Posts Tagged drones

Watchkeeper Programme Expands Foreign Arms Companies

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.



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Watchkeeper drone programme late and 25% more expensive than claimed.

Aviation Week recently reported that the Watchkeeper drone will be put in service later this year in Afghanistan.

Watchkeeper is many months late, and under view by a government watchdog.

Aviation Week reported that the government is now estimates that the programme have cost just under £1 billion, up from the estimate of just under £800 million when the programme was initiated.

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Pakistan Ups the Ante, Wants Drones Out

Pakistan is asking the US CIA to drastically cut back drone attacks on Taliban insurgents in Pakistan.

The New York Times reports that Pakistan may ask as many as 335 US CIA employees to leave Pakistan. The Sunday Times has reported in the past that the CIA is secretly using airbases in Southern Pakistan to launch drones. This was confirmed by analysis of Google Earth photos.

Many CIA officials in Pakistan may be involved in selecting targets and managing information flows after attacks. Reports of drone attacks in Pakistan are usually accompanied by a statement by ‘an unnamed official’ claiming that all the dead were insurgents. Many CIA agents in Pakistan are probably engaged in managing the network of informants decribed in Wired Magazine.

There have been many allegations that the majority of persons killed in the CIA drone strikes have been civilians, something that the US has always strenuously denied.

Pakistan is also demanding joint selection of targets.

Pakistan has in the past asked for its own armed drones, something the US has always refused to do.  In 2010 the US offered to supply Pakistan with ‘Shadow’ drones, unarmed and for surveillance only.

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Friendly Fire Deaths Expose NATO Drone Deception

The death of two US soldiers to friendly fire from their own drones, coupled with the revelations that US/NATO drone masters killed a family of civilians in Afghanistan exposes just how dishonest the NATO and US officials are with respect to drones.

Disregarding the morality of extra judicial assassination with drones of people viewed as enemies, these newly exposed events show that the concept of ‘precision attacks’ is outrageously incorrect. Whenever there has been a drone attack in Pakistan, there are always ‘unnamed military officials’ on hand to declare to the press that all of the targetted individuals were insurgents. Continuously they deny that civilians are killed or that there are ‘accidents’. It beggars belief that the ‘success rate’ of drone attacks would be so high, and the military is only able to maintain this illusion by controlling the information flow about these events.

Whether or not drones are capable of the pin point accuracy that their proponents claim, it is clear that the weakest link is in the ability of the drone controllers to identify and distinguish between targets. Clearly the ‘intelligence’ that manages the drones is unable to distinguish between the targets they want and the targets they don’t want. We should assume that this has always been the case, and that the military has covered over earlier tragedies by simply labelling the dead as ‘insurgents’ without any way for the public to know any different.

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Elbit Systems Sues Georgia

Elbit Systems has announced that it is suing the government of Georgia for recovery of $100 million unpaid following an arms deal. It is suing in the High Court of Justice in the UK.

Georgia is believed to have purchased about 4o Hermes 450 drones, of which between three and seven were shot down in a conflict with Russia in 2008. These are probably the arms allegedly not paid for by Georgia, although various reporters haven’t been successful in getting Elbit to confirm this.

Relations between Israel and Georgia appear to have deteriorated sharply in recent years. At one point Israel was going to sell Georgia $500 million in arms, but withdrew most of these when Russia threatened to arm Israel’s arch enemy Iran. Then Georgia used its Israeli drones in a war with Russia.

Following the war, impressed with the Israeli drones, Russia started making overtures to Israel to acquire Israeli drone technology.

There were several figures in the Georgian government with strong ties to Israel, but it isn’t clear where they stand with Israel at this point.

Georgia recently convicted an Israeli businessman of bribery and sentenced him to jail and a colleague to a large fine. The businessman claimed that it was a plot to make him cancel his multi million dollar claim against the Georgian government. The conviction, which is not likely to be the final disposition, is the culmination of a long series of charges and countercharges which has wracked relations between Georgia and Israelis, even drawing in Israeli President Shimon Peres, who phoned the Georgian President to ensure that the Israelis were treated well.

There are claims that Russia has pressured Israel not to sell further arms to Georgia, in return for Russia not arming Israel’s key enemies. Apparently this would not preclude Israeli companies from selling small arms to Georgia’s Interior Ministry.

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Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Documentary on Drones

The CBC has made a great documentary on drones!!

Here is one place to find it.

Here is the OFFICIAL place to find it.

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Watchkeeper a Colossal Waste?

