The future of British combat air power in the second drone age

Whilst the UK is already acquiring the latest version of the Predator armed drone, which it is choosing to call Protector, behind the scenes it is also developing new complex combat aircraft and systems to project force and fight wars in the future. Here Tim Street gives an overview of what is happening and discusses how these developments are incorporating lessons learned from drone warfare over the past 15 years.

FCAS: RAF mock up of Tempest aircraft operating with 'loyal wingman' drones
Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS): RAF mock up of Tempest aircraft operating with ‘loyal wingman’ drones

What is the future for combat air power involving the UK and the world’s other leading military nations? More specifically, what types of new technology are being developed in this area? And how does this relate to the second drone age, which is characterised by rapid horizontal and vertical proliferation? Such questions are currently under discussion, with several countries—including the UK—in the process of deciding whether to spend further billions to develop and acquire advanced capabilities for their air forces. This is partly because the current generation of fighter jets will begin retiring from service in the 2030s and 2040s. The next generation of combat aircraft will form a central part of what is often described in a European context as Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS). The FCAS concept refers to a ‘system of systems’, including primarily offensive, war-fighting weapons designed to achieve air superiority.  Read more

NATO’s new military drone arrives in Europe  

21 November 2019, Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy – NATO’s first RQ-4D has arrived in Europe.

Ahead of its summit in London next month, NATO has announced that the first of the massive Global Hawk drones that make up the ‘Alliance Ground Support’ (AGS) system has arrived in Europe.

The clumsily named Alliance Ground Support system will eventually comprise five specially upgraded Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Block 40 drones, a permanent ground station at Sigonella Airbase, Sicily, and several mobile ground control stations, to be used among NATO allies. Read more

European use of military drones expanding

European-ReaperTwo weeks ago a new coalition of European civil society groups (including Drone Wars UK) launched a Call to Action on Armed Drones at a meeting in Brussels attended by, amongst others, US drone whistleblowers Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling.

The European Forum on Armed Drones (EFAD) launch was on the eve of an important European Parliament meeting, jointly organised by the subcommittee on Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Security and Security and Defence, focusing on the human rights impact of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations.   A video of the meeting, including inputs from Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve and Radhya Almutawakel of the Yemeni Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights is available here. Read more

Europe condemns civilian casualties in Gaza while procuring Israeli ‘combat proven’ drones

Israeli-airstrikeAs Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, named ‘Operation Protective Edge’, enters its second week, Palestinian casualties have reached 168 and continue to mount according to the latest UN figures. Israeli casualties are so far nil. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said of these Palestinian casualties “80 per cent of the fatalities (133) have been civilians, of whom 21 per cent (36) are children, raising concerns about respect for international humanitarian law.” The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports that 1,140 Palestinians, including 296 children and 233 women have also been injured. As well as this, OCHA estimate 25,300 children whose families have experienced death, injury or loss of homes are in need of psychosocial support. Read more

UK-France declaration reveals new Reaper users club to rival European drones club

cameron and hollande5
Prime Minister David Cameron and President François Hollande

The final text of the Declaration on Security and Defence signed at the UK-France Summit last week has now been released and it reveals some details about future European drone projects.  The whole document is worth reading to get an understanding of where UK-French military co-operation is heading, for example:

“Based on our experience of leadership in foreign policy and defence, the UK and France believe it is essential to take a comprehensive approach to safeguarding European and trans-Atlantic security. This means tackling instability where it arises, preventing conflict, building the capacity of local forces and encouraging long-term economic development as the most effective means to guarantee both the stability of our neighbourhood, the safety of our citizens and the security of our wider interests.” (Para 5)

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Europe presses US on drones – not to cease but to share

EuropeFlagsEuropean countries are piling more pressure on the US to allow them to buy armed Predator and Reaper drones.  As we have previously reported Germany wants to buy armed Reaper drones from the US and France too has reported this week that it ‘expects’ the US to allow it to acquire unarmed Reapers as a step towards it aim of acquiring armed drone capability.

Italy meanwhile is getting frustrated with a lack of response from the US to its request to arm the unarmed Reaper that it currently operates. Read more