Posts Tagged drones

Is an American arms company trying to sell the Canadian government a drone the US military doesn’t want

Is General Atomics trying to sell a drone to Canada that the US military doesn’t want?

General Atomics says that it is hoping to sell its ‘Avenger’ drone to the Canadian military to fulfill the Arctic surveillance role that has been identified by Project JUSTAS, the inept programme of the Canadian government to acquire drones for military use. Avenger is a jet powered drone evolved from the Predator drone, and is known as the Predator ‘C’.

An article in medium.com suggests that the US government was less than satisfied with Avenger, as it didn’t significantly address the shortcomings that it had identified with the Predator ‘A’ and the Predator ‘B’ (known as ‘Reaper’). The military wanted a drone that was more prone to survival in a combat zone, weather resistant, and with good communications. The US military felt that Avenger, which is faster and can carry more, wasn’t much different than the Predator A in the qualities that mattered. Certainly a drone that was not weather resistant and didn’t have a robust communication system would not be useful in high arctic conditions where it is anticipated such a drone would be used.

General Atomics is no doubt hoping that the Canadian government will see advantages in the long range capability of the Avenger, though it isn’t clear why the Canadian government would want a drone promoted for its ‘stealth’ qualities to fly in the arctic.

The Avenger would compete with the Polar Hawk drone that Raytheon has been trying to sell to the Canadian government, that has been written about before on this blog. 

Acquisition of a surveillance drone is mired in the Project JUSTAS the procurement effort of the Canadian military, so is unlikely to happen soon. Military brass shrug off the inability of the government to define its needs or fulfill its requirements, as a benefit, allowing technology to advance. Probably a good excuse because there is little evidence that an army staying out of foreign conflicts needs large surveillance drones at the present time.

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Israel scores big arms deal from Canadian supporters. More to follow?

The government of Canada has announced that it is spending a quarter billion Canadian dollars to purchase ‘Iron Dome’ technology created by two Israeli arms companies. Iron Dome is the missile detection and response system used by Israel in response to objects lobbed at Israel from occupied Palestine.

The very expensive system has been massively subsidised by the US, and Israeli officials have been asking for more money to be spent on development of the system, which has many flaws. The Canadian purchase will no doubt provide a cash influx that can be used to develop the system further.

Iron Dome was developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries, an arms company wholly owned by the state of Israel.  Sales by Israeli arms companies are often touted as technology transfers to the purchaser, but are also technology transfers to the apartheid state, since Israeli government and corporate players gain access to sensitive customer secrets and technology.

The radar technology will be provided to Canada by Rheinmetall Defence and Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israeli Aerospace Industries, in a contract expected to begin in 2017. Rheinmetall Canada also works with the giant private Israeli arms company Elbit Systems, nominally the biggest competitor of Israeli Aerospace Industries in other areas of the arms trade. Rheinmetall has registered for lobbying activities in the past with the Canadian government.

No justification for the purchase was given by the government of Canada in its press release, but it is widely known that elements of the Canadian cabinet are strong supporters of the right wing Netanyahu regime. The Canadian military wants to purchase Predator drones from an American company, but with Canadian cabinet support strong for Israel, it is very possible that the contract for drone purchase will also be from an Israeli company.

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Who is lobbying the Canadian government about drones?

Project JUSTAS is the Canadian initiative to acquire large military surveillance drones. Like other military procurement projects Project JUSTAS has been delayed for many years by bungled procedures and shifting priorities. Most recently the government is claiming to have finished the acquisition process by 2023, with contracts going out by 2017. The military is still lobbying for armed drones, and it appears that the procurement for military surveillance drones will be separated from the procurement for arctic surveillance drones. Due to the need of the current government to minimise expenditures leading up to the October election no movement is likely to happen before the end of 2015.

General Atomics has lobbied eight government departments, including Department of National Defence and the Canadian Senate, in support of its bid to provide large military drones under Project JUSTAS. Their lobbyist was Patrick Gagnon, of The Parliamentary Group (consulting company and lobbyists) . Gagnon is a former Liberal MP, and former Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada, and is well connected due to many roles in government. General Atomics would also like to sell the Canadian government its Avenger drone for arctic surveillance competing with the ‘Polar Hawk-Global Hawk’ offering of Raytheon (see below).

Also lobbying the government with respect to Project JUSTAS was MacDonald Dettwiler Associates (MDA), a Canadian company with widespread business with the government. Most pertinent is its role providing the Canadian Government with leased Heron MALE drones for use by Canadian forces in Afghanistan. (The lease ran out in 2011). Though the public lobbying records don’t state it, presumably MDA would act as an agent for Israeli Aerospace Industries, manufacturers of the Heron MALE drone. The active lobbyists for MDA are listed as Daniel Friedman, CEO, and Donald Osborne, the Executive Vice President of MDA. Records show that Osborne lobbied Bill Jones, Senior Associate Deputy Minister National Defence, though it isn’t certain that Project JUSTAS was the subject of all communication between the two. There were other contacts with respect to Project JUSTAS as well.

