Posts Tagged homeland security
The American Department for Homeland Security has been using Predator B drones to patrol its frontiers with Mexico and Canada. However its Office for Inspector General has done an audit that showed that it does not achieve intended results and that it dramatically underestimates the cost of the operation (by as much as 5X). While program proponents claimed the hourly cost of the programme was $2,468,the auditors found the real cost is $12,255 when all relevant costs are included.
The audit found that the drones did not help catch illegal border crossers (being involved in only 2% of captures) and operators flew only 20% of the intended sorties, mostly because of weather. Federal Times reported that the Office for the Inspector General had recommended not approving an addition $443 million for more drones to expand the programme.
American Homeland Security has also been operating a limited drone patrol programme along the Canadian border, with little effect. Lothar Eckardt, Executive Director of national air security operations, defended the programme, essentially saying that having drones patrolling areas where there was no illegal activity freed up resources where there was a greater problem.
It isn’t clear whether Homeland Security has the same problem with retaining drone operators as the military does. Drone operation is increasingly viewed as a dead-end job. If the programme is ineffective on the busy Mexican-American frontier, the drone patrols along the Canadian border must be particularly purposeless.
Israeli arms company Elbit Systems has won a contract that may ultimately be worth up to $1 billion worth of work on US border systems from the US Customs and Border Protection. It won the contract from out of the hands of US corporate giant like General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed, etc. Another giant US arms company had lost the work after delays, according to business paper Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and huge increases in public costs. There was scathing criticism from some sources, that Elbit, a company that had been involved in the previous failed contract as a subcontractor, had been awarded the new contract.
The work is to provide a series of towers along the US-Mexico border with sensing equipment for spotting ‘illicit human crossings’, at from 5-7.5 miles away, in any weather, day or night. The system will further sterilise the border zone, preventing any unregulated movement in the area.
CBP officials wanted to hire someone who already had the technology developed. Perhaps unsurprising that they picked Elbit, whose products have been developed as part of its active role in the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Elbit Systems, which has been criticised for its work building border systems on Israel’s apartheid wall, sells a wide range of technology for border fortification.
It appears that the UK Watchkeeper drone might not be British at all. Questions arise whether French and Israeli arms companies will be the primary beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse.
The drone paid for by British taxpayers seem to be in the process of being flogged around the world by Thales, the French arms company that has been improving the drone beyond the Israeli Hermes 450 prototype on which it is based.
In 2013 the French government offered to test Watchkeeper, and apparently it has made flights in France, at a French air base. Thales is also said to be trying to sell Watchkeeper to Qatar, the desert oil dictatorship.
The UK already sells crowd control ammunition to the Qatari dynasty, so presumably there wouldn’t be serious reservations about selling them surveillance drones as well. Whether Thales plans to sell the wholly certified version of Watchkeeper to the Qataris isn’t certain. If Thales is successful in demonstrating that Watchkeeper doesn’t crash too often or interfere with civilian aircraft, it may get civil airspace certification. That would enable it to sell Watchkeeper for surveillance of urban populations in a range of countries experiencing insurgency or protests. I am unaware of a publicly available document that delimits the rights of Thales to sell the taxpayer funded drone technology abroad.
However it was recently reported in ihs.com that Thales has up to half a dozen potential customers for Watchkeeper. The article didn’t name these, but one could speculate that a range of vulnerable ME dictatorships may be included, even the Canadian government which is no doubt keen to monitor anti-pipeline activists.
Some questions: Does Thales get all the profits from taxpayer funded defence research?
Is the UK government prepared to expand its role in providing arms and technology for population surveillance and control?
Does the Thales/Elbit Systems partnership, allow the Israeli company access to new technology developed at British taxpayer expense?
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.