Posts Tagged Heron

New Israeli Drone Programme Uses Canadian 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 reports that the Eitan was used in operation Cast Lead, the attack on Gaza of 2008-2009. 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. 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.

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Where is the French Drone Programme Going?

Defence Industry Daily describes the situation in the French drone programme here.

Essentially, the French have a number of programmes possible but do not to have a clear picture of future needs.

Harfang, the EADS/IAI clone of the Heron TP drone has been built and deployed in Afghanistan, in a programme plagued with problems and delays.

France could also take on UK Watchkeeper drones, from the rival Israeli drones manufacturer Elbit Systems, and its French partner. The Watchkeeper is due for deployment in 2011.

Or the French could buy US MK-9 Reaper drones, which have higher capacity and are much easier to arm and more flexible with armaments.

Defence Industry Daily claims that the French will buy 65-70 medium drones with the decision to be made in 2011.

They could also chose the BAE Mantis produced by their British ally. Or the Talarion, a European collaboration between France, Spain, and Germany which seem increasingly unlikely to be selected. Talarion is a jet powered drone at an early stage of development.

DI Daily also suggest that SAGEM (French arms company) is developing additional drones and there is one under development by Dassault/Thales.

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Canada Scraps Drone Programme

In what has to be a surprise move, Canadian Forces has announced that its drone programme will end with the return of Canadian troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011. Task Force Erebus was a little discussed programme to provide aerial surveillance for Canadian troops in the field.

Canadian Forces leased Heron drones from Israel Aerospace Industries, an arm of the Israeli government run by Yair Shamir, son of the former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The programme was managed by IAI’s Canadian partner, MacDonald Dettwiler.

Major Dave Bolton, present commander of Project Erebus said that the squadron would be disbanded after the Afghanistan deployment. Bolton suggested that the programme would be in hiatus for a period of between two and five years, but that staff would still be available in the military to rejuvenate it.

This is quite a startling development. Most other militaries are expanding the role of drones in their militaries. While the Canadian military will have fewer uses for drones when not deployed internationally, it is surprising that they would give up much of the capability of having an operational drones squadron.

This begs many questions:

Is this part of a top down slashing of defence spending, perhaps to make way for costly new programmes like the F-35?

Is there another drones programme under wraps in Project JUSTAS?

Is the CF considering renting drone surveillance on an ad hoc basis from private contractors as required? (For example they might hire Israelis in places where having Israeli contractors on board would not provoke hostility).

Was the Heron drone so unsuitable or overpriced that CF wishes to wash its hands of the whole programme and begin anew?

These are questions unlikely to be answered quickly given the current Canadian government’s disinterest in providing information about its plans.

But it is a welcome development that the relationship with the Israeli arms industry will end.  The question is, with Israelis providing the most advanced drone technology, who will replace them?

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Watchkeeper Delays May Force French to Buy American?

UPI reports that France will soon be deciding whether to buy medium altitude, long endurance surveillance drones.

The choice will likely come down to the US Predator drone, or the Israel Hermes drone, perhaps in its ‘Watchkeeper’ incarnation. But ‘Watchkeeper’ has been substantially delayed, and is now long past its original delivery date.

Does this mean that the French will be force to buy an American Predator drone which is immediately available? Is this a lost sale for the UK Watchkeeper drone, in a year when the Cameron government has said it plans to increase arms sales? Does it represent a possible shift away from Israel by the French government, which was embarrassed by the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the killings on the peace boat, the continued blockade of Gaza, and the resumption of settlement building? The Sarkozy government has been a strong supporter of Israel, but like other Israeli friends, has been badly let down.

UPI suggests that Watchkeeper is a joint venture between France and the UK, since it is produced in the UK by a French company Thales, working with Elbit Systems of Israel. (I haven’t previously noted any information that the Watchkeeper project was consciously a joint venture between the British and French governments).

Previously the role of medium altitude long endurance drones has been filled by ‘Harfang’ drones, of which two are deployed in Afghanstan, one in France, and one is being repaired in Israel. The Harfang drone is a variation of the Heron drone built by Israel Aerospace Industries.

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Heron drone crashes near Suffield

In July 2010 a Heron drone built by Israeli Aircraft Industries and operated by MacDonald Dettwiler, crashed near Suffield AB, after striking power lines.

This is just one of a number of crashes of drones worldwide that has made civilian populations uneasy about living under drones.

In 2009 a drone was involved in a ground incident with another object or vehicle.

