Archive for category Brazil

‘Conflict tested’ drones for surveillance of Brazilian World Cup matches

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.

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Small Arms Big Cause of Death in Conflict

With British machine gun maker Manroy poised to expand its operations, and the UK eager to step up exports, Britain will be expanding its role in the misery caused by small arms in conflicts around the world.

One of the biggest problems with small arms is the ‘leakage’ of weapons to a variety of actors from dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, to insurgent groups and criminal gangs. Many small arms are sold to security forces and used to repress their own populations. Small arms are easy to store and don’t quickly become obsolete, so they are often recycled from conflict to conflict.

Some small arms manufacturers actively pursue illegal markets, and in other cases arms sold to ‘legitimate’ customers are redirected to particularly unsavoury markets. Governments are often eager to increase export sales, and drop ethical considerations. The  UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation  has put the following countries on its export priority list: Algeria, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, India, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the USA. (Source) Included in these countries are many authoritarian dicatorships, unstable conflict-riven countries, and western countries with a history of intervention in foreign lands. Note that the list was created before we fell out with the authoritarian Quadhafy regime in Libya. The UK government was willing to supply arms to an unstable dictatorship that only a few month later we are at war with.

Small arms are often a high cause of death in conflicts, much greater than public perception. News reports tend to focus on large scale violence and bombings, not the slow dribble of violence that goes on day after day killing large numbers of people unspectacularly and often out of sight. Small arms including machine guns are a significant source of accidental deaths.

A good source of information on small arms proliferation is the Small Arms Survey. Here is their report on Heavy Machine Guns.

The Federation of American Scientists has prepared a good article on the global threat of small arms.

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Watchkeeper a Colossal Waste?

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?

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Israeli Aerospace Industries Create Brazilian Joint Venture

Israeli Aerospace Industries has decided to create a majority owned joint venture with Brazilian company Synergy Group. The new company would pursue various defense contracts, including for drones for the Brazilian military.

IAI is competing vigorously with Elbit Systems, also of Israel, and General Atomics for dominance in what it expect to be a large markets for drones in Brazil and Latin America.

Synergy is controlled by billionaire CEO German Efromovich. The joint venture will be called EAE Aerospace Engineering Ltd. With an initial capitalisation of just $1.5 million, it’s clear that the joint venture is likely just a shell company to link the technology and marketing efforts of each company.

Lately IAI has adopted the strategy of forming joint ventures with local companies, (thus exporting technology) rather than exporting phyical products. This helps to avoid export/import regulations and the political problems some countries have dealing with Israel.

Four Israeli arms companies eager to expand into the Brazilian market demonstrated their wares at the Latin American Aerospace and Defense trade show in Brazil in April 2009, to protests from local activists.

If Brazil’s dual policy of being favourable to Palestine causes while also developing ties with the Israeli arms industry seems confusing, perhaps the following passage from Revista Pangea will elucidate:

“But Lula´s skills to sew a broad political alliance and set up a new productive economic cycle, reducing Brazilian dependence toward international finance had seduced a good bunch of Jewish businessmen and professionals. Leading industrialists Ivo Rosset (textiles) and Eugenio Staub (electroelectronics) had openly left José Serra´s campaing for Lula, who also received a more discret support of steel magnate Benjamin Steinbruch. “Yes, I voted for Lula, since the last government drove our economy to a stalemate”, explains oil tycoon German Efromovich, owner of the Maritima Petroleum group. “We hope that the new government could promote changes for the best; otherwise, we´re sure that any change will be done inside democratic frames”, agrees Gerson Keila, chairman of the powerful Brazilian Franchising Association (ABF), who represents US$ 8 billions/year in business.

Even the traditional links between the PT and the PLO don´t seem to haunt Jewish leadership in Brazil. “Lula has clearly stressed his commitment both to a Palestinian State and to the safety of Israel”, grants Fisesp´s Jayme Blay. “There´re no expectations of a major change in Brazil´s international policy”, adds Claudio Camargo, Foreign Affairs analyst at IstoÉ weekly magazine. “The new government will try to increase dramatically the country´s exports, what could lead to new initiatives toward Arab markets.

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Brazil Buys Israeli Drones

Brazil has reportedly decided to buy two Hermes 450 drones and a ground station from Porto Alegre-based Aeroeletronica. Aeroelectronica is the Brazilian subsidiary of Elbit Systems of Israel.

Israeli arms companies have widely adopted the strategy of local subsidiaries or joint ventures with local companies, to get around import export problems that many countries have from dealing with the Israel, and to make it easier to get government contracts. As an arms trader a large portion of Elbit’s sales are to governments.

In 2009 Haaretz reported that Elbit anticipated future Brazilian government purchases of drones to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Elbit also hopes to bid on contracts for many other projects, including its El-Op camera technology, and traffic management technology.

Defense News reports that Elbit also hope to sell the Brazilians security technology, developed from Israel’s ‘border security and counter-terrorism’ experience. (In other words, Israel hopes to profit from its experience maintaining the occupation of the West Bank and Palestine).



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Elbit’s Arms Business in Brazil

Elbit’s Brazilian arm is Aeroelectronica Industria de Componentes Avionicos SA. , or AEL. It’s main contract is the modernisation of Brazil’s F-5 aircraft, and electronics for Brazil’s new AL-X aircraft. Additional info. It is a relatively small company, but Elbit CEO Yossi Ackerman claims to be involved with projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the military (including drones) and space industries in Brazil.

Elbit has made most of it’s money in Brazil in a joint venture with Brazilian Embraer, upgrading the F-5’s and providing electronics for the AL-X.

Elbit now claims to be in a good place to win contracts to build drones for the Brazilian military, given that it has local manufacturing facilities, and has been transferring Israeli drone technology to workers in its company in Brazil.

Elbit has also won a contract to provide the Brazilian military with ‘unmanned turrets’ for military vehicles, designed to by used in ‘asymetric warfare’. In other words terrorism, guerrilla warfare, or civil disobedience. Given that warfare isn’t a high risk in Brazil, the turrets would likely be used to quell civil disobedience or riots. In the Brazilian situation, I believe that ‘asymetric warfare’ is a code word for ‘riots’. Elbit already supplies the turret to the Belgians.

These unmanned turrets appear to be remotely controlled turrets capable of firing cannons, machine guns, grenade launchers (presumably smoke or tear gas), and with sophisticated electronics for seeing and following targets.

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Elbit Systems Builds Business in Brazil

Elbit Systems recently won a battle in Brazil to prevent the Brazilian company BRAIS from representing Israeli defense exporters in Brazil, fearing that BRAIS’s relations with competitor IAI would favour that company. Source.

Elbit’s Brazilian arm is Aeroelectronica Industria de Componentes Avionicos SA. , or AEL. It’s main contract is the modernisation of Brazil’s F-5 aircraft, and electronics for Brazil’s new AL-X aircraft. It is a relatively small company, but Elbit CEO Yossi Ackerman claims to be involved with projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the military (including drones) and space industries in Brazil.

In November Shimon Peres and a delegation of Israelis visited Brazil on a business promotion tour. On March 15, 2010, Brazilian president Lula Da Silva and many Brazilian business people started a visit to Israel.

There appears to be a major thrust to build business links between Israel and Brazil.

Lula criticised Israeli policy on the West Bank and Gaza and a report of his visit can be seen here.

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