Archive for category BAE
The UK’s Watchkeeper drone programme was sold to the public as a way for the UK to build a UK drone export industry. But while the domestic Watchkeeper programme developed slowly, the drones industry moved forward and no market for Watchkeeper appears to have emerged. Long overdue from the original date of introduction, Watchkeeper delays have been blamed on the need to make Watchkeeper meet criteria for use in civilian airspace. The original goal of having Watchkeeper contribute to the ongoing NATO occupation of Afghanistan will apparently not be met.
The Watchkeeper programme was a joint venture of the Israeli company Elbit Systems, and French arms company Thales. Watchkeeper was based on the Elbit drone, Hermes 450. Elbit has continued to sell Hermes 450’s, and has also been developing joint ventures to produce similar drones in other countries.
Earlier this year the outgoing French government gave the go ahead for BAE and France’s Dassault to produce a French drone. Thales responded by inviting the French government to consider the Watchkeeper drone.
Frances EADS has been developing another medium altitude, long endurance drone, the Talarion. But when the Sarkozy government favoured the BAE Dassault venture, EADS put the Talarion on the back burner.
May 30 the incoming French defence minister Jean-Yvres Le Drian seemed set to scuttle the BAE Dassault project, claiming to ‘want to start afresh’. A Reuters article claimed that Francois Hollande wanted to ‘reduce the influence of some groups on the defence sector’.
It seems unlikely that the new French government will abandon the plan to acquire a new medium altitude, long endurance drone. The question is which drone programme will the French ultimately choose. Will it be the BAE Dassault programme, the EADS Talarion, or the Israeli/French/Anglo Watchkeeper?
Will the new socialist French government support a project that will materially support the Israeli arms industry? Will it make a rational decision based on its military needs, or will it be subject to the intense lobbying that is rife in the industry?
British foreign policy with regard to Israeli arms companies continues to baffle. The UK has a policy limiting exports to the apartheid state, but no apparent limit on purchases.
Only a few years ago the UK entered into an agreement with an Israeli/French consortium to create a MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV programme based on Elbit Systems’s Hermes 450 drone. The billion pound ‘Watchkeeper’ programme has been much delayed, even though the criteria for contract fulfillment have been relaxed. In the interim the UK has leased Hermes 450’s from Elbit for use in Afghanistan. Recently Peter Luff the UK Minister for Defence Equipment and Support has made excuses for the long delays in the Watchkeeper programme, citing the need to meet military and civilian air worthiness criteria. The delays mean that Watchkeeper will make no meaningful contribution to the Afghan mission and may never be deployed there before British troops leave.
Now Ha’aretz has reported that the UK is considering buying Israeli Eitan drones, because of long delays in the BAE programme to create a British ‘Taranis’ drone. The Eitan is a very large drone, capable of very long endurance and carrying heavy loads, including a variety of weapons up to and including nuclear bombs. (The Eitan is itself not without problems).
The UK policy of not purchasing Israeli weapons was in response to the 2009 murderous attack by Israel on Gaza. But the UK policy of making billion pound purchases from Israel seems to take no account of Israeli violations of international law.
On Friday, 17 February, 2012 the UK and France governments announced an agreement to work more closely on developing military drones.
The two agreed to have a ‘strategic partnership’ to build a new ‘unmanned combat air vehicle’ (UCAV-yet another euphemism for drone), part of a ‘shared sovereign capability’. The reconaissance and attack drone project would be led by the French arms company Dassault, and the British arms company BAE Systems. Channel 4 reported estimates that the creation of a new drone might cost as much as £45 billion.
France also announced that it would evaluate the British Watchkeeper drone over 2012 and 2013. (Watchkeeper is joint project of Thales of France and Elbit Systems of Israel, and is based on Elbit’s Hermes 450 drone).
Thales immediately announced that Watchkeeper would be ‘a key pillar‘ of Anglo French defence cooperation. This seems like a considerable overstatement of the mention of Watchkeeper in the government announcement.
Watchkeeper is a joint project of Thales of France, and Elbit Systems of Israel. If Thales’ announcement is accurate, it suggests that the Israeli company has de facto become a key pillar of Anglo French defence.