Watchkeeper, one of the UK’s marquee arms projects, has consumed about £1 billion but is delayed and may never be as useful as projected.

Lewis Page, writing in the Register, notes that the project is now nine months later than called for in the contract.

Page reports on National Audit Office reports that “the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle has the most lines of development assessed as ‘At risk’ (six, with only Doctrine and Organisation assessed as ‘To be met’)”.

These drones are extremely expensive, costing as much as £16 million for 54 of them. (It isn’t clear what the marginal cost might be, in an expanded production run).

Drones similar to the US Predator, arguably superior to the Israeli MALE prototype, and capable of being armed, are available for a fraction of the cost of Watchkeeper, (US$7.5 million versus US$27 million)  and can be produced as part of the US production run.

The original purpose of the project was to give the UK a domestic drone capability (though the UK already has a domestic capability in the many drone options produced by BAE systems). Like many decisions made by UK MOD, the logic behind the decision isn’t obvious, and the events leading up to decisions are shrouded in military and political secrecy.

But there is little evidence that the Watchkeeper has given the UK any new capability. Engines are still produced by an Israeli-owned UK company just as they were before the Watchkeeper project. (Engines from the same Israeli owned UK company have been used in Israeli drones). Advanced optical and communications systems are still provided by the Israeli parent company of the Watchkeeper consortium. What ARE produced by UK companies are primarily the lower tech systems. There isn’t much evidence that there has been any significiant technology transfer from Israel to the UK. On the other hand, the Israeli arms industry has been further integrated into the UK and NATO defence infrastructure, and provided with the tools to be integrally involved into the key elements of NATO defence. This has been a major coup for the Israel arms industry, without a corresponding advantage for the UK or NATO.

Advances in drones technology are coming so fast it isn’t clear whether Watchkeeper will be useful after it is introduced. The Watchkeeper project doesn’t seem to be providing any significant leading edge drone technology for the UK, rather that technology remains the intellectual property of the Israeli and French partners in the project.

Lewis Page notes that the Artillery Corp has little interest in Watchkeeper, mostly because of internal issues.

It can be added that countries like Canada and Australia have dropped their leases of MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) drones from an Israeli company, and Canada does not appear to be pursuing a domestic MALE drone programme that was announced with fanfare a few years ago and has disappeared into the information black hole that is the Stephen Harper government.

It may be that military units are finding more useful the new wave of very small surveillance drones being introduced that cost a fraction of the cost of the larger drones. In the blog DroneWarsUK it is pointed out that the UK military will be ordering rotary winged ‘nano drones’ which have a range of a kilometre or so.  For battlefield surveillance, the cost and flexibility of these nano drones may far outweigh the advantages of large fixed wing drones that require two specialised crews, one to launch and one to monitor.

One of the earliest justifications for Watchkeeper was that there would be sales abroad for MALE drones produced in Britain. But the international market for MALE drones is dominated by Israeli companies operating in Israel, who create drone production joint ventures anywhere at the drop of a hat (Brazil, Russia, etc). There isn’t any indication that Watchkeeper has created any new comparative advantage for the UK which would allow the UK to make drone sales abroad from the Watchkeeper programme. The only like market is France, which may want to throw some business toward its own arms company Thales, which owns half of Watchkeeper.

All in all, it is becoming increasingly clear that Watchkeeper project is a wasteful boondoggle. The people responsible for the programme should be required to defend this project, which has gone ahead with little public scrutiny, from both the point of view of whether the project is value for money, and regarding the ethics of providing a significant cash injection into the Israeli arm industry at a time when Israel is maintaining a repressive and illegal occupation of Palestine.

Some questions that should be asked:

What exactly is the UK going to do with 54 MALE drones, when each has a large demand for ground flight crews, and the entire UK Afghanistan project gets by with a fraction of that? For example, it appears that five drones are able to provide 80% of the UK surveillance requirements in Afghanistan. (Source)

Was there ever a realistic likelihood of the Watchkeeper would ever spawn a domestic drones manufacturing capability?

Could the UK rent MALE drones as required for a fraction of the cost (as did Canada, Australia, and a number of other NATO countries) ?

Could the UK have bought MALE drones (off the shelf), capable of being armed, at a fraction of the cost?

Was the whole project simply a backdoor way to subsidise Israel?

What is the long term implication of having Israel deeply integrated into UK and NATO military structures?

How much as this purchase contributed indirectly to the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel?

Are drones primarily a fad?

Is there really a realistic market for MALE drones which still cannot be used safely or legally in most civilian airspace?

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