As we reported, in December the MoD began a PR offensive on the UK’s use of drones by inviting selected members of the press to RAF Waddington in order that the MoD could correct the “wild misrepresentations” about drones put about by drone activists.
As part of this initiative, UK Defence Secretary wrote an op-ed piece in the Guardian to which a former US intelligence analyst, Heather Linebaugh scathingly responded “few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on.”
This week ‘Drones PR Offensive 2’ arrived on our screens, with yet more journalists invited to RAF Waddington to hear another Defence Minister, Mark Francois, say the same old lines: “Our remotely-piloted systems provide life-saving intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance on operations as well as giving us the ability to strike precisely at those who pose a risk to our personnel and the people they are trying to protect.”
Again the MoD challenged the use of the term ‘drone’ saying it was inappropriate and has negative connotation. Air Vice Marshall (AVM) Philip Osborn said “The reason we don’t like the phrase drone is it paints a picture of technology that is out of control.”
Press Association video report from the event
Regular readers will know that we have been raising questions about exactly how precise ‘precision warfare’ is. There are lots of claims that drone strikes are ‘pinpoint’ accurate yet evidence is never released and details of the accuracy of Hellfire missiles launched from drones are refused. Responding to these questions, AVM Osborn said
Again we ask, exactly how precise is that?
Included in the briefing this time were journalists from the specialist press so some information has emerged. We learned that the Royal Navy’s new ScanEagle drone will deploy this week on board a RN frigate as it heads to the Gulf and the Indian Ocean where the it will be tested.
In addition the MoD is ‘confident’ that the Watchkeeper drone will be released to service in the next quarter (it has been delayed so many times its bound to be ready for service at some point – right?) If this does happen, Watchkeeper training flights will begin taking place from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. Whether Watchkeeper will actually be deployed to Afghanistan is looking increasingly unlikely however as the drawdown date gets closer and closer.
Additional armed Reaper UAVs, ordered by David Cameron in 2010 and supposed to be in service during 2013 have not yet arrived. According to the report in Flight Global Wing Commander Damian Killeen, commanding officer of the RAF’s 13 Squadron which flies the Reapers said “We are expecting that they’ll be delivered in the early days of 2014.” On the subject of what exactly will happen to the Reapers post-2014, the MoD is still being coy, but they are being much clearer that they will not be just put in a box and stored somewhere. Air Vice-Marshall Osborn said
“We have every intention of continuing to utilise Reaper beyond Afghanistan. You will see us plan to bring Reaper more into an expeditionary, rather than deployed mode, and over the next few years we will shift from Reaper into the Scavenger programme, [which] should be capable of doing far more, on a worldwide basis.”
Elsewhere AVM Osborn said
“I can’t conceive a future where we won’t have unmanned systems – in the air, on the ground, and on and under the water, actually. Unmanned systems, we can see, bring such an advantage that we would not want to step away from them, so, as we look forward, I think we’ll see a growth in unmanned systems.