Raytheon, and American arms company producing the ‘Global Hawk’ family of jet powered drones also lobbied the Canadian government on a variety of subjects, including Project JUSTAS. Raytheon has been trying to sell the Canadian Government Global Hawk variants for arctic patrols.

Elbit Systems, the large Israeli arms company, retains powerful CFN Consultants to lobby on its behalf. Lobby records don’t show any communications with the government within the past year. CFN Consultants is made up mostly of former military personnel with strong ties in government circles.

Thales, the French arms company which promotes the Anglo Israeli Watchkeeper drone, uses Bluesky Strategy Group as its registered lobbyist had three recorded contacts with the Department of National Defence in the past year. But it isn’t recorded whether the Watchkeeper drone was discussed.

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Drones are the tool of choice for new death squads

There is a growing awareness of the vast covert campaign being operated by the CIA and NATO to assassinate people they perceive as enemies, in several countries across Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Death squads have long been the preserve of authoritarian governments who kill their enemies at will without reference to human rights or the rule of law. But western governments have increasingly been using the technique, often with the help of armed or unarmed drones.

Documented evidence is coming to light, often in documentary films such as Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill. Seumas Milne in the Guardian wrote a scathing commentary on the practise recently.

While revelations are emerging that drone death squads often kill ‘civilians’, including women and children, there is less attention paid to the daily arbitrary killing of men who are not fighting, but are designated for death because they appear to be in a proscribed group. Often the decision to kill someone is left to a small team of operators thousands of miles away, who carry out death sentences on people who have may or not be actively  involved in military activities.

Minister of Armed Forces Mark Francois recently said that drones would continue to be used to kill people deemed to ‘pose a risk’ to UK armed forces, a disturbingly wide definition that seems to permit the armed forces to kill almost anyone preemtively.

American special forces and the CIA have a long history of assassinating people, in the pursuit of American foreign policy. But it is only recently that NATO has been drawn into this practise, and it appears to be facilitated by the ease with which drones can be used to conduct assassinations, with safety and anonymity for the assassins.

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Thales Watchkeeper Drone May be Used for `Homeland Security`

It is completely predictable that Thales is touting its Watchkeeper drone for roles in `Homeland Security`. (Which essentially means population surveillance, and attacks on domestic dissidents).

Watchkeeper is being introduced three years late, after the UK Military Aviation Authority took extra time to certify the drone to fly in civilian airspace. Since the drone was unnecessary for military purposes, being less versatile than the cheaper and more flexible Predator family of drones, it was clear that the contractor and the government would try to find a new role for the costly new technology.

It is not the physical drone aircraft that is being touted, since the basic aircraft is similar to the Israeli Hermes 450 drone on which it is based, and  to other medium altitude, long endurance drones. But, as reported by Anthony Osborne in Aviation Week, Thales believes that it could put the Watchkeeper guidance technology and certification into other aircraft, even the A400M military transport aircraft, just introduced by Airbus. This would make any aircraft into an unmanned air platform useful for many ‘homeland security’ missions. Thales clearly envisions a range of unmanned military and homeland security aircraft flying in civilian airspace, not just surveillance drones.

Approvals received within the last few days should make it possible for Thales and the military to soon achieve certification to operate the drones in Britain’s Salisbury Plains testing area, in the same airspace as manned flights. If they are lucky enough to operate in a mixed flying environment without too many crashes or mishaps (drones crash at an alarming rate), UK military drones may be operating in British of foreign skies in the near future. Political dissidents may soon have the experience of hearing the characteristic sound of drones above them at political demonstrations, just like the occupied people of the West Bank and Gaza.

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Drones keep crashing

Drones (unarmed aerial vehicles, or remotely piloted aircraft) crash at an alarming rate. Disarmingman has created a database of crashes of large drones around the world.

Drones are increasingly touted as solutions for a wide variety of surveillance and monitoring problems and the number of drones in the world is proliferating wildly.  Pressure is increasing to have drones licensed to fly in airspace over populated regions, so that drones can be used for such prosaic purposes as traffic monitoring. The Drones Crash Database makes sobering reading.

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Glut of Drones

Thales, of France, says it has a number of Hermes 45o drones to sell or rent, after they come back from Afghanistan. Drones operated by Thales are used by the UK in Afghanistan, and will (in theory) be replaced by the delayed Watchkeeper drone. Hermes 450’s are produced by Elbit of Israel, and are managed by Thales probably because as an Israeli company Elbit would have difficulty operating in Afghanistan or Middle Eastern countries.

Shephard News points out that this may pose a problem for Thales, since flogging the used Hermes 450s from Afghanistan would put it in direct competition with its business partner Elbit, which is continuing to market Hermes 450 drones, as well as turn key factories for producing Hermes drones in other countries.

Watchkeeper was promoted as an exportable product for the UK, but a glut of used Hermes 450 drones would probably exacerbate the dim prospects for Watchkeeper as a UK export.

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