Posts Tagged cast lead
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.
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.
Pratt and Whitney Canada has a long standing relationship with the Israeli Air Force. Pratt and Whitney Canada is part of a global concern Pratt and Whitney Ltd that is based in Hartford Connecticut. The global company maintains manufacturing facilities around the world, including in Israel.
The Pratt and Whitney (Canada) PT6A is used in Israel’s new Eitan drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle the size of a jet liner that was used for surveillance in the recent Cast Lead attacks on the Gaza Strip, and is said to be capable of spying on, or even attacking Iran.
Pratt and Whitney Canada also supplied the Israeli Air Force with PT6A turboprop engines for IAI Arava STOL aircraft, in an association that went back as far as 1980.
Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A (-27 thru -42, -50), PT6T (series), are listed as exports to Israel by Israeli ‘Homeland Security’.
IAI also used Pratt and Whitney Canada PW-306A turbo fan engines in its Galaxy corporate jets in the 1990’s.
In December 2010, Canada’s Industry minister, Tony Clement announced that Canada would be investing $1 Billion Canadian in a Pratt and Whitney Canada project to make a lighter aircraft engine, in a move said to preserve jobs at Pratt and Whitney’s Longeuil, PQ facility, in Lethbridge, AB, and in Mississaugua, ON. Since the research will almost certainly be to improve the Pratt and Whitney Canada mainstay PT 6 engine, can we expect that this will directly benefit future production of Israel’s Eitan drones?
Bet Shemesh Engines Ltd. of Israel advertises that it does casting for Pratt and Whitney Canada’s PW306 and PW307 engines, either at its facilities in Bet Shemesh Israel, or in Serbia. As in many Israeli companies producing arms related items, some of the prinicipal officers are high ranking officers in the Israeli military. Bet Shemesh CEO Avner Shacham owns about 25% of Bet Shemesh, and is a Lieutenant Colonel in the reserves of the Israeli army.
Bet Shemesh is an Israeli town about 20 km west of Jerusalem. It is the site of the former Arab Palestinian village of Beit Natif, and has been a hotbed of support for the Likud Party. The Arab Palestinians were ‘ethnically cleansed’ and are now refugees who cannot return to their homes in Beit Natif. They and their descendants live mostly in refugee camps under occupation in the Bethlehem district.
In July 2009, Israel purchased 20 T-6 Beechcraft aircraft trainers, powered by Pratt and Whitney Canada’s PW6A turbo prop engines.
The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Israeli military is creating another new squadron of drones, capable of flying higher, longer, and with more payload capacity. Operating from Tel Nof Air Force Base this would be Israel’s third drone squadron,
The new drone squadron will be able to field drones that can stay in the air for two days, drones that can fly above most anti aircraft fire at 10,000 metres (14,000 metres in other references). JP reports that the squadron will be operating the Heron TP, the “Eitan” a very large drone with a wing span of 26 metres. The article does not say how many Eitans will be part of the squadron, or whether the squadron will operate other types of drones, or what the tasks of the squadron will be.
These drones are much larger than fighter jets, and are the size of passenger jet liners. Eitan has a 1200 hp turbo jet engine and can carry hundreds of kilograms of weight, including obviously, bombs.
The Eitan has a very long range, and is clearly intended to be used against Israel’s external enemies, especially Iran. The Eitan is capable of carrying weapons and will have the capacity to carry a formidable array of spy equipment.
But defensenews.com reports that the Eitan was used in operation Cast Lead, the attack on Gaza of 2008-2009. Defensenews.com suggests that the Eitan will be cheaper to purchase and operate than the Gulfstream 550 ‘manned’ aircraft previously used, expecially in the attack on Lebanon in 2006.
Defensenews.com suggests that the Eitan might even be used in the future for electronic warfare, jamming other signals.
Defense Update web site reports that the Eitan’s PT6A turboprop engine is made by Pratt and Whitney of Canada.
Until 2009 Israeli drone use in Gaza and the West Bank was shrouded in secrecy. Small, quiet, and flying at high altitude, drones were often unseen by people on the ground. Militants reported many attacks where explosions were preceeded by cell phones going dead, suggesting interference caused by drones. Attacks by drones were seen as fairly accurate and devasting. For example this article.
How then does one explain the large numbers of civilians including children who were killed in drone attacks during ‘Operation Cast Lead”?
‘Precisely Wrong’ a report of Human Rights Watch reported 42 drone attacks that killed 89 people in all.
Human Rights Watch said:
“Israeli forces failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that these targets were combatants, as required by the laws of war, or that they failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians.”
Here or HERE is a Guardian video documentary of drone use in Operation ‘Cast Lead’, the December 2009 attack by Israeli forces on Gaza, in which it is clearly shown that drones have clear visibility of their targets, but were used to kill non combatants nevertheless.