Posts Tagged Reaper

A partial chronology of the use of drones in Mali.

In June 2012 Drone Wars UK discussed a mysterious strike on a convoy of trucks in Northern Mali, and argued that the strikes may have been carried out using an American drone, though this was neither confirmed nor denied by US officials. (Predator drones were known to be flown in the area at that time-ed).

In October 2012 the French government announced that it planned to send unarmed reconnaissance drones, Harfangs from 1/33 Belfort squadron, to aid its military presence in Mali, as its soldiers were fighting an Al-Qaida backed insurgency. In January the government announced that the deployment of the Israeli made drones had taken place. This video of French paratroopers being deployed was taken by a Harfang drone. Harfang drones are from the Heron family of drones produced by IAI of Israel.

In early 2013 Wall Street Journal reported that some military in the US were calling for US armed drone strikes in Mali (but none seem to have happened, at least not with public knowledge-ed).

In February, Le Monde announced that American drones were being used to support French troops in Mali.

In March 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that US Reaper drones were providing targetting information for French airstrikes against insurgent positions, as many as 60 strikes a week.

Europe 1 reported that a dozen Al Qaeda in Maghreb fighters had been killed by French forces with the help of a surveillance drone on the night of March 4.  It was claimed that the strikes killed prominent insurgent Oumar Ould Hamaha.

In April 2013 an American Reaper drone crashed in Mali, due to ‘mechanical failure’. The drone had been one of two based in Niger to provide drone surveillance to support French forces on the ground. These in turn had replaced Predator drones deployed earlier.

In May 2013, RT online reported that France planned to buy two US made Reaper drones for its Mali operation. This French satirist mocked the French drone deployment.

In April France said it would buy 12 US Reaper drones to replace its Harfang drones. Reuters reported that the French had found that they had a shortage of drones suited to the conditions and had been using camera-equipped Cessna airplanes for surveillance, which had proved inadequate. (Apparently the US had flown reconnaissance piloted airplanes over Northern Mali for several years previously).

Reuters reported that France had eventually received delivery of two Reaper drones and that those would be operating in Mali by the end of 2013. The Hill reported that the two Reapers were the first of 12 acquired in a deal done with US based General Atomics in June and, incorrectly it seems, that the drones would be armed with US Hellfire missiles. The Hill also reported that the initial two drones, at least, would be operating from a site in Niger. Defence Web reported that the sale of Reaper drones to France had been approved in August 2013, and that a total of 12 drone with four ground stations would be delivered by  2015 or 2016.

In early 2014 the published photos of a joint drone base operated by the US and France, located near Niamey, the capital of Niger. The Medium speculated about whether drones from the base would conduct armed attacks, and whether the unarmed French Reapers would be eventually armed. Defense News reported that the first French Reaper flight occurred, in early January, 2014 from the base in Niamey, using US-equipped sensors.

In the first week of March, 2014, France claimed to have killed Omar Ould Hamaha, insurgent leader, using information supplied by a Reaper drones. The same week it was claimed that French forces attacked and killed insurgents at a rocket cache in Mali, with the help of drones.

In July 2014, French President Francois Hollande visited Niamey, and was greeted with a fly-over by French Reaper drone. Later the French military showed off footage of the visit to Hollande, who could pick out members of his entourage. At this point France continued to have two Reapers and one Harfang drone based at their Niamey base. (Three Mirage jets were based in Niger and three Rafale jets in Chad, but it isn’t clear whether the Mirage jets were bases at Niamey). The Bloomberg article detailed some of the business interests that France has in Niger and the region.

Also in July, a French Reaper was the first to spot an Algerian passenger plane that had crashed in Mali.

In September 2014 an article in the Washington Post reported that the US was building another drone base in Niger, at Agadey. The article speculated that the US would discontinue using the joint US-France base at Niamey, though it didn’t say what would happen with the more than 100 US troops deployed there to protect the base.

By late 2014 concerns were being raised about the US base in Agadey, because of local resentment and fears that the based would draw extremist attacks on the town. Concerns were also raised that France and the US were more concerned with securing mineral resources in the region than in fighting terrorism. An FT article also noted growing instability in the region and noted the difficult of France to monitor the situation.

French, Malian, and UN troops were still being attacked and in October French forces intercepted an arms shipment from Libya bound for Malian insurgents.

In early October 2014  French forces destroyed an arms convoy from southeast Libya being sent to insurgents in Niger. The convoy had been followed from Libya by a French Reaper drone. Fox News also reported that French troops supported by US intelligence planned to move north toward the Libyan border. Voice of America reported that both the US and France were marshalling forces further north to cut off growing insurgency in southern Libya.

This article outlined many objections to the use of drones by France. This article from Jurist outlines the general background of US intervention in Africa.

This article is incomplete, particularly with respect to the large number of airstrikes know to have been carried out in Mali against insurgents, with the help of drones. Any further information or direction to sources gratefully received.


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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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Is Thales Scrambling to Save Watchkeeper Programme’s Future?

After the recent Anglo French summit on 16 February, 2012, the possibility of the UK selling France the Watchkeeper drone system seemed dimmed, although the French agreed to evaluate the programme with regard to its own needs over the next couple of years.

Watchkeeper drone: France confirms its interest for the Watchkeeper system recognising the opportunities this would create for cooperation on technical, support, operational and development of doctrine and concepts.  An evaluation of the system by France will begin in 2012, in the framework of its national procurement process, and conclude in 2013. (Source)

While the French expressed an ‘interest’ in the Watchkeeper, it was certainly far less than any proponent would want to take to the bank.

Thales, the giant French arms company which produces Watchkeeper in partnership with Elbit Systems of Israel, immediately issued a statement claiming that the Watchkeeper was to become the ‘pillar of Anglo-French cooperation‘. Whereas a more skeptical observer might have seen the minimal reference to Watchkeeper in the summit communique as a brushoff.

The Watchkeeper drone has been expensive and much delayed, leading the programme to receive the attention of the National Audit Office.  The UK MOD has had to rely on rented Hermes 450 drones to accomplish their surveillance roles in Afghanistan during a period when they had planned to use Watchkeeper.

In February, 2012 Thales claimed that operational trials of Watchkeeper were to begin shortly at Parc Aberporth, the drones test site in Wales. Thales also claimed that some Watchkeeper related equipment had already be delivered to Afghanistan. Yet it remains that the programme is seriously delayed and getting later by the day.

It must weigh heavily on Thales that France’s Socialist-controlled Senate as recently as November, 2012 called for France to buy the American made Reaper drone over the Israeli made Heron. The Socialists also wanted less money spent on drones and an emphasis on French and European companies.

Should the Socialist Party win the upcoming French elections as expected, Watchkeeper might very well drop off the French shopping list.

Thales’ publicity can be interpreted as an attempt to keep the Watchkeeper programme alive in the face of diminishing enthusiasm. While Thales has bragged about the ‘considerable pedigree‘ of the Watchkeeper drone, which is based on Elbit’s Hermes 450, it doesn’t mention that the Hermes 450 is widely believed to have been involved in the attack on Gaza by Israeli forces in 2009, in which hundreds of women and children died. Also, an earlier attack on Lebanon. A less appealing aspect of its pedigree.


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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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