Yesterday, as BAE systems unveiled Taranis, their new unmanned combat drone technical demonstrator at their factory in Warton, near Preston we held a small protest vigil at the front gates. According to Defence Minister Gerald Howarth speaking at the event, the combat drone “reflects the best of our nation’s advanced design and technology skills.”
There was some grumbling amongst those present that details were scant and and Taranis could only viewed at some distance. Indeed the drone, which was supposed to be flying this year, is already a year late. At a cost of £143 million the demonstrator, as the Daily Mail puts it, “spearheads BAE’s drive to convince the Ministry of Defence to invest in the next generation of unmanned aircraft.”
Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, is different from the UK’s current drones as it is designed not to be flown remotely from the ground via satellite, as current unmanned drones are, but rather programmed pre-flight to carry out its mission, whether intelligence, surveillance or armed strike. To make the aircraft ‘more stealthy’ i.e. invisisible to radar, the drone’s bombs and missiles are carried internally.
The company and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are at pains to point our that the ‘robotic drone’ will absolutely always be in human control. The military are concerned that the public have the wrong attitude to drones and are planning to go to considerable length to re-educate us. Speaking following objections to the allowing of drones to be flown at Salisbury Plain, Lt Cdr Gerry Corbett said
“”The public perception is either: they’re spying on us; they’re shooting at us; or they’re not safe. We are trying to get rid of the phrase UAV. They are aircraft and they are piloted, albeit remotely.”
Speaking up on behalf of the ‘un-reeducated’ we held a small vigil at the gates calling on BAE to work for peace and not war. Response from the hundreds of workers we saw was mostly friendly with our banner, ‘The only good drone is a vuvuzela – Stop Taranis’ raising smiles.