Posts Tagged British Israeli UAV
The long delayed Watchkeeper surveillance drone programme has been barely in the news for months, even as deadlines were missed, and the UK military operations in Afghanistan wind down. But news this week may put it in the spotlight again.
There is a joint summit between Francois Hollande and David Cameron this week at RAF Brize Norton this week.
This is ostensibly to restart the joint defense treaty/arms trade strategy that the two countries negotiated in 2010, which ploughed into quicksand when the Parti Socialiste won the French elections in 2012 and promptly reviewed the arms procurement arrangements made by the Sarkozy government.
Writing in Defense News, Andrew Chuter and Pierre Tran have speculated that the conversation could involve a statement of French interest in the British-Israeli Watchkeeper drone.
Thales, the French arms company, is the prime contractor and partner with Elbit Systems of Israel in the Watchkeeper programme, which has belatedly resulted in a British built drone based on the Israeli Hermes 450. Thales fortunes appeared to rise after the election of the Socialistes, while its rival Dassault appeared to fall.
Thales has been lobbying hard to have the French government buy the Watchkeeper drone, and French operators have flown the drone at Parc Aberporth in Wales. It is also believed that they may fly the drone this summer in Canada, possibly at the UK training base at Suffield Aberta.
Also discussed at the summit may be a proposal to build an armed combat drone, in which France’s Dassault and Britain’s BAE might build the airframe, Thales and Silex the electronics, Rolls Royce and Snecma the engine, according the Chuter and Tran. Proponents want the programme to begin immediately, ostensibly so that the French air force that evaluate how an armed drone would fit into ‘the operational picture’. Though why they couldn’t just use a Predator drone acquired from the US for that purpose isn’t clear.
The Canadian government long ago said that it intended to buy a drone system for the Canadian military, and implemented a programme to determine needs and set out criteria for purchase, in the form of Project JUSTAS (Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition System).
Very little information has been released to the public that would allow anyone to follow the deliberations of this body, even as a procession of lobbyists have had access to all levels of government.
In October 2013 MacDonald Dettwiler announced that it would provide Canada with Raven hand-launched drones, and associated training and maintenance. It isn’t clear whether this acquisition was related to Project JUSTAS, but clearly the Canadian government is still in the market for large surveillance, or even armed drones.
In November, 2013 the Canadian Defence Minister, Rob Nicholson, welcomed the Israeli Minister of Defence, Moshe Ya’alon, and was effusive about the relationship between Canada and the apartheid regime. Nicholson stated ‘I am confident that we will find avenues to expand our defence relations even further in the near future.” Several ministers in the Conservative government waste no opportunities to support the Netanyahu regime.
While no specifics were released it seems likely that the two discussed the possibility of Canada buying Israeli drones, as Israel has become the largest retailer of drones worldwide. Several Israeli companies make large surveillance drones, of which Israeli Aerospace Industries (Heron family of drones) and Elbit Systems (Hermes family of drones) are the largest. Elbit Systems often tries to sell its drones as ‘turn key’ systems, manufactured in the buyer country to permit ‘manufacturing offsets’. Both companies provide drones to the Israeli military for repressing Palestinians, and both drone systems have been implicated with deaths of civilians in Israeli drone attacks on Gaza. Canada has rented Heron drones from IAI for use by Canadian forces in Afghanistan.
Aside from Israeli companies, America’s Northrup Grumman has been aggressively trying to sell their Global Hawk drone to Canada. However Global Hawk is very expensive and likely to be unpopular with the Conservatative base.
General Atomics, which makes the Predator/Reaper class of drones has been less in evidence, perhaps sensing that the quagmire of Canadian defence procurement is best avoided. Predator/Reapers are cheaper, but are clearly thought of as armed drones, which may be a step the Conservative government isn’t ready to make as an election approaches.
Another possibility for a Canadian drone purchase would be the British-Israeli Watchkeeper, which will be part of UK military exercises at CFB Suffield in 2014. Watchkeeper will likely have civilian airspace certification. The Canadian military claims it doesn’t neen civilian authority to fly drones domestically, but certification would make it easier to fly drones to monitor pipeline protesters, (and other Canadian dissidents), which must surely be one of the goals of the Conservative government. Watchkeeper has a very large Israeli component, which would allow the Harper government to support the Netanyahu government while keeping the purchase within NATO. However the Canadian public is sure to react to buying any equipment from the UK military after the submarine debacle of a few years ago.
The Conservative ministers would have trouble facing their Israeli counterparts if they wasted the most obvious opportunity to make a high profile purchase of military technology from the apartheid regime.
Based on the information that is publicly available it my ‘best guess’ that the Canadian government will announce that it intends to buy one of the Israeli drone options in 2014.
A decade in the making, and at least three years late, the Watchkeeper drone will be introduced shortly. The current publicity blitz by Britain’s Defense Minister, Philip Hammond, may be part of the government’s effort to prepare the British public for the intoduction of the new surveillance drone, one that has deep roots in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Based on a medium altitude, long endurance Hermes 450 prototype, Watchkeeper was built by UTacS, a consortium of Israeli arms company Elbit Systems, and French arms company Thales. Much of the technology comes from Elbit or subsidiaries like UAV Engines Ltd, while Thales has been general contractor ensuring that some of the drone is built in Britain, and providing updated software.
The first flights of Watchkeeper occurred from Megiddo Airfield, in Northern Israel, before test flights were moved to Parc Aberporth in Wales. After the drone receives certification to fly in civilian airspace it will be flown at the Salisbury Plain base, and at CFB Suffield in Canada, (in 2014).
The Israeli prototype, Hermes 450, has been a mainstay of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza. The Israeli government has been tightlipped about the use of drones in suppressing the West Bank, but the Hermes 450 is believed to have been used several times in attacks on Gaza, during Cast Lead and at other times. The drone is known to overfly Gaza, and the frontier with Egypt.
The UK government claims to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and human rights abuses, but maintains a strong trade relationship with Israel, not limited to drone purchases, but including sales of other strategic goods amounting to £7,700,000,000 in the most recent year. Many parts of Watchkeeper are based on Israeli intellectual property, or are directly acquired from Elbit, with the result that hundreds of millions of pounds have been transferred to the Israeli arms company as part of the Watchkeeper programme.
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.