Posts Tagged United Kingdom
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.
The UK government seems to be embarrassed by its Israeli connections.
While it seemed able to handle the hypocrisy of consistently voting against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza while inviting Israel to arm the MOD, the 2008-09 attacks on Gaza made military links with Israel potentially damaging with the electorate.
Not only has it been exceptionally quiet about the successful testing of its new premiere drone system, but other indications are that it is embarrassed to be associated with the Israeli military machine.
Despite the fact that Watchkeeper is being provided by U-TacS, which is owned 51% by Elbit Systems of Israel, and 49% by Thales of France, Thales is at pains to take credit for many of the operations associated with the contract. Does this mean that Thales is making it easier for the government, by not bringing up the Israeli connection?
Even before the attacks on Gaza there are indications of the Government’s discomfort with how its association with Israeli arms companies was ‘seen’ by the public.
In 2008 Haaretz reported that the British government had cancelled a series of tests that Elbit Systems had planned to carry out for the Watchkeeper drone at the Golan Piq Airfield, in the occupied Golan Heights. Many of Elbit’s drone testing activities are carried out there.
It said that Elbit later had got permission from the Airports Authority to carry out the trials at neary Rosh Pina airport, despite concerns by residents for safety of residents and the environment. It did not report the concerns of Arab and Druze residents of the Golan Heights over ongoing drone testing by Elbit in the Golan Heights.
Haaretz reported the British statement :
“It is the long held position of the U.K. Government that the Golan Heights is occupied territory. In this context the U.K. Defense Ministry would consider it inappropriate to use the facilities at the Golan Heights as part of the Watchkeeper program.”
Yet if the UK had qualms about paying 850 million pounds to an Israeli arms company integrally linked to the occupation of the Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza, it seems not to have made them public. It was apparently acceptable to deal with a company actively testing its products in occupied territory and occupied airspace so long as Britain’s name was kept at a distance.
The Watchkeeper drone is no benign surveillance vehicle.
It can fly up to 20,000 feet, unheard from the ground, with high resolution video capability. It has radar that makes it able to see through cloud cover, and monitor vehicles 20 kilometres away.
Although the UK Watchkeepers will initially not be armed, the drone is an integral part of the killing system of the UK forces, able to locate and designate targets for destruction by other forces or weapons.
“We need more technical equipment to have 24/7 surveillance and the ability to target these people and kill them, if necessary, when they are laying these devices,” Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, the outgoing head of the British Army, said in the London Daily Telegraph and other publications.” Source
MOD is considering arming Watchkeeper.
“A top British defense official revealed in November that the U.K. is considering arming the aircraft. ”We are currently conducting analysis to investigate the contribution that an armed Watchkeeper UAV system could make in current and future operations as part of its routine capability planning process,” said Ann Taylor, minister for international defense and security, under questioning from Lord Lewis Moonie, former junior minister for science and technology in the Ministry of Defence.
Watchkeeper is an updated Hermes 450, which Israel’s Elbit Systems has sold or leased to many armed forces, and which has been used over the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza. Elbit will be a key player in the development of Watchkeeper which contains much Elbit technology. It also owns 51% of U-TacS, which builds Watchkeeper, and will have a large part to play in the operation and maintenance of the Watchkeeper fleet. Unsurprisingly, Thales takes the lead in publicising Watchkeeper, no doubt due to the sensitivities about having an Israeli company so integrally involved in UK arms purchases.
The new Watchkeeper was initially tested in Israel at Elbit’s test flying range at Megiddo, Israel. The purpose of the Israeli tests was to make sure that the Watchkeeper was safe to fly in the UK. (Why Israelis or Palestinians should be sacrificed to keep Britons safe wasn’t discussed. Perhaps they weren’t informed).
In April 2010 it was flown on a twenty minute flight at Parc Aberporth, the Qinetic test range in Wales, which was extended for the purpose.
Later, the flights will take place over Salisbury Plain and will be launched from Qinetic’s Boscombe Field facility at Salisbury. A training facility will be operated by Thales at Salisbury.
Thales claims that the Hermes have flown at +55C in Iraq, and that Watchkeeper will be tested at temperatures ranging from -34C to +49C.
Watchkeeper drones will initially be deployed along with the existing Hermes 450 drones used by the UK in operations in Afghanistan.
The Watchkeeper joint MOD/Thales Service and Training delivery teams will be based at Abbey Wood, Bristol and at Larkhill Salisbury. They will be assisted by Thales support personnel from Leicester and Crawley. (The ones from Leicester would presumably be U-TacS employees from the Watchkeeper manufacturing facility).
Troops from 32 Regiment Royal Artillery will train at Parc Aberporth and later at Salibury, as they are the ones who will ultimately control the drones in the field. Employees from Thales (actually U-TacS?) will handle launches and landings, and military personnel will handle the remainder of the flight.
Thales (UK) has been awarded a three year support contract for the new UK Watchkeeper drone.
Thales was also the ‘system integrator’ for Watchkeeper, the company which took technology from the Hermes 450, and added new technology to create a made-in-UK drone system. Hermes 450 is a product of Elbit Systems of Israel, which is one of Israel’s largest drone exporters, and provides surveillance technology for Israel’s ‘apartheid wall’. Thales and Elbit did the project through a joint venture known as UTacS.
It does not appear that the contract was subject to competive bidding, at least none was mentioned.
Composite producer ACG provided the material for the body of the drone. ACG brags that the project has ‘strengthened the ties that exist between ACG and Elbit Systems’.
UK Hermes 450 drones have logged 30,000 hours in combat roles in Afghanistan, according to their ISTAR contractor, Thales. Thales has provided ISTAR services from 2007 until (possibly) April 2011 when UK Watchkeeper drones are expected to be introduced to Afghanistan.
