Archive for category Israeli arms company
Some time in the next few weeks Canada’s Department of National Defence will release the results of its Project JUSTAS (the programme to identify what drones Canada wants to acquire). In the past the military, and the government, have made it clear that among its requirements would be armed drones.
The leading suppliers capable of providing armed drones of the type required would be General Atomics of the US (Predator, Reaper), and the two Israeli drone companies Elbit Systems (Hermes drone variants), and IAI (Heron drone variants). Canada already has a working relationship with IAI and its Canadian agents through its rental of Heron surveillance drones during the Afghanistan occupation.
Israel does not appear to have sold armed drones abroad to date. However Israel is one of three countries to have used armed drones (in its occupation and wars in Palestine) and is reputed to have several variants of armed drones. Several of its surveillance drone variants are easily capable of being armed, and in any case its surveillance drones can be used as attack drones by marrying laser ‘markers’ with other attack systems, like ground-to-ground missiles or jet fighters. Though Israel remains tight lipped, most observers report Israel using drones as part of its recent attacks on Gaza.
Canada is part of the Missile Technology Control Regime, indeed was its originator and among the earliest signators. While the US has ratified the MTCR, Israel is not a signatory. It would be politically difficult for Canada to buy armed drones from Israel, because some of the terms of the MTCR relate to armed drone technology, which can be considered ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
But news of an impending cabinet shuffle may influence this decision. David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa citizen, has described rumours around Ottawa that current Minister of National Defence Peter Mackay, (who has been ineffectual), will be shifted laterally in the cabinet, or out. Under MacKay Canada’s defence procurement projects have continued to drift from one crisis to the next (though he isn’t the only minister reponsible). MacKay’s replacement is rumoured to be John Baird. Baird is a combative Israelophile who, in his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs, has shifted Canada’s foreign policy sharply in favour of Israel, making Canada arguably Israel’s most vociferous ally.
It is easy to imagine that Baird’s appointment as defence minister would sharply improve the prospects of Israeli companies hoping to sell drones or other military hardware to Canada. Baird has the focus and determination to bulldoze over objections to purchasing military hardware from Israel. He can also be assumed to continue Canada’s move to a beligerent foreign policy in support of American interventions around the world.
Whether or not Canada buys armed drones from Israeli companies, it can be assumed that a John Baird appointment to the head of the Defence ministry would raise their prospects for selling surveillance drones to Canada. Both Elbit Systems and IAI maintain lobbyists in Ottawa, and IAI has a well connected Canadian agent in MacDonald Dettwiler.
Like most Canadian military procurement programmes, Canada’s JUSTAS project to acquire drones is now far behind schedule, faltering badly, and being conducted mostly in secret to avoid public oversight.
The majority of Canadians have little awareness of the drone programme and are misinformed about drones in general, unsurprising since our government appears to be running the programme ‘under the radar’, to avoid criticism.
Originally a programme to acquire surveillance drones, the plan now seems to be to purchase armed ‘attack’ drones. NOW reports that RCAF spokepeople say that the military is on track to acquire armed drones, though no timetable was presented.
American, British, and Israeli forces operate armed drones in various theatres and have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians. Because of the demonstrated ‘precision’ of drone weapons, governments cannot claim these civilian deaths are ‘accidental’. Each and every death appears to be the calculated result of a decision by a drone operating team that knows civilians will be harmed. Furthermore, most of the people targetted by drone teams are not active combattants, but individuals selected by secret criteria and assassinated without recourse to any system of justice. Military officials responsible for drone assassinations have consistently denied or minimised civilian deaths, presumably to avoid responsibility. It isn’t clear that the Canadian military has a plan to deal with the ethical implications of operating armed drones.
No decision appears to have been made about what drone systems to acquire, though Israeli and American arms companies have been lobbying Canadian decision makers behind closed doors for some time. David Pugliese, in the Ottawa Citizen, asked a number of key questions back in January 2013, but these do not appear to have been answered.
