A decade in the making, and at least three years late, the Watchkeeper drone will be introduced shortly. The current publicity blitz by Britain’s Defense Minister, Philip Hammond, may be part of the government’s effort to prepare the British public for the intoduction of the new surveillance drone, one that has deep roots in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Based on a medium altitude, long endurance Hermes 450 prototype, Watchkeeper was built by UTacS, a consortium of Israeli arms company Elbit Systems, and French arms company Thales. Much of the technology comes from Elbit or subsidiaries like UAV Engines Ltd, while Thales has been general contractor ensuring that some of the drone is built in Britain, and providing updated software.
The first flights of Watchkeeper occurred from Megiddo Airfield, in Northern Israel, before test flights were moved to Parc Aberporth in Wales. After the drone receives certification to fly in civilian airspace it will be flown at the Salisbury Plain base, and at CFB Suffield in Canada, (in 2014).
The Israeli prototype, Hermes 450, has been a mainstay of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza. The Israeli government has been tightlipped about the use of drones in suppressing the West Bank, but the Hermes 450 is believed to have been used several times in attacks on Gaza, during Cast Lead and at other times. The drone is known to overfly Gaza, and the frontier with Egypt.
The UK government claims to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and human rights abuses, but maintains a strong trade relationship with Israel, not limited to drone purchases, but including sales of other strategic goods amounting to £7,700,000,000 in the most recent year. Many parts of Watchkeeper are based on Israeli intellectual property, or are directly acquired from Elbit, with the result that hundreds of millions of pounds have been transferred to the Israeli arms company as part of the Watchkeeper programme.