Posts Tagged Predator

Drone crash grounds US surveillance drones on the Canadian border

David Pugliese, reporting in the Ottawa Citizen, says that a drone operated by US  Customs and Border Protection has crashed off San Diego. Apparently the crash grounded the entire fleet of surveillance drones that monitor both the Mexican and Canadian borders of the US. Presumably the drone was a Predator drone, made by General Atomics.

A description of the drone surveillance programme along the US border with Canada has been posted on the blog previously.


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US cancels drone deal with NATO Turkey

In the continuing fallout from Israel’s attack on the Gaza rescue ship Mavi Marmara a couple of years ago, the US Congress has cancelled an agreement to sell Predator drones to its NATO ally Turkey.

When Israel attacked the Mavi Marmara in international waters and assassinated several Turkish citizens, it set off a flurry of angry reactions from Turkish authorities, and scuttled the increasing friendship between the two countries. Not only did plans for Turkey to buy drones from Israel collapse, but there were numerous other diplomatic conflicts.

At about that time the identies of 10 agents working for Israeli Mossad were claimed to be revealed to Iran, allegedly by the head of a Turkish intelligence agency. Turkish officials claim that the allegation was simply ‘black propaganda’ by Israel.

An article in Today’s Zaman suggests that no action was taken by the US and Israel at the time because Turkey’s cooperation was needed gathering intelligence in Syria. With the need to spy on Syria lessened, the US was free to retaliate against Turkey on behalf of Israel.

Today’s Zaman also suggests that the move by Washington was in retaliation for Turkey buying long range missiles from a Chinese arms company, instead of Russian, American or European bidders.

It may also be retaliation for Turkey’s broader rejection of Israel’s use of Turkish airspace, and the probability that it is curtailing its cooperation with Israel’s efforts to infiltrate Iran via the Turkish border areas.

Ironically the US supplies Turkey with a great deal of surveillance in parts of eastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, specifically aimed at the PKK. This latest move appears to be an attempt to limit control of surveillance by Turkey as well as force Turkey to return to its policy of cooperating with Israel with respect to Iran, and purchasing arms from it. The move wasn’t totally a surprise, it was rumoured last year in Turkey, and in the United States. 

Unless Turkey flinches, the cancellation would ironically appear to be a good thing for peace in the region. Turkey has been making inroads to solving its conflict with the PKK, so has less need for drones to survey and attack rebel fighters. And the US reaction may simply harden Turkey in its resolve not to be used by Israel to threaten or actually attack Iran. The NATO alliance, which is less about mutual aid and more about foreign intervention,  has been weakened yet again. Probably not what the US congress wanted, but a plus for the world at large.



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Project JUSTAS, Canadian plan to acquire military drones drags on

Project JUSTAS is the Canadian military initiative to acquire military drones.

David Pugliese is reporting in the Ottawa Citizen that Canadian Associate Minister of Defence Kerry-Lynne Findlay is saying that the ‘option analysis’ stage of Project JUSTAS is taking too long. The project has been at that stage for more than five years. It has been years longer since the military first announced an interest in acquiring drones.

It isn’t clear why the process is taking so long. The arcane nature of the military procurement process, combined with the secretive,controlling behaviour of the Harper government means that the public isn’t privy to what’s going on. So why has the process taken so long and been so secretive?

Is it legendary military incompetence?

Is it conflicting and changing objectives?

Is it rapid evolution of the drones industry which makes it difficult to pick a drone system?

Is it conflict between the military establishment, and the Harper government with respect to goals, and preferred providers? Are the behind the scenes players lobbying, jockeying, manipulating to get what they want?

Is it interference from lobbyists hired by drone sellers, lobbyists who are mostly retired Canadian military officers with inordinante influence in their old department?

Canadian military planners have stated that they want to have armed drones. Despite knowing the ugly record of extra-legal assassinations carried out by the US, Israel, and the UK, Canadian military brass and politicians appear to see having armed drones as a way to play in the ‘big leagues’ with their NATO allies. The leading source of armed drones has previously been General Atomics with its Predator/Reaper family of killer drones. But Israeli companies are also selling armed drones and there are other companies promoting drones capable of being armed with missiles. (John Baird, touted as the next Defence Minister after Peter Mackay has been jettisoned, is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel who may wish to throw business to an Israeli company).