Britain’s Watchkeeper drone still hasn’t been deployed, now more than two and a half years overdue. The surveillance drone system, purchased from Elbit Systems of Israel and Thales of France, has been plagued by delays.
Delays have been blamed on the fact that the drone hasn’t achieve certification to operate in civilian airspace, but it isn’t clear why a military drone first intended for use in remote parts of Afghanistan needs to be certified for civilian airspace. Something smells, but Britain’s press doesn’t seem inclined to make deeper enquiries about this troubled billion pound quagmire.
Much was made last year about France’s decision to study the Watchkeeper, with an eye to buying it for France. The decision smacked of doing a favour to the French arms company Thales, and the defence partner UK MOD. It would be very surprising indeed if the French acquired Watchkeeper drones, but in the bizarre world of the arms trade, nothing can be discounted.
Elbit Systems and CAE are teaming up to sell the Canadian military a ‘next generation integrated soldier system’.
In a blizzard of jargon representatives of the two companies promised to provide ‘proven modular solutions’ while reducing ‘technical, cost, and schedule risks”.
Only one thing would be certain. Canada would provide a cash infusion to the Israeli military industrial complex, to learn Israeli techniques at war fighting with their neighbours. The supremicist state has been adept at marketing the skills it has learned by maintaining a forty year occupation of a hostile West Bank and Gaza, and fighting a series of wars with Hezbollah, some of which it lost.
If the claims at the recent Paris air show were to be believed, the first unit of Watchkeeper drones would have been deployed in Afghanistan in December, 2011. A recent answer by the undersecretary of state suggests that the first operational use of Watchkeeper will be in early 2012. There has been little public information about Watchkeeper released recently. If Watchkeeper is deployed successfully, watch for a series of embedded journalism stories to hype the success of the project. If the project continues to falter, expect the project to be under reported, as it has been from the beginning.
Over priced, delayed, and built from an Israeli prototype, Watchkeeper has been an embarrassment to both the Labour and Conservative governments. Now that the most recent atrocities in Gaza have faded in the public mind, the government may wish to trumpet Watchkeeper as a success story, despite its dependence on collaboration with an Israeli arms maker who provides weapons for the ongoing occupation of Palestine.
But the government will have to explain why it has paid a billion pounds for drone technology which could have been purchased elsewhere at much less.
And it will have to explain what Watchkeeper contributes to the UK effort in Afghanistan which is failing not because the UK and its allies lack technology but because they lack moral legitimacy and the ability to make any positive contribution to Afghanistan through military force.
In September 2011 a delegation of British MPs visited Israel, and among the sites they visited was Elbit Systems, suppliers of drones to the UK for use in Afghanistan and cocontractors on the billion pound Watchkeeper Project. Watchkeeper is based on the Elbit Hermes 450.
The MPs were all part of the Conservative Friends of Israel group. At least three delegations of Conservative Friends of Israel have visited Elbit Systems while in Israel. Israel has been remarkably effective at using parliamentary visits to push its point of view, and about two dozen Conservative MPs have gone to Israel in 2011 alone. That they always visit Elbit Systems says a lot about how Conservatives in the UK view relations with Israel and where Israel sees the need to influence British politicians.
Britain, like France, has a large arms trade with Israel, and this doesn’t seem likely to decline under this Conservative government.
The Watchkeeper drone programme has made Thales the French arms company the largest UAV company in Europe. It probably made Elbit, its coventurer, the largest UAV company in Israel. Both companies did extremely well from the UK taxpayer funded project. Indeed, the chairman of Elbit recently complained about the negative effect on the bottom line of the winding down of Elbit’s portion of the Watchkeeper programme. In a company as large as Elbit, that is a clear indication of the transfer of profits to the Israeli company.
Watchkeeper was ‘sold’ the British public on the basis that there would be a high potential for export sales. However it would appear that considerable more development work will have to be done to make sales to other countries like France or Spain, due to differences in the command and control structures of the various armies.