Archive for category France

Anglo-Israeli ‘Watchkeeper’ drone still being considered by French military

Defense News has reported that there are two remaining contenders for providing France with ‘tactical drone systems’. One is the Anglo-Israeli ‘Watchkeeper’ drone, and the other is Sagem’s ‘Patroller’. Other arms companies have dropped out of the competition. Watchkeeper is a joint project of Elbit Systems of Israel, and Thales or France, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 and paid for by British taxpayers. A choice between the two options is expected by the end of 2015.

In 2014 French officers viewed a ‘fly-around‘ of Watchkeeper in Afghanistan, as the UK staged a demonstration of Watchkeeper in the last days of the UK deployment there. The French observers proclaimed an interest in acquiring Watchkeeper. Defense News also notes that a French artillery unit has trained on a Watchkeeper drone sent to France. It isn’t clear if this was a Thales-owned ‘demonstrator’, or one of the dozens of military Watchmakers mothballed by UK MOD.

According to Defense News the French government wants to ensure national control over the technology and imaging of the new drones. claims that the source codes operating Watchkeeper were purchased from the Israel company and rewritten, so that neither Israeli or UK companies would share control of the French system.  A report in AINonline.com says that Watchkeeper offered to France has 35% French content and is not dependent on Israel for ‘support or export permission’.

Defense News also notes that a French artillery unit has trained on a Watchkeeper drone sent to France. It isn’t clear if this was a Thales-owned ‘demonstrator’, or one of the dozens of military Watchmakers mothballed by UK MOD.

Watchkeeper is touted as  ‘civilian airspace compliant’, widely claimed to be a comparative advantage of Watchkeeper, which otherwise doesn’t stack up well against competitors like the General Atomics ‘Predator’ or ‘Reaper’ drones. But Defense News notes that Sagem also claims to have demonstrated European civilian airspace compliance.

Defense-aerospace.com reports that there is no budget for the drone acquisition, and that there are questions about whether this drone procurement programme would be completed, because the French military has other options like Predator drones, and smaller drones, that already do what Watchkeeper or Patroller would contribute. Considering that the UK has mothballed most of its Watchkeeper drones, there is a real possibility that budget considerations will end the French procurement process.

The cost of Watchkeeper was borne by the UK taxpayer, much of the profit was likely taken by Elbit Systems, which supplied parts and owned the intellectual property rights to Hermes 450. Blogger ‘Think Defence asked the pertinent question: Given that the UK taxpayer funded Watchkeeper, if Thales sells Watchkeeper abroad, will UK MOD and the British taxpayer, get anything back? (paraphrased).

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A partial chronology of the use of drones in Mali.

In June 2012 Drone Wars UK discussed a mysterious strike on a convoy of trucks in Northern Mali, and argued that the strikes may have been carried out using an American drone, though this was neither confirmed nor denied by US officials. (Predator drones were known to be flown in the area at that time-ed).

In October 2012 the French government announced that it planned to send unarmed reconnaissance drones, Harfangs from 1/33 Belfort squadron, to aid its military presence in Mali, as its soldiers were fighting an Al-Qaida backed insurgency. In January the government announced that the deployment of the Israeli made drones had taken place. This video of French paratroopers being deployed was taken by a Harfang drone. Harfang drones are from the Heron family of drones produced by IAI of Israel.

In early 2013 Wall Street Journal reported that some military in the US were calling for US armed drone strikes in Mali (but none seem to have happened, at least not with public knowledge-ed).

In February, Le Monde announced that American drones were being used to support French troops in Mali.

In March 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that US Reaper drones were providing targetting information for French airstrikes against insurgent positions, as many as 60 strikes a week.

Europe 1 reported that a dozen Al Qaeda in Maghreb fighters had been killed by French forces with the help of a surveillance drone on the night of March 4.  It was claimed that the strikes killed prominent insurgent Oumar Ould Hamaha.

In April 2013 an American Reaper drone crashed in Mali, due to ‘mechanical failure’. The drone had been one of two based in Niger to provide drone surveillance to support French forces on the ground. These in turn had replaced Predator drones deployed earlier.

