Archive for category Suffield
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.
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.
Flight Global reports that the UK armed forces will test the Watchkeeper drone at Canadian Forces Base, Suffield, Alberta in 2014 and beyond. That the UK would test Watchkeeper there was anticipated from at least 2006 as indicated in the Environmental Assessment for that year.
British forces have long used Canadian Forces Base, Suffield for training, calling it British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS). There is already a drone test facility at Suffield. It isn’t clear whether the British drones will be tested there, or as autonomous units.
TTU Online has reported that British military officials will invite French military officers to join in the testing of Watchkeeper, as part of the ongoing effort of the British military industrial establishment to sell the French a few Watchkeeper systems.
Watchkeeper is an Anglo-Israeli-French drone, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 drone used widely in the suppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Government of Alberta has dedicated resources to supporting and developing the arms industry in Alberta, citing the location of defence establishments in Alberta, for example Camp Wainwright, Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, Suffield Base
It recently published information supporting the arms industry in Alberta.
In July 2010 a Heron drone built by Israeli Aircraft Industries and operated by MacDonald Dettwiler, crashed near Suffield AB, after striking power lines.
This is just one of a number of crashes of drones worldwide that has made civilian populations uneasy about living under drones.
In 2009 a drone was involved in a ground incident with another object or vehicle.
While most crashes have been in remote areas, the plans to use drones for surveillance of civilian activities, makes their unreliability a concern.
MacDonald Dettwiler is seeking to develop a wide range of civilian uses for drones in Canada, presumably using Heron drones built in Israel by its partner Israeli Aircraft Industries.
Proposed uses would include pipeline monitoring, forest fire detection, agricultural and crop insurance monitoring.
Unstated is the potential for monitoring of all kinds, cheapening surveillance to the extent that a great deal surveillance of human activities happen.
Nor the boost for the Israeli arms industry that would result from civilian sales of more Heron drones. A matter of ploughshare sales boosting income for the sword manufacturers.
MacDonald Dettwiler, the Canadian partner of Israeli Aircraft Industries, has posted a job vacancy for a ‘UAV Payload Operator Instructor’ .
Among the operator instructor’s roles would be to train additional operators, ab initio, (from ‘scratch’).
The candidate hired would have to train for four months in Israel, and be willing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Note that there are no educational qualifications listed, but clearly the posting if intended for people who are already drone operators, and have a military/defence background.
The job was posted in May, 2010 and reposted in September, 2010, suggesting that MDA is having trouble filling the position.
The person hired would work with MDA employees already in Afghanistan.
Recently Australia has received a Heron drone and training in operating Heron drones from Canada. This is a bit perplexing, since one wonders why Australia doesn’t get its drones straight from Israel.
The drones are presumably acquired through the partnership between Israel Aerospace Industries and MacDonald Dettwiler of Canada, which has an operation at Suffield Alberta, where it tests UAVs and trains operators for the drones that Canada has acquired from Israel.
Australia appears to have plans to acquire more drones, and the fact that they are already using a Heron drone suggests that future drones may also be acquired from Israel, providing support for the Israeli arms industry.
Australian drone operators are being absorbed into the Canadian Heron UAV detachment at Kandahar Afghanistan.
More information here.
This article on drones by Kathy Kelly and Brian Terrell talks about their vigil outside a drone base in the US, at Creech Air Force Base, in Nevada. Another article from this same campaign. A Franciscan campaign on the drone issue in Nevada is here.
MacDonald Dettwiler Associates operates a facility at Suffield Alberta to test and demonstrate Israeli UAVs, as well as train operators and do R&D. In addition to its contract with the military to provide surveillance in Afghanistan, MDA is promoting the Israeli-build Heron UAV for civilian purposes.
Israeli Aerospace Industries (maker of the Heron UAV) suggests that the Heron drone might be used in fighting forest fires, monitoring pipelines, and by insurance companies to spy on clients and claimants. The Civil Air Search and Rescue has participated with MDA and IAI in trials of using the Heron drone for search and rescue.
(It is not clear at this point which other civilian purposes the Heron drone will be put to. However, civilian sales of Israeli drone technology or services will directly support the Israeli arms industry, and indirectly support the Israeli military in its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories).