Posts Tagged Israel
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.
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.
Back in July, 2014, Defense News reported that the giant French arms company Thales was trying to find markets for the imaging technology carried on the Watchkeeper drone. Thales was also interested in renting out the technology with the Watchkeeper drone included.
The Watchkeeper drone is based on the Hermes 450 drone produced by Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. It is produced by a company 51% owned by Elbit and 49% by Thales. It contains several components made by the Israeli company, included engines made in an Elbit owned plant in Lichfield, UK. Elbit Systems advertises its drones as ‘conflict tested’, due to their use in successive attacks on Gaza which resulted in thousands of deaths.
The UK government spent almost £1 billion to have Hermes redesigned and 54 drones produced. The programme was severely delayed and no drones were produced until immediately before Britain withdrew its forces from Afghanistan.
Though the UK government paid the development costs of Watchkeeper, that technology would be sold or rented on by Thales as a profit making enterprise. There is no published evidence that the government would benefit from exploitation of this expenditure.
France continues to debate the replacement of its older drones, and may buy an Israeli product. The UK military-industrial complex is trying to sell it to them.
Some elements of the French military support purchase of the Anglo Israeli Watchkeeper drone, which they viewed in Afghanistan, and pronounced satisfactory for their purposes. French chef d’état-major des armées,General Pierre de Villiers is advocating for Watchkeeper. France is holding a competitions for replacement of its tactical drones, to be completed in mid 2015. The competition would chose between offerings from Elbit/Thales, Sagem, Airbus, and a joint venture of Latécoère and Israeli Aircraft Industries. At least one of the proponents, Sagem, is attempting to ensure their ‘Shadow’ drone has civilian airspace certification, like Watchkeeper. (The French military was less enthusiastic about Watchkeeper after earlier trials).
The French debate is taking no account of the Israeli origin of two of the competitors. Watchkeeper is based on Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 drone, widely used by the Israeli military. The British version is produced by a joint venture of the Israeli company and Thales of France, in which Elbit is the senior partner. Much of the intellectual property on which Watchkeeper is based is owned by Elbit; Elbit will benefit significantly from any sale of additional Watchkeeper drones. Thales is a French arms company favoured by the French Socialist party. Elbit markets its drone products as ‘combat proven’, thanks to its use in attacks on Gaza and the suppression of the West Bank.
Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) is teamed with French company Latécoère to sell the Israeli Heron drone. Heron is also used by the Israeli military in its illegal occupation of Palestine and has been sold and leased widely to other countries.
French generals viewed Watchkeeper in Afghanistan in mid 2014. It seems likely that a major reason for taking the new drone to Afghanistan was for sales promotion and public relations, since there don’t appear to be any significant military reasons for having it there, given that the last British forces with withdrawn immediately afterward (and the military already had fit for purpose drones in Afghanistan). Flight Global reports that Watchkeeper was used to pass information along to a Reaper drone which carried out a strike on an unspecified target.
If that is true, UK MOD was in the position of making a combat mission for the purpose of helping a French company sell a mostly Israeli drone to the French military. ‘Combat proven’ indeed.
(UK MOD denied the obvious conclusion that the Watchkeeper deployment was a demonstration or trial, in an interview with Tim Ripley of IHS Janes Defence Weekly. It isn’t clear whether Ripley was aware of the French contingent viewing the Watchkeeper deployment).
Several years late, and costing almost a billion pounds, Britain’s Watchkeeper drone was finally introduced to combat in Afghanistan this summer just in time to be withdrawn again. As predicted, the introduction was little more than a ‘fly-around’ to give the military a chance to say their new drone had been useful.
The Watchkeeper drone is based on the Israeli Hermes 450, built by Elbit Systems, and widely used in surveillance in the West Bank and attacks on Gaza. The British version was created by a consortium of Elbit System, and Thales of France, using an engine produced by an Elbit subsidiary in England, and other parts made in the UK or imported.
In November 2014 the UK military proclaimed themselves satisfied with their new drone, claiming to have used it for surveillance leading to a strike against the Taliban. Then the Watchkeeper was packed up and taken back to the UK, with no word on future deployment. Watchkeeper is pointedly not being used in Iraq. Unarmed Watchkeeper is best suited to support of ground troops, and there isn’t a significant role for it at present.
For a major, very costly, military procurement of a ‘leading edge’ technology, the Watchkeeper drone programme has had little coverage. No doubt this results from military and government fears of raising a public backlash, for dealing with an Israeli arms company at a time when Israel was attacking Gaza and killing hundreds of people, many of them women and children. As one of Israel’s largest arms companies, Elbit Systems is deeply involved with all aspects of the Israeli military, the occupation, attacks on Gaza, and any large scale surveillance of Palestinians. Many Elbit principals are part of the Israeli military establishment, and Elbit advertises its products as ‘conflict tested’.