In May 2013, RT online reported that France planned to buy two US made Reaper drones for its Mali operation. This French satirist mocked the French drone deployment.

In April France said it would buy 12 US Reaper drones to replace its Harfang drones. Reuters reported that the French had found that they had a shortage of drones suited to the conditions and had been using camera-equipped Cessna airplanes for surveillance, which had proved inadequate. (Apparently the US had flown reconnaissance piloted airplanes over Northern Mali for several years previously).

Reuters reported that France had eventually received delivery of two Reaper drones and that those would be operating in Mali by the end of 2013. The Hill reported that the two Reapers were the first of 12 acquired in a deal done with US based General Atomics in June and, incorrectly it seems, that the drones would be armed with US Hellfire missiles. The Hill also reported that the initial two drones, at least, would be operating from a site in Niger. Defence Web reported that the sale of Reaper drones to France had been approved in August 2013, and that a total of 12 drone with four ground stations would be delivered by  2015 or 2016.

In early 2014 the Medium.com published photos of a joint drone base operated by the US and France, located near Niamey, the capital of Niger. The Medium speculated about whether drones from the base would conduct armed attacks, and whether the unarmed French Reapers would be eventually armed. Defense News reported that the first French Reaper flight occurred, in early January, 2014 from the base in Niamey, using US-equipped sensors.

In the first week of March, 2014, France claimed to have killed Omar Ould Hamaha, insurgent leader, using information supplied by a Reaper drones. The same week it was claimed that French forces attacked and killed insurgents at a rocket cache in Mali, with the help of drones.

In July 2014, French President Francois Hollande visited Niamey, and was greeted with a fly-over by French Reaper drone. Later the French military showed off footage of the visit to Hollande, who could pick out members of his entourage. At this point France continued to have two Reapers and one Harfang drone based at their Niamey base. (Three Mirage jets were based in Niger and three Rafale jets in Chad, but it isn’t clear whether the Mirage jets were bases at Niamey). The Bloomberg article detailed some of the business interests that France has in Niger and the region.

Also in July, a French Reaper was the first to spot an Algerian passenger plane that had crashed in Mali.

In September 2014 an article in the Washington Post reported that the US was building another drone base in Niger, at Agadey. The article speculated that the US would discontinue using the joint US-France base at Niamey, though it didn’t say what would happen with the more than 100 US troops deployed there to protect the base.

By late 2014 concerns were being raised about the US base in Agadey, because of local resentment and fears that the based would draw extremist attacks on the town. Concerns were also raised that France and the US were more concerned with securing mineral resources in the region than in fighting terrorism. An FT article also noted growing instability in the region and noted the difficult of France to monitor the situation.

French, Malian, and UN troops were still being attacked and in October French forces intercepted an arms shipment from Libya bound for Malian insurgents.

In early October 2014  French forces destroyed an arms convoy from southeast Libya being sent to insurgents in Niger. The convoy had been followed from Libya by a French Reaper drone. Fox News also reported that French troops supported by US intelligence planned to move north toward the Libyan border. Voice of America reported that both the US and France were marshalling forces further north to cut off growing insurgency in southern Libya.

This article outlined many objections to the use of drones by France. This article from Jurist outlines the general background of US intervention in Africa.

This article is incomplete, particularly with respect to the large number of airstrikes know to have been carried out in Mali against insurgents, with the help of drones. Any further information or direction to sources gratefully received.

 

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Did Brits use Afghan drone strike to sell Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone to the French?

France continues to debate the replacement of its older drones, and may buy an Israeli product. The UK military-industrial complex is trying to sell it to them.

Some elements of the French military support purchase of the Anglo Israeli Watchkeeper drone, which they viewed in Afghanistan, and pronounced satisfactory for their purposes. French chef d’état-major des armées,General Pierre de Villiers is advocating for Watchkeeper. France is holding a competitions for replacement of its tactical drones, to be completed in mid 2015. The competition would chose between offerings from Elbit/Thales, Sagem, Airbus, and a joint venture of Latécoère and Israeli Aircraft Industries. At least one of the proponents, Sagem, is attempting to ensure their ‘Shadow’ drone has civilian airspace certification, like Watchkeeper. (The French military was less enthusiastic about Watchkeeper after earlier trials).

