elbit Systems has a strong marketing programme in South America and has sold drones to several countries.
Brazil appears to have paid $25 million for the four drones.
**If anyone knows differently, please let me know.
Some time in the next few weeks several large crates will be unloaded from a British military aircraft at a Canadian airstrip and hauled to CFB Suffield, in Alberta. Known in the UK as BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield), CFB Suffield will be the site of training exercises by British army units, as it is every year. The crates will contain disassembled Watchkeeper drones, as well as the ground stations which are needed to support them. British army personnel will learn to use the drones, as they used similar Israeli-made Hermes 450 drones in Afghanistan.
The Watchkeepers are unlikely to be controlled from RAF Waddington in the UK, as are Britain’s Predator drones, because these particular drones are being used for surveillance by regular army units. It is likely that there will be French army officers observing, because the French are considering buying Watchkeeper, and the Suffield deployment is the first operational test for the drone. Also likely to be present will be officials from Thales, the French company that built the drones, and from Elbit Systems, the Israeli arms company that built Hermes 450 drone which was the prototype for Watchkeeper.
Too predictable will be the public relations events where local Alberta and Canadian media are shown the new unmanned aircraft and urged to comment on its technological marvels. Also predictable will be the close working relationship between the military and the arms company officials. The latter will use the opportunity to promote sales, and military brass will cooperate fully. This video where a active UK Colonel waxes poetic about Watchkeeper, while sitting in front of large signs advertising the prime contractor Thales, illustrates how easily the lines between public and private interests are blurred.
Finally, it is possible that Canadian government and military officials will be present at Suffield, as France’s Thales and Israel’s Elbit Systems, (the manufacturers of Watchkeeper), will be eager to use the training exercises as marketing tools for their technology. The present Canadian government is Israel’s strongest ally, and Watchkeeper might be viewed as an opportunity to support Israel while appearing to be buying a British product.
Israeli arms company Elbit Systems has won a contract that may ultimately be worth up to $1 billion worth of work on US border systems from the US Customs and Border Protection. It won the contract from out of the hands of US corporate giant like General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed, etc. Another giant US arms company had lost the work after delays, according to business paper Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and huge increases in public costs. There was scathing criticism from some sources, that Elbit, a company that had been involved in the previous failed contract as a subcontractor, had been awarded the new contract.
The work is to provide a series of towers along the US-Mexico border with sensing equipment for spotting ‘illicit human crossings’, at from 5-7.5 miles away, in any weather, day or night. The system will further sterilise the border zone, preventing any unregulated movement in the area.
CBP officials wanted to hire someone who already had the technology developed. Perhaps unsurprising that they picked Elbit, whose products have been developed as part of its active role in the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Elbit Systems, which has been criticised for its work building border systems on Israel’s apartheid wall, sells a wide range of technology for border fortification.
Plans to have British-Israeli Watchkeeper drone used by British at CFB Suffield, Alberta, a step closer
Flight Global recently reported that the UK armed forces will test the Watchkeeper drone at Canadian Forces Base, Suffield, Alberta in 2014 and beyond. That the UK would test Watchkeeper there was anticipated from at least 2006 as indicated in the Environmental Assessment for the Suffield base for that year.
UK army personel are now learning to fly the Watchkeeper over the Salisbury plain in the UK, presumably in preparation for flying it elsewhere, like CFB Suffield (BATUS), or Afghanistan. No mention was made of operators being licensed pilots, despite recent comments by the same officer elsewhere that Watchkeeper would be as safe to fly as manned planes (neglecting to mention that manned aircraft are flown by licensed pilots).
British forces have long used Canadian Forces Base Suffield for training, going so far as to call it ‘British Army Training Unit Suffield’ (BATUS). There is already a private drone test facility at Suffield. It isn’t clear whether it will figure at all in the flying of the Watchkeeper drones at Suffield. (More likely not, because it is believed that the flights this summer will involve integrating Watchkeeper into British army practise, not testing the drone per se). Interviewed by a parliamentary committee in 2008, Air Vice Marshall Stuart Butler said that Watchkeeper would be flown at Suffield because of the greater ‘standoff area’ that Suffield provides, as well acknowledging that Suffield was already had a designation for dangerous flights.
TTU Online has reported that British military officials will invite French military officers to join in the flying of Watchkeeper at Suffield, as part of the ongoing effort of the British military industrial establishment (and its French and Israeli arms company friends) to sell the French a few Watchkeeper systems.
Watchkeeper is an Anglo-Israeli-French drone, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 drone used widely in the suppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Interestingly, when flown at the Suffield base Watchkeeper will likely be flying within the view of American border patrol Predator drones (believed currently grounded because of safety concerns after a crash).