Archive for category Assassination by drone
David Pugliese of the Ottawa citizen is reporting that the Canadian government is planning to spend $1 billion on armed drones. Drone companies from around the world are being invited to submit information, although in reality the only serious contenders are companies from the United States and Israel, both of which have a long history of developing and using armed drones.
The UK also has been using armed drones to attack enemies in Afghanistan, but probably doesn’t have a drone of its own which is ready to be armed. When the UK conducts attacks with drones in Afghanistan it uses American Predator drones, which have been used by the US military to attack and assassinate enemies in a growing number of countries around the world.
Ironically it isn’t necessary to have an armed drone to carry out attacks. Any drone which can ‘paint’ a target can be used in conjunction with an armed jet, helicopter, artillery, or missile to attack an enemy.
But the quarrelsome Harper government is likely to concur with military recommendations to purchase armed drones, in a decision likely designed to appeal to its male conservative supporters.
It is uncertain whether the Canadian government plans to patrol the arctic with armed drones, but the idea raises the spectre of armed drones lost in the arctic. Even under the best of circumstances, drones crash at an alarming rate.
Although the UK MOD has previously stated that it has no plans to arm the Watchkeeper MALE drones scheduled to enter service in the next few months, there is pressure from various sources to add arms to the new drone.
Certainly there is a precedent, because it is widely believed that the Israeli Hermes 450 drone, on which Watchkeeper is based, is armed with missiles and has be used to attack Palestinian positions in Gaza.
There are elements in the UK MOD which are pursuing the option of arming Watchkeeper. Major Matt Moore, an MOD official overseeing the fielding of Watchkeeper in Afghanistan has stated that MOD is considering proposals to arm Watchkeeper with a ‘low collateral damage’ missile. And certainly Thales, the co-contractor of the Watchkeeper system, has made no secret of its wish to arm the Watchkeepers with LMM missiles manufactured by Thales. The LMM was developed in Thales’ Belfast facility.
Military.com has reported that Thales and BAE have considered arming BAE’s Fury UAVs with Thales Javelin missiles. Fury is based on the Herti drone, which has seen deployment in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, there is a programme to arm the BAE Mantis drone, according to military.com.
The UK military already has armed Predator drones which it acquired from the US and which are deployed in Afghanistan.
No doubt Watchkeeper will be introduced without arms to reduce public scrutiny of the controversial weapon, which was late, overpriced, and widely believed to be a poor deal for Britain. At a time when drone assassinations are under increasing public scrutiny, adding weapons to a drone that was sold to the public as a surveillance tool will not be popular.
Pakistan is asking the US CIA to drastically cut back drone attacks on Taliban insurgents in Pakistan.
The New York Times reports that Pakistan may ask as many as 335 US CIA employees to leave Pakistan. The Sunday Times has reported in the past that the CIA is secretly using airbases in Southern Pakistan to launch drones. This was confirmed by analysis of Google Earth photos.
Many CIA officials in Pakistan may be involved in selecting targets and managing information flows after attacks. Reports of drone attacks in Pakistan are usually accompanied by a statement by ‘an unnamed official’ claiming that all the dead were insurgents. Many CIA agents in Pakistan are probably engaged in managing the network of informants decribed in Wired Magazine.
There have been many allegations that the majority of persons killed in the CIA drone strikes have been civilians, something that the US has always strenuously denied.
Pakistan is also demanding joint selection of targets.
Pakistan has in the past asked for its own armed drones, something the US has always refused to do. In 2010 the US offered to supply Pakistan with ‘Shadow’ drones, unarmed and for surveillance only.
The ability to assassinate enemies is emerging as the key feature of military strategy. It is widespread policy in the American attacks on Taliban targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan and it has long been the practise of the Israeli military enforcing its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or attacking its enemies in Lebanon.
What these conflicts have in common is a powerful military force fighting an ‘asymetrical’ battle against a guerilla enemy with widespread support in the local population.
Big battles are avoided by the guerilla enemy, and the western military forces are unwilling to risk their soldiers by having the soldiers seek out the enemy in person in the general population.
Therefore the strategy has emerged of trying to identify the enemy by remote sensing aboard drones through various ‘signatures’ —appearance, behaviour, etc. Drones are emerging as the platform used to carry remote sensing equipment, and often to carry weapons of assassination stealthily within range of the enemy.
Problems with this strategy:
1. When the war is unjust, new strategies for fighting don’t improve the outcome.
2. There isn’t any technology capable of protecting nearby non combatants from armed drone attacks, despite the hype of the military and the arms companies.
3. Remote sensing has proved wildly inaccurate in separating out acceptable ‘targets’ from people who just look like, or behave like the targets, with the result that very often the wrong targets are attacked.
4. This strategy results not from initial successes, but the paucity of success from other strategies.
5. The strategy presents new moral and legal traps. Taking a war to an enemy enmeshed in a local population which supports them has often led to moral challenges. Two armies in full fledged combat can claim that they can’t reasonably protect all nearby non combattants. But an army which claims that it can identify individual combattants for assassination, opens itself up to charges of murder and war crimes when it fails to distinguish between the ‘enemy’ and uninvolved citizens.