The French debate is taking no account of the Israeli origin of two of the competitors. Watchkeeper is based on Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 drone, widely used by the Israeli military. The British version is produced by a joint venture of the Israeli company and Thales of France, in which Elbit is the senior partner. Much of the intellectual property on which Watchkeeper is based is owned by Elbit; Elbit will benefit significantly from any sale of additional Watchkeeper drones. Thales is a French arms company favoured by the French Socialist party. Elbit markets its drone products as ‘combat proven’, thanks to its use in attacks on Gaza and the suppression of the West Bank.

Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) is teamed with French company Latécoère to sell the Israeli Heron drone. Heron is also used by the Israeli military in its illegal occupation of Palestine and has been sold and leased widely to other countries.

French generals viewed Watchkeeper in Afghanistan in mid 2014. It seems likely that a major reason for taking the new drone to Afghanistan was for sales promotion and public relations, since there don’t appear to be any significant military reasons for having it there, given that the last British forces with withdrawn immediately afterward (and the military already had fit for purpose drones in Afghanistan). Flight Global reports that Watchkeeper was used to pass information along to a Reaper drone which carried out a strike on an unspecified target.

If that is true, UK MOD was in the position of making a combat mission for the purpose of helping a French company sell a mostly Israeli drone to the French military. ‘Combat proven’ indeed.

(UK MOD denied the obvious conclusion that the Watchkeeper deployment was a demonstration or trial, in an interview with Tim Ripley of IHS Janes Defence Weekly. It isn’t clear whether Ripley was aware of the French contingent viewing the Watchkeeper deployment).

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Key Watchkeeper drone questions not being asked

Once again, taxpayers have financed the development of an arms system that will primarily benefit shareholders in other countries. Worse, there are risks that the technology developed will find its way into the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and be used to further the Israeli colonisation project.

Thales, the giant French arms company, has started a new campaign to sell the Watchkeeper drone around the world. Watchkeeper is a medium altitude, long endurance drone, based on the Hermes 450 drone which has long been used by Israel in the suppression of Palestine. Watchkeeper uses Elbit Systems technology, and many component parts supplied by Elbit. Additional technology was developed by Thales, allowing Watchkeeper to get certification to fly in civilian airspace.

Though Thales is (presumably) still in a minority partnership on the Watchkeeper project with Elbit as majority partner (UTacS), Thales appears to be downplaying its Israeli connection in its current publicity and sales campaign. Not surprising, since at the time that Thales is flogging the Israeli French drone worldwide, Elbit Systems drones are part of the  attack on Palestinans being waged by the Israeli army on Gaza.

Almost a billion pounds of British taxpayer money was spent on Watchkeeper, on a programme that was delayed by years, and never fulfilled its mandate of being available to British troops in Afghanistan. Despite taxpayer money funding development of Anglo Israeli drone, it appears that profits from new sales will accrue exclusively to Thales and Elbit Systems. It isn’t clear who will own the new technology developed for the Watchkeeper programme, whether Thales as the active contractor will own it, or whether it is available to be used in upgrading Elbit System’s other drones.

Although new frones to fill Watchkeeper orders will be manufactured in Britain, many components will likely be purchased from Israel or Elbit’s subsidiary in the UK. The partnership agreement between Elbit Systems and Thales isn’t in the public domain; presumably it allows for considerable repatriation of profits to Israel, as well as fees for the use of Elbit System’s intellectual property. Thus UK taxpayers are doubly in the position of supporting the Israeli military industrial complex at a time when Britain should be seeking to demilitarise the region.