The reality is probably less grandiose. Any further development of the Watchkeeper drone would have to go head to head with competition with Elbit Systems, which continues to produce similar and evolved versions of its Hermes drone. The French decision to evaluate Watchkeeper probably has more to do with tact and diplomacy than a real interest in acquiring the Elbit/Thales product, which has been beset by delays.
In what appears to be a major subsidy to Britain’s biggest arms company, the UK Ministry of Defence has given BAE Systems £40 million ‘to ensure the UK retains a leading edge in the next generation of combat air systems.’
By that, it appears that the MOD means ‘drones’.
In a blizzard of bafflegab and meaningless remarks the Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology, Peter Luff, and several industry figures failed to illluminate exactly what the money would be used for, (although it certainly wouldn’t be used for schools or deficit reduction).
The UK drones strategy appears to be floundering. The British drones industry hasn’t produced commercial success in the face of Israeli and American competition, and now a range of drones are being manufactured in many places around the world. Apparently BAE now needs the public to pay for its research programmes in order to be persuaded to continue to research and develop drones.
The much vaunted Watchkeeper programme, rolled out a millenium ago (it seems) was touted as the means to kick start Britain into a leading role in the drones industry. Instead, £1 billion was spent on 54 drones based on an earlier Israeli drone, the Hermes 450.
Although MOD claims that the Watchkeeper is a much updated version of the Hermes 450, it remains to be seen whether the improvement is worth the premium. Certain elements of the Watchkeeper programme had to be postponed recently in order to bring that programme back into schedule.
In the mean time Elbit Systems, the owner of the Hermes 450 technology, has been setting up joint ventures around the world to produce drones, which undercuts the market for any possible Watchkeeper drone export from Britain.
The first units of the Watchkeeper drone are due to be deployed in Afghanistan in the first months of 2012, only a short time before UK troops are supposed to be withdrawn.
With 54 Watchkeeper drones, the UK will have one of the world’s larger MALE drones fleets, but without presently any new war theatres to deploy them in. Within a few months most of the 54 drones will be on standby, quietly depreciating.
Some other NATO countries, like Canada and Australia, leased MALE drones for their troops in Afghanistan and returned them when they were no longer needed.
‘Disarmingman‘ in his blog Drones War UK has this week about current Anglo French cooperation on drones:
The French drone ‘crisis’
Prime Minister David Cameron will meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy today in Paris for bilateral talks. While the agenda will no doubt be dominated by the Euro crisis, they may well have a quick word about drones too.
Last November the UK and France signed a defence and security cooperation treaty which included a commitment to work together on nuclear issues and armed drones. The two countries have agreed to build a new armed drone and BAE Systems and Dassault have joined together to offer the proposed Telemos drone to fulfil this ‘need’. An announcement on the deal was expended earlier this year and then postponed for 12-18 months.
While today’s meeting was originally supposed to be a full-scale summit between the countries including Defence Ministers and with, according to the Guardian, representatives of BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation also present – it was suddenly announced on Monday that the summit has been postponed until next year with just Cameron and Sarkozy to meet instead.
Dassault et BAE a lancé un nouveau projet pour la conception et la production d’un drone dans la même classe de la “Predator” drone que les États-Unis utilise en Afghanistan.
Cette joint-venture par suite de la décision des deux gouvernements, la France et l’Angleterre, pour acheter de l’armement même de faire des économies.
Cette décision tue le programme Watchkeeper. Le drone Watchkeeper a été créé afin que l’Angleterre peut avoir un système national de drones, un système pour l’exportation.
Cependant, la France a été le marché le plus souhaité pour Watchkeeper. Maintenant, il semble y avoir peu de marchés pour l’entreprise Watchkeeper UAV.
Programme Watchkeeper est un projet superflu. Les dépenses pour le programme Watchkeeper était un gaspillage colossal.
Watchkeeper, one of the UK’s marquee arms projects, has consumed about £1 billion but is delayed and may never be as useful as projected.
Lewis Page, writing in the Register, notes that the project is now nine months later than called for in the contract.
Page reports on National Audit Office reports that “the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle has the most lines of development assessed as ‘At risk’ (six, with only Doctrine and Organisation assessed as ‘To be met’)”.
