Posts Tagged Hermes 450

UK arms Watchkeeper drone, as drone killing spree continues

The UK has armed its Watchkeeper drones with Hellfire missiles, according to ‘The Strategy Page’. The report has apparently not been confirmed by UK Ministry of Defence.

Watchkeeper is a medium range, long endurance drone based on the Israeli Hermes 450.  The UK spent one billion pounds updating the Hermes 450 prototype, renaming it Watchkeeper, then basically mothballed the drone as it used its more effective US-purchased Predators drones to conduct campaigns of assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq and perhaps elsewhere.

Arming of Watchkeeper can be viewed as a UK MOD attempt to make the white elephant Watchkeeper look more relevant, as the MOD itself uses the more deadly Predators almost exclusively. Acting with the US, the UK has carried out countless armed sorties in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing a large number of individuals, most of whom were likely innocent civilians.

A view of how the UK uses its armed drones is provided by Drone Wars UK. Drone Wars UK has also commented on the lack of transparency that accompanies the UK’s drone attacks abroad.




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Drones use acknowledged in Gaza Attacks

Israel as been somewhat circumspect with respect to its use of drones in a number of attacks on its neighbours, though most people know that drones have been a significant part of its armed forces. Israeli drone companies have bragged about their drones being ‘combat tested’, without specifying in exactly which combat.

This changed with Operation Protective Edge, the brutal and murderous campaign against Gaza in the summer of 2014. In Protective edge 2192 Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli attackers, 504 of them children. Since then there have been many official acknowledgements of drone use.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced that the Israeli military had been restructured to add more unmanned systems (drones). The Israel military has always been integrated with its arms industry, both supporting each other. After Protective Edge, the newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the ‘operation had offered the opportunity to showcase some of Israel’s technological advancements’. Ha’aetz reported that both Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 drones were used in Protective Edge.

Defense News reported Israeli commanders praising the Hermes 900 as an improvement over the Hermes 450. Though Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 drones are widely believed to be armed, Israeli commanders didn’t confirm that. They did, however, praise the smaller Skylark drones, which streamed target acquisition information to ‘a myriad of shooters on the ground’.

i-HLS has reported that both Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 drones were flown from Palmachim air base and were used round the clock in operations against Gaza. Hermes 900 also has a marine surveillance version that may be used in the ongoing campaign of harassment against Gaza fishermen.

Most of the drones (85%) used by the Israeli military are provided by Elbit Systems, according to IsraelDefense.

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‘Conflict tested’ drones for surveillance of Brazilian World Cup matches

Brazil has bought four Hermes 450 drones for surveillance over stadiums of the FIFA World Cup football matches to commence in June, 2014.  Intended to prevent terrorism during the games, no good case has been made that the Brazilian games will be targets of terrorism. Or that the drones will be useful in preventing it. Rather, the drones are more likely to be used monitoring protests that are sparked by the matches and Brazilian government policies, and building a ‘security state’. People attending the matches can expect pervasive surveillance, from drones overhead to facial recognition cameras on the ground.

As well, there may be a need to protect football fans and nearby residents from the drones themselves. Hermes 450 drones do not appear to have received widely accepted certification to fly in civilian air space,** although the Israeli government has certified them in Israel. Last year, during the Confederations Cup matches, Brazilian officials appear to have acknowledged this failing by planning to restrict civilian air traffic near the game venues.

British-Israeli Watchkeeper drones (which are based on the Hermes 450) have been recently certified by the UK to fly in civilian airspace but the technology that permitted this to occur does not appear to have been incorporated into the Hermes 450 drones sold to Brazil. There has been an effort worldwide to make drones safe to fly in populated airspace, including large European government subsidies documented by Statewatch and the Transnational Institute.

Drones in general have a much higher crash rate than piloted aircraft, and several Hermes 450 drones crashes have been recorded from a relatively small worldwide fleet.

Hermes 450 drones have been widely used by Israel for surveillance and assassinations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. So often used that Elbit Systems advertises their products as ‘conflict tested’.

Elbit Systems has a strong marketing programme in South America and has sold drones to several countries.

Brazil appears to have paid $25 million for the four drones.

**If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

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Iran copied Hermes 450 drone

At the end of 2012 video appeared that purported to show Iranian success in copying the Israeli drone Hermes 450. The Iranian Hermes look-alike is called the Shahed 129. The Shahed looks like the Hermes 450 and flies like it. (A post in this newsgroup shows some of the differences between various Hermes 450 clones and versions. By the photos the Iranian Shahed 129 is cloned from Hermes 450, not Watchkeeper).

In 2011 Iran claimed to have captured several US and Israeli drones along its eastern borders, (perhaps flying covert missions from Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Azerbaijan). In 2013 Israel grounded its Hermes 450 drones being used in Azerbaijan, based on fears that they would be seized by the Iranians. (Does this suggest that Iran had already captured Israeli 450 drones flown from Azerbaijan?). It was also claimed that Iranian spies captured in Azerbaijan were trying to capture a Hermes 450 from the fleet sold to Azerbaijan by Israel.

An Israeli source was skeptical, claiming that only the outer appearance of the Hermes 450 had been copied. However commentators seemed concerned that other key technology might have been ‘reverse engineered’, giving Iran access to the capabilities that have led Israel to success in attacking and repressing occupied Palestine, (the West Bank and Gaza).

If Iran has copied the Hermes 450 drone, it has also copied many of the attributes of the UK Watchkeeper drone. Iran claims that it has armed the Shahed 129 with Sadid-1 missiles.

