In an announcement today in London, France and the UK made two agreements to work together on drones. The first agreement would allow France to study the UK Watchkeeper drone. France would study the Watchkeeper drone until 2013 and would decide then whether to buy it. The latter would cost 8 million euros, though it is not clear whether this is money to be paid by the French for the privilege of testing it, or paid by the UK to the private vendor of the drone to pay for the cost of demonstrating it.
Watchkeeper is being manufactured for the UK by a joint venture between the French arms company Thales, and Elbit Systems of Israel.
The Agence France Press article describes the Watchkeeper drone as ‘providing the British armed services with surveillance and reconnaisance‘. The French might be surprised when they find out that the Watchkeeper is months overdue, and appears never to have been used by the military despite being touted as essential for the conflict in Afghanistan. Funding for Watchkeeper was justified on the basis that it could be exported, but until now no export possibilities have materialised, possibly because of the delays and possibly because the owner of the underlying Hermes 450 drone technology, Elbit Systems of Israel, has continued selling similar drones and drone manufacturing packages, around the world.
A second part of the agreement related to cooperation in the creation of a UK France drone collaboration programme to end in the period 2030-40.
The Watchkeeper drone is based on a Hermes 450 drone produced by Elbit systems of Israel. The Hermes 450 has a bloody history in maintaining the illegal occupation of the West Bank and blockade Gaza, and Elbit Systems has been a contractor on the separation wall between Israel and the occupied territories.