These drones are extremely expensive, costing as much as £16 million for 54 of them. (It isn’t clear what the marginal cost might be, in an expanded production run).
Drones similar to the US Predator, arguably superior to the Israeli MALE prototype, and capable of being armed, are available for a fraction of the cost of Watchkeeper, (US$7.5 million versus US$27 million) and can be produced as part of the US production run.
The original purpose of the project was to give the UK a domestic drone capability (though the UK already has a domestic capability in the many drone options produced by BAE systems). Like many decisions made by UK MOD, the logic behind the decision isn’t obvious, and the events leading up to decisions are shrouded in military and political secrecy.
But there is little evidence that the Watchkeeper has given the UK any new capability. Engines are still produced by an Israeli-owned UK company just as they were before the Watchkeeper project. (Engines from the same Israeli owned UK company have been used in Israeli drones). Advanced optical and communications systems are still provided by the Israeli parent company of the Watchkeeper consortium. What ARE produced by UK companies are primarily the lower tech systems. There isn’t much evidence that there has been any significiant technology transfer from Israel to the UK. On the other hand, the Israeli arms industry has been further integrated into the UK and NATO defence infrastructure, and provided with the tools to be integrally involved into the key elements of NATO defence. This has been a major coup for the Israel arms industry, without a corresponding advantage for the UK or NATO.
Advances in drones technology are coming so fast it isn’t clear whether Watchkeeper will be useful after it is introduced. The Watchkeeper project doesn’t seem to be providing any significant leading edge drone technology for the UK, rather that technology remains the intellectual property of the Israeli and French partners in the project.
Lewis Page notes that the Artillery Corp has little interest in Watchkeeper, mostly because of internal issues.
It can be added that countries like Canada and Australia have dropped their leases of MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) drones from an Israeli company, and Canada does not appear to be pursuing a domestic MALE drone programme that was announced with fanfare a few years ago and has disappeared into the information black hole that is the Stephen Harper government.
It may be that military units are finding more useful the new wave of very small surveillance drones being introduced that cost a fraction of the cost of the larger drones. In the blog DroneWarsUK it is pointed out that the UK military will be ordering rotary winged ‘nano drones’ which have a range of a kilometre or so. For battlefield surveillance, the cost and flexibility of these nano drones may far outweigh the advantages of large fixed wing drones that require two specialised crews, one to launch and one to monitor.
One of the earliest justifications for Watchkeeper was that there would be sales abroad for MALE drones produced in Britain. But the international market for MALE drones is dominated by Israeli companies operating in Israel, who create drone production joint ventures anywhere at the drop of a hat (Brazil, Russia, etc). There isn’t any indication that Watchkeeper has created any new comparative advantage for the UK which would allow the UK to make drone sales abroad from the Watchkeeper programme. The only like market is France, which may want to throw some business toward its own arms company Thales, which owns half of Watchkeeper.
All in all, it is becoming increasingly clear that Watchkeeper project is a wasteful boondoggle. The people responsible for the programme should be required to defend this project, which has gone ahead with little public scrutiny, from both the point of view of whether the project is value for money, and regarding the ethics of providing a significant cash injection into the Israeli arm industry at a time when Israel is maintaining a repressive and illegal occupation of Palestine.
Some questions that should be asked:
What exactly is the UK going to do with 54 MALE drones, when each has a large demand for ground flight crews, and the entire UK Afghanistan project gets by with a fraction of that? For example, it appears that five drones are able to provide 80% of the UK surveillance requirements in Afghanistan. (Source)
Was there ever a realistic likelihood of the Watchkeeper would ever spawn a domestic drones manufacturing capability?
Could the UK rent MALE drones as required for a fraction of the cost (as did Canada, Australia, and a number of other NATO countries) ?
Could the UK have bought MALE drones (off the shelf), capable of being armed, at a fraction of the cost?
Was the whole project simply a backdoor way to subsidise Israel?
What is the long term implication of having Israel deeply integrated into UK and NATO military structures?
How much as this purchase contributed indirectly to the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel?
Are drones primarily a fad?
Is there really a realistic market for MALE drones which still cannot be used safely or legally in most civilian airspace?