(Of course, the killing of nearby noncombattants may be an unspoken but intentional act arising from drone surveillance and attacks, intended as a terror device to cause the local population to reject the insurgent forces as too dangerous to have around).
Despite the limitations of ‘assassination by remote sensing’ there is a strong shift to drones for many reasons. Defence departments see big savings from replacing extremely expensive jet aircraft with drone fleets. They see the opportunity to reduce risk for flyers and foot soldiers, and reduce the cost of highly trained professional pilots and aircraft maintenance personel. Probably they reason that distancing their own combattants from attacks on the enemy will reduce distress and ‘post traumatic stress syndrome’. Fewer traumatised soldiers means less dissatisfaction in the ranks, and lower post discharge medical costs.
But of course cost savings are probably an illusion. Drone fleets beget countermeasures, and ultimately a new weapon like drones simply results in the proliferation of weapons, and a change in tactics by the other side.
(This is an outline article that will be fleshed out in due time)
Many countries around the world have purchased or leased Israeli drones, including the UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Turkey. Many of these have been the Hermes 450 or variants, the same drone used extensively and more or less secretly in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and in the recent attacks on Gaza.
The UK has an 850 million pound contract with UTacS to provide the UK with modified Hermes 450 drones under the Watchkeeper programme.
Israeli has the leading position in the development of drones, with two companies IAI and Elbit Systems as world leaders.
When countries purchase Israeli drones, what is happening?
For one thing, they are purchasing state of the art technology which has been field tested in ‘combat’ in the occupied territories of Palestine. Israel has a long history of drone use in Palestine, though this was relatively secret until recently. Drones by their nature are difficult to detect, and without IDF confirmation of their use this was difficult to establish.
But beginning about five years ago, reports of drones used in targetted assassinations became more common. Drones were first used to provide surveillance, but subsequently the technology was developed to arm the drones with missiles and other weapons, as well as non lethal capability like the ability to jam cell phones.They were also able to ‘mark’ targets, so that targets could be attacked by other weapons like missiles or bombs launched from military jets.
Early reports talked about the high accuracy of these weapons. Certainly Palestinian militants became fearful of them.
But in Operation Cast Lead reports came in of many, many civilian deaths caused by drones, in circumstances where it ‘should’ have been able to distinguish between fighters and civilians. What was happening? Are drones less precise than believed in the fog of war? Were drones being used to murder people? We can’t know at the moment because Israel refuses to examine the events, or to provide the tapes of the drone attacks to be publicly reviewed.
When a country buys or purchases Israeli drones they are accepting the baggage that goes with them. A brand name cosmetic company can’t survive if it uses ‘animal testing’. Yet western democracies purchase drones from Israeli companies knowing that these drones are either hopelessly and dangerously inaccurate, or have been associated by the senseless slaughter of civilians.
The introduction of the Watchkeeper drone seems to have been delayed beyond the expected date of spring 2010. Is this delay due to technical considerations or is the UK MOD embarrassed to introduce these modified Hermes 450 drones just before an election, which could become an election issue?
This article on drones by Kathy Kelly and Brian Terrell talks about their vigil outside a drone base in the US, at Creech Air Force Base, in Nevada. Another article from this same campaign. A Franciscan campaign on the drone issue in Nevada is here.
15 October, 2008, Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) delivered the first of its Heron drones to Canadian Forces, as part of a $95 million contract. Management, training, and in-theatre maintenance will be the responsibility of MacDonald Dettwiler.
This follows previous collaboration between IAI and MDA, who tested Heron drones earlier at the Suffield UAV centre CCUVS.
In information released on 2008, MDA claimed that the Heron flight carried out that day was the first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flight in Alberta. (This seems improbable, and may depend on definitions, because there have been cruise missile flights, which are arguably UAV’s, and lots of remotely controlled flights of smaller aircraft).
IAI toured Canadian Forces Defence Attache through their facilities. Col. Georgie Elms is Hebrew speaking and has served in peacekeeping in Palestine/Israel, and in Kabul, Afghanistan. Elms is looking for consulting contracts, presumably after his CF contract is up.
Herons were also delivered to the Israeli Air Force in March, 2008. They are capable of flying at 30,000 feet, are relatively quiet, and can stay in the air for 40 hours. Herons have also been sold to Turkey, as part of a joint venture with Israeli company Elbit systems (vendors of the Hermes drone). These were being delivered in 2007. The Herons will carry a varying payload of surveillance equipment, which may include laser designators, used for marking targets for other weapons systems. Turkish Forum reports that the Herons were being used by the Turkish military in their conflict with Kurdish insurgents. (ed: PKK?) Turkish Daily News reported that the sale of Israeli drones to Turkey caused problems for the US, since US contractors were excluded from the bidding for technical reasons. An unstated implication was that the bidding process was intentionally unfair, and related to aspects of the close relationship between Turkey and Israel.
Israel has sold UAV’s to South Korea.
Israel has sold Searcher UAV’s to India. Other customers include Chile, Singapore, and the US. An Israeli Military Innovation: UAV, Joint Force Quarterly, 2002, by Ralph Sanders, is a good overview of the development of the Israeli UAV industry.