Archive for category Hermes
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.
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.
There is startlingly little fuss being made over the imminent introduction of the long delayed Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone expected in just a few weeks. Delayed by years, the drone has been an embarrassment to both the British military and the prime contractor Thales.
Originally touted as essential for Britain’s intervention in Afghanistan, the drone will likely never be introduced to that operational theatre, due to the delays. The army has since found that it could do just as well with armed Predator-type drones, as well as rented Israeli surveillance drones. Meanwhile, the long delays in finishing Watchkeeper have been blamed on the need for ‘civilian airspace certification’, although it hasn’t been satisfactorily explained why that is needed since UK military drones have so far operated in remote areas, where conflict with civilian air traffic is not an issue.
Perhaps the greatest reason that Watchkeeper introduction has been kept to a low profile is that the drone is primarily an Israeli creation. Watchkeeper’s earliest years coincided with the infamous Cast Lead attack on Gaza, when hundreds of Palestinians, including a very large number of women and children, were killed by Israeli forces. Drones were heavily involved in that attack, and subsequent ones.
Watchkeeper is the anglicised version of the Hermes 450 drone used throughout the Cast Lead attacks, and many times since. Its maker, Elbit Systems, brags that their drones are ‘combat tested’, and their company officials have noted that the active participation of Elbit designers in Israel’s military activities means that the Hermes 450 is constantly updated and fixed to reflect the experiences of the Israeli military (which are largely gained in attacks on Gaza and suppression of Palestinians in the West Bank).** So, Britain’s Watchkeeper drone owes a debt to Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation.
Watchkeeper’s first flights were at the Megido airfield in northern Israel. (They were originally scheduled for and airport in the occupied territories, until British officials objected to the ‘optics’ of that). There is considerable Israeli equipment and intellectual property on Watchkeeper, including the take off and landing system, the engine, and the basic design. It has never been certain what Elbit’s returns from the £1 billion contract have been, but they will have been considerable.
Britain’s embrace of the Hermes 450 model has also been good for Elbit. Britain’s rented Hermes 450’s have flown thousands of hours in Afghanistan (several have crashed). And Watchkeeper has flown countless test hour from Parc Aberporth in Wales. Those experiences have filtered back to Elbit, and no doubt been incorporated into the design of updated Hermes models, including the Hermes 900 now being sold around the world. These updated Hermes drones will eventually be used again in the suppression of the occupied Palestinians, meaning that British use of Hermes-based drones have had a direct effect on subjugated people in the Middle East.
**It’s possible that Israeli arms company employees are actually involved specifically in the deployment of Israeli drones in combat situations, although this hasn’t been confirmed directly.
Israeli company Elbit Systems has embarked on a world wide campaign to sell its new Hermes 900 drone.
Successful use in war is often a strong selling point for military arms, and the maker of Hermes, Elbit Systems of Israel, is quick to point out that the Hermes 900 is part of the Hermes 450 family of drones and therefore shares its ‘combat-proven‘ qualities. The Hermes 900 drone is a larger version of the Hermes 450 which has been flown widely in Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine and in the service of Britain’s intervention in Afghanistan.
By using Hermes drones extensively, the UK government has become a silent partner with the marketing arm of the Israeli arms industry. This arms industry is a fundamental part of the occupation of Palestine, and the ongoing attacks on Palestinians by the occupation forces.
The Algemeiner blog reports that Hermes drones have flown more than half a million hours, or which 85,000 hours were flown by UK military in Afghanistan.That means 17% of the flight experience of Hermes drones has been with the UK military. Israeli arms merchants trade on this experience when they try to sell drones to other purchasers. (Not mentioned is that UK forces had 11 crashes of Hermes 450’s by 2011 and the Drones Crash Database has recorded other Hermes crashes worldwide)
Drones have long been a mainstay of the Israeli military, and while it rarely discusses its use of drones, some information has leaked out. Drone Wars UK has documented Israel’s use of drones in the occupation of the West Bank, and especially its attacks on Gaza in a report ‘Israel and the Drone Wars’.
Hermes 450 drones are used in Afghanistan under Project Lydian, through which Elbit and its partner Thales (of France) rented drones to the UK military, by the hour, while the military waited for the introduction of Watchkeeper surveillance drones. Obstensibly a UK built drone, Watchkeeper was based on the smaller Israeli Hermes 450 drone, manufactured and updated in Britain by Thales.
Watchkeeper drones were supposed to replace Hermes 450 drones in 2011, with a different set of operators as well, but the Watchkeeper programme was characterised by delays, and Thales eventually was forced to pick up some of the costs of operating the drone fleet in Afghanistan to compensate for the lateness. In January 2014 Watchkeeper still had not been introduced to Afghanistan, apparently, and the military was still using Hermes drones.
Meanwhile, Elbit is said to be producing one Hermes 900 each week, suggesting an inventory of more than 50 drones over the last year. Some of these have been sold to the Israeli military, and some sold to buyers in Latin America (Chile, Mexico, and Colombia) and elsewhere. Canada has considered buying the Hermes 900 as part of its languishing Project JUSTAS.
Years in the making, and costing over a billion pounds, Britain’s Watchkeeper drone programme has almost dropped out of public view, on the very eve of its introduction.
Watchkeeper was a collaboration of France’s Thales, and Israel’s Elbit Systems. The prototype for Watchkeeper was Elbit’s Hermes 450 drone, used for many years in the suppression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Thales became the prime contractor, from its facilities in the UK. Originally conceived as a surveillance drone for use Afghanistan, Watchkeeper took too long to produce (three years late, so far) to be very useful in Afghanistan, so the UK chose to purchase or lease alternatives from Israeli and American sources in the interim. The developing Watchkeeper has apparently been repurposed as a platform for flight and surveillance in populated areas, and Thales was required to develop systems to enable Watchkeeper to be certified to fly in civilian airspace. Thales has produced a slick video showing Watchkeeper flying over populated areas in Wales. ThinkDefence in a detailed look at Watchkeeper shows how Watchkeeper could monitor a moving target in the British countryside.
What we know from recent information in the public record:
Military Aviation Authority has approved a ‘statement of type design assurance’. (Apparently this means that Watchkeeper is nearing acceptance by the military).
Although UK involvement in Afghanistan is winding down, the UK MOD still plans to introduce Watchkeeper to Afghanistan when it is released for service.
France is still considering whether to purchase Watchkeeper, with elements of the French army pushing to purchase.
UK and French military would like to take Watchkeeper to Afghanistan to test it out in an operational situation (demonstrating that wars are often used as proving grounds for military hardware).
The UK MOD is considering arming Watchkeeper, possibly with ‘lightweight multirole missiles’. Armed with missiles and having gained civilian airspace certification it is theoretically possible that the UK could bring its assassination programme to British soil.
On 7 October Thales was given permission to fly Watchkeeper over populated areas in Britain, allowing it to be flown over its test area on the Salisbury Plain.