While most crashes have been in remote areas, the plans to use drones for surveillance of civilian activities, makes their unreliability a concern.

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MacDonald Dettwiler seeks civilian uses for drones

MacDonald Dettwiler is seeking to develop a wide range of civilian uses for drones in Canada, presumably using Heron drones built in Israel by its partner Israeli Aircraft Industries.

Proposed uses would include pipeline monitoring, forest fire detection, agricultural and crop insurance monitoring.

Unstated is the potential for monitoring of all kinds, cheapening surveillance to the extent that a great deal surveillance of human activities happen.

Nor the boost for the Israeli arms industry that would result from civilian sales of more Heron drones. A matter of ploughshare sales boosting income for the sword manufacturers.

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UAV Training and Simulation Conference

The UAV Training and Simulation Conference brochure starts with the sentence: “This year the US Air Force will train more pilots for UAVs than manned platforms in line with the increased demand for persistent surveillance in Afghanistan.”

Clearly there is a big training requirement for UAVs. Conference presenters, top heavy with US experts, also has presenters from the UK, German, Swiss, Italian, and Canadian Armed Services.

Canadian presenters include Lieut. Colonel Darrell Marleau, head of the drones section of the Canadian armed forces, (see also) and Lieut. Colonel Larry Green, head of marketing for Canadian DND training services. Marleau will presumably speak about Canadian experience in Afghanistan with the Israeli Heron drone.

A featured speaker is Cheryl-lynne Bishop-Wells, UAS Training Systems Manager, Unmanned Air Systems Team, DE&S, UK MoD, who appears to be manager of training for the Watchkeeper System. Curiously, considering the pervasive sales of Israeli drones, there are no Israeli presenters. (One of the sponsors is Israeli simulation company, Simlat, which will presumably be providing simulation exercises at the conference).

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Project Noctua

Project Noctua is the program by which the Canadian DND leases drones from contractors, specifically leasing Israel Aeronautic Industries Heron drones from IAI’s Canadian partner, MacDonald Dettwiler. REF

In 2008, Peter Mackay, Minister of National Defense, ‘quietly awarded’ the contract for drones for use in Afghanistan to the IAI Macdonald Dettwiler consortium, after the contractors for the US Predator drone bowed out of the bidding because the size of the contract wasn’t worth their trouble. REF

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MacDonald Dettwiler promotes Israeli military hardware for civil purposes

MacDonald Dettwiler Associates operates a facility at Suffield Alberta to test and demonstrate Israeli UAVs, as well as train operators and do R&D. In addition to its contract with the military to provide surveillance in Afghanistan, MDA is promoting the Israeli-build Heron UAV for civilian purposes.

Israeli Aerospace Industries (maker of the Heron UAV) suggests that the Heron drone might be used in fighting forest fires, monitoring pipelines, and by insurance companies to spy on clients and claimants. The Civil Air Search and Rescue has participated with MDA and IAI in trials of using the Heron drone for search and rescue.

(It is not clear at this point which other civilian purposes the Heron drone will be put to. However, civilian sales of Israeli drone technology or services will directly support the Israeli arms industry, and indirectly support the Israeli military in its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories).

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Privatisation in Canada’s Drone Program

In 2008 Canada abruptly switched from favouring the US produced Predator drone, to favouring the Heron drone produced by Israeli Aerospace Industries. A purchase was made of the use of Heron surveillance drones for deployment in Afghanistan. The drone  program was managed by IAI’s Canadian partner, MacDonald Dettwiler.

According the the Medicine Hat News, the Heron drones are owned by MacDonald Dettwiler, which provides surveillance services on a lease basis to Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, at a cost of $95 million. Recently, one of the drones was badly damaged in a mishap at Kandahar airfield.

The program conducted its first flight on 26 January, 2009 at Kandahar airfield. It is a two year contract, with an option to extend the contract a further year. (Which would take it one year past the deadline for Canada’s departure from Afghanistan-ed).

MacDonald Dettwiler has other contracts with DND relating to remote sensing, military traffic management, and communication.

The continuing privatisation of Canada’s military operations raises a number of concerns. Private corporations need to grow to prosper and retain investors, which means that they constantly lobby for more business, which increases pressure for continued militarisation. Private companies can increase earnings by skimping on the quality of what they provide, so there is pressure to reduce quality. Overseers and regulators are often in danger of being compromised by their closeness to the private operators. This is particularly a problem with the military, since military procurement is often secretive, and the government and military justify secrecy on the basis of national security.

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