Thales claims to be confident that France will buy some of the drones, and that other NATO countries will also buy it. Thales is more in favour with the French government that rival Dassault, however many European governments are slowly seeking to isolate the Israeli regime as pressure to end its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

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British Watchkeeper drone to fly in Canada this summer

There was more confirmation this week that the UK will be flying its Watchkeeper drone in Alberta this summer. Watchkeeper is Britain’s new large surveillance drone, which uses technology purchased from Israel. It is based on the Hermes 450 drone produced in Israel by Elbit Systems and used by Israel forces in the suppression of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Watchkeeper programme has been kept low profile because the technology was acquired from the Israeli company shortly before Operation Cast Lead, when the Israeli military killed more than a thousand people in Gaza, including hundreds of women and children. The Hermes 450 on which Watchkeeper is based is believed to have been integrally involved in these attacks.

Watchkeeper is years behind schedule, to the extent that it may never be used in the Afghanistan conflict for which it was intended. The UK claims that Watchkeeper will have ‘civilians airspace certification’, though it hardly needs it in Canada where the Defence department asserts its right to fly drones in Canada without reference to civilian flight rules.

The UK MOD is closely connected to the UK war industry, and often helps the war industry sell products to foreign state buyers. The UK is promoting Watchkeeper to the French military, which presently has representatives in Britain observing flight tests and operational use on the Salisbury Plain, where one of Britain’s military training facilities is located. We have reported before in this blog that the UK has offered to further demonstrate Watchkeeper to the French military during training exercises with Watchkeeper on Britain’s training ground at Canadian Forces Base Suffield, in Alberta, this summer.

If Britain manages to sell Watchkeeper drones abroad, it will be a boost for Israel’s Elbit Systems, which manufactures some of the components from the drone, and co-owns the company which produces it in Britain.

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France still considering Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone

Defense News reported this week that units of the French army plan to work with the Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone in Afghanistan, if the new addition to the UK drone fleet is deployed there. French artillery officers are working with Watchkeeper as it is being introduced in the UK’s Salisbury Plain training area. (They are also expected to train with Watchkeeper crews in the Suffield training area in Alberta, Canada later in 2014).

Elements of the French army want the defence minister to acquire Watchkeeper, but that would likely depend on Britain acquiring French armoured combat vehicles.

Watchkeeper was built for the UK by Thales of France and Elbit Systems of Israel, based on the Hermes 450 drone. The latter has been ‘conflict tested’ in the repression of the West Bank and the attacks on Gaza.

For background search other posts on wanderingraven.wordpress.com

For detailed background of European drone policy see this report by Statewatch.

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British Israeli drones flying in Alberta summer 2014

Some time in the next few weeks several large crates will be unloaded from a British military aircraft at a Canadian airstrip and hauled to CFB Suffield, in Alberta. Known in the UK as BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield), CFB Suffield will be the site of training exercises by British army units, as it is every year. The crates will contain disassembled Watchkeeper drones, as well as the ground stations which are needed to support them. British army personnel will learn to use the drones, as they used similar Israeli-made Hermes 450 drones in Afghanistan.

The Watchkeepers are unlikely to be controlled from RAF Waddington in the UK, as are Britain’s Predator drones, because these particular drones are being used for surveillance by regular army units. It is likely that there will be French army officers observing, because the French are considering buying Watchkeeper, and the Suffield deployment is the first operational test for the drone. Also likely to be present will be officials from Thales, the French company that built the drones, and from Elbit Systems, the Israeli arms company that built Hermes 450 drone which was the prototype for Watchkeeper.

Too predictable will be the public relations events where local Alberta and Canadian media are shown the new unmanned aircraft and urged to comment on its technological marvels. Also predictable will be the close working relationship between the military and the arms company officials. The latter will use the opportunity to promote sales, and military brass will cooperate fully. This video where a active UK Colonel waxes poetic about Watchkeeper, while sitting in front of large signs advertising the prime contractor Thales, illustrates how easily the lines between public and private interests are blurred.

Finally, it is possible that Canadian government and military officials will be present at Suffield, as  France’s Thales and Israel’s Elbit Systems, (the manufacturers of Watchkeeper), will be eager to use the training exercises as marketing tools for their technology. The present Canadian government is Israel’s strongest ally, and Watchkeeper might be viewed as an opportunity to support Israel while appearing to be buying a British product.

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