Military planners in Canada are notorious for wanting hardware that ‘does everything’ so it may be that they are having trouble marrying the armed drone objective with their other stated objective of having arctic surveillance drones.

The CANSEC arms fair is currently being held in Ottawa. Among the exhibitors are at least 8 drones vendors, including Thales (France), Aeryon Labs (Canada), BAE Systems (UK), Elbit Systems (Israel), EADS (Europe), General Dynamics (US), Northrup Grumman (US), MacDonald-Dettwiler (Canadian vendor for IAI of Israel). There are other companies, like L-3 Communications, that provide component technology for drones. No doubt some of them will be using the opportunity to further promote their drone products.

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Information leaking out about JUSTAS programme to provide Canada with drones

David Pugliese, writing in Defense News, has reported significant updates to the story of Canada’s drone acquisition saga.

Key new information includes:

1. One of the top military priorities is the capability of dropping material into arctic locations for search and rescue missions.

2. Another key priority is maritime patrol.

3. General Atomics, the company that produces the Predator drone, is interested in researching the idea of adding drop capacity to the company’s ‘Guardian’ drones, a variant of Predator.

4. Israel Aerospace Industries, through its Canadian agent MacDonald Dettwiler, is interested in selling Heron drones to the Canadian military for search and rescue. (Unstated whether this would be smaller Heron drones, or the larger Heron TP).

5. Global Hawk drones, of the type promoted by Northrup Grumman, would likely not be suitable for dropping search and rescue packages, but might be part of same search and rescue missions.

6. Canada’s military wants the capacity to conduct very long patrols over long distances in remote regions.

7. Total budget for drones appears to be about $1.5 billion.

The article also quoted a Liberal Party spokeperson who criticised the Department of National Defense for always wanting to have one piece of equipment that performs all functions, meaning that acquisition is delayed.

Still missing is information about whether the government actually plans to purchase one drone that fulfills all of its goals or whether it wants to purchase a number of different drones for different purposes. Also missing is any indication of government analysis about whether drones will actually improve the military’s capacity to perform any of its functions, or whether it would simply add a layer of expense and complexity without improving its ability to accomplish anything.

A key implication of the stated goal of dropping Search and Recue packages in the arctic is that the chosen drone might be a ‘MALE’ (medium altitude, long endurance) drone. The most likely providers of these would be General Atomics (‘Predator’ type drones), or the two Israeli companies Elbit Systems or Israel Aerospace Industries.

If Predator, then the Canadian government would be establishing a commercial link with the primary producer of attack drones used in targetted assassinations by the US in many ‘intervention’ zones around the world. This is worrying, given the Harper government’s known desire to acquire armed attack drones for use in foreign interventions. General Atomics has been busy forming alliances with Canadian companies to pursue JUSTAS procurements, and has a lobbying presence in Ottawa.

But both Israeli companies are likely contenders as well, given 1. that MacDonald Dettwiler (a Canadian company) has already provided rental Heron drones for Canada’s Afghanistan intervention mission, and 2. John Baird and other key members of the Harper cabinet are enthusiastic supporters of the apartheid regime in Israel and may influence decisions in that direction. There have been rumours that Baird will replace Peter Mackay as Defence Minister which could increase the probability of an Israeli purchase.

The emphasis on the need for very long patrols might be a tip of the hat towards General Atomic’s ‘Global Hawk’ drone, which claims that as its capability. (Given the very high cost of Global Hawk drones, a purchase of a few of these would blow DND’s budget and leave little or nothing for purchasing other drones). An article by Rob Cook discusses how high altitude variants of the Predator drone might perform some of the functions of a Global Hawk drone.

Project JUSTAS, the programme to acquire drones for Canada, is (by David Pugliese’s suggestion) already probably five years late. There is very little published information about the nature of the deliberations, about how the military decision makers plan to address their multiple goals. However in another David Pugliese article the head of the Canadian air force, Lt General Yvan Blondin claimed to be in no hurry to commit to a particular technology in a field where technological developments are coming quickly.

Nor has the Harper government tipped its hand about how it plans to achieve its political goals, which might include forcing the military to acquire armed attack drones and/or tipping the selection process towards Israeli companies. There might even be political suggestions out of right field, like developing domestically designed drones, or demanding industrial offset schemes from existing vendors.

A fleet of lobbyists have been engaged by most of the possible drone vendors, who are now probably doing their best to influence the relevant military and political figures.