Hermes drones were acquired from Elbit Systems of Israel. Elbit also supplies technology for Israeli’s ‘apartheid wall’, as well as exporting and leasing drones widely.
30,000 hours of use has been spread over about 2,000 sorties.
Watchkeeper drones are based on Elbit’s Hermes 450. Testing at Parc Aberporth in Wales has been delayed, which has delayed the introduction of Watchkeeper, and probably resulted in the Thales ISTAR contract being extended.
45, rue de Villiers
It isn’t clear why the testing has been delayed. Was it due to problems of development or production? Was it due to problems getting permission to fly Watchkeeper in civilian air space?
The sponsor of the conference is Simlat, an Israeli simulation company based in Herzliya, Israel, near Tel Aviv. Simlat is also participiating in the 2010 AUVSI Israel First Conference, to be held 6 October in Beer-Sheeva, Israel.
Simlat has produced simulators for Elbit Systems 450, for Aegis (which Aegis?) , for United Dynamics and others.
Presumably the training simulation technology developed for Elbit Systems, also works for the UK Watchkeeper system. Thus Simlat is positioned to provide training for Watchkeeper operators, (including when Watchkeeper becomes an armed system?)
Chairman of the Board at Simlat is Moshe Ortasse, former head of the electronics division at Israel Aircraft Industries. Cofounder Yuval Peshin, President, is an engineer and former intelligence officer for the IDF. Also on the board is Mati Lesham, a former general in the IDF. Yoram Hessel, another board member, is a former high ranking Mossad official. The final member of the board, Boaz Gruener, was a major of the Israeli intelligence corps.
Hessel has a wide range of other involvements, including the Law Enforcement Exchange Program, which takes US police to Israel to demonstrate Israel law enforcement, (and presumably develop bonds between American police and the Israeli police). Hessel is extremely active in promoting the Israeli perspective among international decision makers.
It is always surprising how companies based in a country conducting an illegal occupation, policies of ethnic cleansing, and in violation of many UN directives can be so closely ingratiated into the military affairs of the western democracies.
Simlat recently advertised its desire to raise $2 million on the website of canadaisraelchamber.com claiming a large UAV/UAS market in Canada, and therefore presumably a market for simulation training services.
UAV Training and Simulation 2010 is a conference dealing with training for piloting and operation of drones, to be held in London, 24-26, May, 2010.
Defence IQ, a Division of IQPC is organiser of the conference.
IQPC is a Division of Penton Learning Systems, a US training organisation. IQPC has 11 offices on six continents and about 1000 employees. Ref.
Ownership of these organisations isn’t clear. It may be private.
Advanced Composite Group Ltd has been qualified to supply composites for the construction of Watchkeeper drones being built by Thales and’ integrated’ by UTacS in Leister. ACG claims strengthened ties with Elbit, the owner of the Hermes 450 technology on which the Watchkeeper is based.
Part of the contruction is carried out by Lola Composites of Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire using ACG composite materials . Presumably they are creating the body of the drones, which are then finished by UTacS in Leister. UTacS is a joint venture of Thales, and Elbit Systems of Israel.
Advanced Composite Group Ltd is a subsidiary of Umeco plc and has plants in Heanor, Derbyshire, in Manchester, and in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US.
Umeco is a UK based aerospace company. Included in its code of ethics is the phrase:
“Umeco adheres to all relevant government guidelines designed to ensure that products are not incorporated into weapons or other equipment used for the purpose of terrorism, internal repression or abuse of human rights.”
Lola Composites is better known as a manufacturer of race car bodies and similar products.
Many countries around the world have purchased or leased Israeli drones, including the UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Turkey. Many of these have been the Hermes 450 or variants, the same drone used extensively and more or less secretly in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and in the recent attacks on Gaza.
The UK has an 850 million pound contract with UTacS to provide the UK with modified Hermes 450 drones under the Watchkeeper programme.
Israeli has the leading position in the development of drones, with two companies IAI and Elbit Systems as world leaders.
When countries purchase Israeli drones, what is happening?
For one thing, they are purchasing state of the art technology which has been field tested in ‘combat’ in the occupied territories of Palestine. Israel has a long history of drone use in Palestine, though this was relatively secret until recently. Drones by their nature are difficult to detect, and without IDF confirmation of their use this was difficult to establish.
But beginning about five years ago, reports of drones used in targetted assassinations became more common. Drones were first used to provide surveillance, but subsequently the technology was developed to arm the drones with missiles and other weapons, as well as non lethal capability like the ability to jam cell phones.They were also able to ‘mark’ targets, so that targets could be attacked by other weapons like missiles or bombs launched from military jets.
Early reports talked about the high accuracy of these weapons. Certainly Palestinian militants became fearful of them.
But in Operation Cast Lead reports came in of many, many civilian deaths caused by drones, in circumstances where it ‘should’ have been able to distinguish between fighters and civilians. What was happening? Are drones less precise than believed in the fog of war? Were drones being used to murder people? We can’t know at the moment because Israel refuses to examine the events, or to provide the tapes of the drone attacks to be publicly reviewed.
When a country buys or purchases Israeli drones they are accepting the baggage that goes with them. A brand name cosmetic company can’t survive if it uses ‘animal testing’. Yet western democracies purchase drones from Israeli companies knowing that these drones are either hopelessly and dangerously inaccurate, or have been associated by the senseless slaughter of civilians.
The introduction of the Watchkeeper drone seems to have been delayed beyond the expected date of spring 2010. Is this delay due to technical considerations or is the UK MOD embarrassed to introduce these modified Hermes 450 drones just before an election, which could become an election issue?