None of the major political parties have taken any interest in Watchkeeper. It is a legacy project of the Blair government, and none of the parties appear willing to own up to having transferred several hundred million pounds to an Israeli arms company while Israel was using similar drones in committing atrocities in Gaza.
Defense News reported this week that units of the French army plan to work with the Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone in Afghanistan, if the new addition to the UK drone fleet is deployed there. French artillery officers are working with Watchkeeper as it is being introduced in the UK’s Salisbury Plain training area. (They are also expected to train with Watchkeeper crews in the Suffield training area in Alberta, Canada later in 2014).
Elements of the French army want the defence minister to acquire Watchkeeper, but that would likely depend on Britain acquiring French armoured combat vehicles.
Watchkeeper was built for the UK by Thales of France and Elbit Systems of Israel, based on the Hermes 450 drone. The latter has been ‘conflict tested’ in the repression of the West Bank and the attacks on Gaza.
For background search other posts on wanderingraven.wordpress.com
For detailed background of European drone policy see this report by Statewatch.
Plans to have British-Israeli Watchkeeper drone used by British at CFB Suffield, Alberta, a step closer
Flight Global recently reported that the UK armed forces will test the Watchkeeper drone at Canadian Forces Base, Suffield, Alberta in 2014 and beyond. That the UK would test Watchkeeper there was anticipated from at least 2006 as indicated in the Environmental Assessment for the Suffield base for that year.
UK army personel are now learning to fly the Watchkeeper over the Salisbury plain in the UK, presumably in preparation for flying it elsewhere, like CFB Suffield (BATUS), or Afghanistan. No mention was made of operators being licensed pilots, despite recent comments by the same officer elsewhere that Watchkeeper would be as safe to fly as manned planes (neglecting to mention that manned aircraft are flown by licensed pilots).
British forces have long used Canadian Forces Base Suffield for training, going so far as to call it ‘British Army Training Unit Suffield’ (BATUS). There is already a private drone test facility at Suffield. It isn’t clear whether it will figure at all in the flying of the Watchkeeper drones at Suffield. (More likely not, because it is believed that the flights this summer will involve integrating Watchkeeper into British army practise, not testing the drone per se). Interviewed by a parliamentary committee in 2008, Air Vice Marshall Stuart Butler said that Watchkeeper would be flown at Suffield because of the greater ‘standoff area’ that Suffield provides, as well acknowledging that Suffield was already had a designation for dangerous flights.
TTU Online has reported that British military officials will invite French military officers to join in the flying of Watchkeeper at Suffield, as part of the ongoing effort of the British military industrial establishment (and its French and Israeli arms company friends) to sell the French a few Watchkeeper systems.
Watchkeeper is an Anglo-Israeli-French drone, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 drone used widely in the suppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Interestingly, when flown at the Suffield base Watchkeeper will likely be flying within the view of American border patrol Predator drones (believed currently grounded because of safety concerns after a crash).
The British-Israeli ‘Watchkeeper’ drone passed another milestone this week with little fanfare, mostly press released-based articles and little critical comment. The new military drone is years late and has been restricted to flying in closed airspace in Wales, until it could be ‘certified’ to fly in civilian air space. This week the MOD was permitted to begin flights over the Salisbury Plain.
Lacking in the coverage this week has been has been any reference to the origin of most Watchkeeper technology, the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems (which advertises its drone products as ‘combat tested’ in the occupation of Palestine and the suppression of Gaza). Watchkeeper has ‘deep roots’ in the Israeli war machine and consequently in the human rights abuses that characterise that occupation. An extensive briefing paper on Israel’s role in the production and proliferation of drones has recently been released by Drone Wars UK.
Also lacking is analysis of the overall British and European drone strategy, and how Watchkeeper fits into it. Statewatch this month released a comprehensive report detailing the shocking level of European public spending on the development of drones, mostly to the benefit of domestic European arms companies and goals for research and market development.
It was hardly surprising that safety concerns were sloughed off in the press release-based coverage. Colonel Mark Thornhill of the UK MOD has downplayed safety risks, suggesting that Watchkeeper is certified the same way that manned aircraft are certified (but conveniently sidestepping the obvious difference that operators are not on board the aircraft). Drone Wars UK has documented the alarming crash rate of drones in the Drone Crash Database.
Although MOD point man Col Mark Thornhill said that Watchkeeper would be used in support of military operations within the UK, none of the media appears to have asked him what military operations in the UK he might be referring to.
Thornhill was also allowed to state without challenge that Watchkeeper would not be ‘armed’, while neglecting him to challenge him on the obvious point that ‘unarmed’ drones are part of integrated military systems for identifying and destroying ‘targets’. Laterally, British allies like the US and Israel have used drones for preemptive killings of suspects outside active war zones.