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Drones Used to Dominate Areas

Elbit Systems President Joseph Ackerman has described an important element of his company’s focus will be a ‘wide area persistent surveillance solution’ (WAAPS) a seamlessly integrated system of various sensors that allow a combat force to dominate a defined area. Apparently WAAPS would be focussed around Elbit Systems Hermes 900 drone or equivalent aircraft. WAAPS might involve as many as 25 airborne cameras, and remotely operated ground stations.

WAAPS would compete with the American WAAS system associated with the Predator drone, using about nine cameras and currently being used in Afghanistan.

WAAPS represents the explosion of surveillance systems associated with the development of the drones industry. Elbit Systems has been involved in providing surveillance systems used on Israel’s separation wall.


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United Arab Emirates builds MALE drone.

The Pakistani based online site The International News reports that the United Arab Emirates has developed a drone with longer range and endurance and US Predator drone, after it was denied the opportunity to purchase Predator drones by the US. The drone is called the ‘Smart Eye’.

Much more background information on this is available here.

Photos are available here (registration required). The drone looks like a MALE drone, similart to Predator or Watchkeeper.

Althought the UAE formed the Abu Dhabi UAV Investment Company to produce the Smart Eye drones, it isn’t clear where the technology came from, since UAVs are normally put together from high tech parts from a variety of sources.


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US Drones Patrol Western Canadian Border

US Customs and Border Protection has flown a Predator-B drone patrol along the Western Canadian border from Lake of the Woods, Minnesota to near Spokane, Washington, using an expanded ‘Certificate of Authorisation’.  (It is already flying drones on an eastern section of the border, as reported by the CBC. Apparently the patrols focus on the Akwesasne Reserve, subject to persistent allegations of smuggling). Security Magazine reported that the Predators had been grounded for some time by unreported software problems.

This is not the first drone flight along the Western Canadian border, flights have been carried out since February 2009, presumably under a different level of authorisation.It is uncertain how many flights have been carried out, and whether they have provided any useful information. The RCMP believe that they will benefit from information obtained by the American drones. Wired Magazine reported that the drones would be controlled from Grand Forks and their information analysed in Washington and Riverside, California.

MSNBC reports that the drones, which cost more than $10 million each, will have laser spotlights that light up ‘targets’ with light only visible to wearers of special goggles, for example crews of intercepting helicopters.

There is no indication the drone was armed, although Predator drones are the mainstay of US attacks on Pakistani territory. Government Security News reports that there were two Predator B drones operating from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota in 2009, which is  the home base of these drones.

One assumes that the Predator now has, or will have, an array of surveillance equipment. UPI reports that the drones would transmit ‘live video, radar streams, and photos of footprints’  back to base. Scripps News reports that there would be both infrared and HD video.

One assumes, though that may be too much to assume, that the drone will fly only in American air space. The drones would be able to fly in Canadian airspace with Canadian permission. Would that require them to meet Canadian standards for flying in civilian air space?

The drone will gather information from the immediate border territory as well as well beyond the border into adjacent parts of Canada. Scripps News reported that the Predator’s sensor array monitors a 25 mile (40 km) swath of land, but won’t be flown within 10 miles (15 km) of the Canadian border, meaning that it would monitor a 15 mile (25 km) swath of land within Canada.

(Scripps News reported scepticism over the drone deployment, noting that several commentators felt it was a technological solution promoted for political purposes).

It is uncertain what types of information are best obtained from Predator drones. There are other types of surveillance arrayed near the border (I’ve encountered cameras on the border years ago in Waterton Park). And satellites are capable of providing very detailed images if required.

Will the drones simply make occasional or regular passes along the border? Will they sometimes stay ‘in situ’ overhead, circling? Will they be collecting other data about Canada or Canadians, essentially covert long distance espionage?

One imagines long periods in which the drone operators and the people analysing the data find nothing at all. The area monitored will be approximately the size of Great Britain. Perhaps they will spend their time gathering data for their next fishing trip north of the line? Will they be spotting marijuana patches in the Kootenai Mountains? More sinisterly, will there be a lot of false positives, generating tensions between the two countries?

Dvorak Uncensored blog reported that US border official Michael Kostelnik as saying:

“There are vast parts of the border where, on any given day, we’re not sure what’s going on, so part of this is to try to deal with the unknown and not be surprised.”

Most of us could telling him what is mostly happening on a given day. Not very much at all .

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