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Iran feels threatened by Israel-Azerbaijan drone cooperation

There are allegations that Israel is maintaining spy drones in Azerbaijan. Iran accuses Israel of keeping several huge Eitan drones on Azeri territory to spy on Iran. Relations between Israel and Azerbaijan have warmed in recent years, even as Israeli relations with nearby Georgia have cooled.

Iran has long viewed the Caucausus republics as being a stepping stone for Israel to attack Iran, at a time when Israeli aircraft would have difficulty attacking Iran directly due in part to the distance, and to the hostile territory between Israel and Iran.

In addition to the 3 or so Israeli controlled Eitan drones in Azerbaijan, the Azeris themselves are known to have at least ten Hermes 450 drones, and some smaller Searcher drones. Iran accuses Azerbaijan of spying over the border area of Karabakh. Drones flown over border areas can collect information from hundreds of miles across the frontier.

Warm relations between Israel and Georgia blew up a few years ago, after the Georgians used weapons acquired from Israel to confront Russia over territorial issues. Russia then forced Israel to abandon the Georgian arms deal, or face increased Russian arms sales to Iran. In the aftermath of the squelched arms deal Israeli arms companies sued the Georgian government over aspects of the broken contract. Wikileaks exposed documents that seemed to imply that Israel had supplied codes to Russia for Georgian drones, in return for Russia supplying codes for weapons owned by Iran.

Since then the Israeli government has pursued relations with the autocratic governnment of nearby Azerbaijan, including making large arms sales. Azerbaijan has a long border with Iran, which has many Azeri speakers in neighbouring provinces.

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Israel helping Russia developed armed drone capacity??

Flightglobal is reporting that Israel is selling Russia technology that will help Russia develop armed drone capacity.

Russia approached Israel to buy drone technology after its brush fire war with Georgia a few years ago. Georgia had been armed with Israeli-made Hermes 450 surveillance drones that outperformed Russian ones. Russia forced Israel to abandon its huge arms sale to Georgia by threatening to arm Israel’s arch enemy Iran. Then the Russians asked Israel to sell them advanced drone technology, which it has done.

One wonders how the US feels about its ally arming a potential adversary like Russia with advanced techology that the US itself feels necessary to keep somewhat under wraps.


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UK MOD announces drone subsidy to BAE

In what appears to be a major subsidy to Britain’s biggest arms company, the UK Ministry of Defence has given BAE Systems £40 million ‘to ensure the UK retains a leading edge in the next generation of combat air systems.’

By that, it appears that the MOD means ‘drones’.

In a blizzard of bafflegab and meaningless remarks the Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology, Peter Luff, and several industry figures failed to illluminate exactly what the money would be used for, (although it certainly wouldn’t be used for schools or deficit reduction).

The UK drones strategy appears to be floundering. The British drones industry hasn’t produced commercial success in the face of Israeli and American competition, and now a range of drones are being manufactured in many places around the world. Apparently BAE now needs the public to pay for its research programmes in order to be persuaded to continue to research and develop drones.

The much vaunted Watchkeeper programme, rolled out a millenium ago (it seems) was touted as the means to kick start Britain into a leading role in the drones industry. Instead, £1 billion was spent on 54 drones based on an earlier Israeli drone, the Hermes 450.

Although MOD claims that the Watchkeeper is a much updated version of the Hermes 450, it remains to be seen whether the improvement is worth the premium. Certain elements of the Watchkeeper programme had to be postponed recently in order to bring that programme back into schedule.

In the mean time Elbit Systems, the owner of the Hermes 450 technology, has been setting up joint ventures around the world to produce drones, which undercuts the market for any possible Watchkeeper drone export from Britain.

The first units of the Watchkeeper drone are due to be deployed in Afghanistan in the first months of 2012, only a short time before UK troops are supposed to be withdrawn.

With 54 Watchkeeper drones, the UK will have one of the world’s larger MALE drones fleets, but without presently any new war theatres to deploy them in. Within a few months most of the 54 drones will be on standby, quietly depreciating.

Some other NATO countries, like Canada and Australia, leased MALE drones for their troops in Afghanistan and returned them when they were no longer needed.



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Watchkeeper drone boondoggle inches forward

Thales  is stating that the delayed Watchkeeper drone will eventually be ready for deployment in Afghanistan in 2012.  These high priced drones, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 drone, are still being tested and ‘flight’ crews trained.

Thales is also promoting an armed Watchkeeper type drone at the big London arms bazaar, DSEi. Thales makes missile capable of being used on Watchkeeper, though the UK has not committed itself to an armed Watchkeeper.

The UK has been renting Hermes 450 drones for use in Afghanistan. Given that the Hermes 450 drones, (which have been field tested by the Israelis in repressing their Palestinian population), seem to have performed adequately in Afghanistan, one wonders if the billion pound Watchkeeper will provide a billion pounds of value to British forces.

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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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Race Car Maker Lola is Watchkeeper Subcontractor

 Lola has provided the carbon composite fuselage for the UK Watchkeeper drone, as well as BAE’s Mantis drone. Lola is a manufacturer of car bodies for high performace racing machines. It is based at: Glebe Road, St Peters Road, Huntingdon,
Cambridgeshire PE29 7DS. United Kingdom

In an interesting but surely innocuous coincidence,   the UK Minister of State for Strategic Defence Acquisition Reform under New Labour was Lord Drayson who races the Drayson Racing Lola-Judd LMP1 racecar.

Lola has a quality systems approval with many arms manufacturers, including Elbit Systems. This leads to the obvious question whether Lola Composites are used in the Israeli versions of the Hermes 450, upon which Watchkeeper is based. Or whether this association will lead to use of other Hermes 450 clones in the future. Will UK high technology be transferred to the Israeli drones programme in the form of high performance carban composites?

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