In May 2017, Chair of BAE Systems, Sir Roger Carr, blithely insisted at the company’s AGM that Brexit would have no impact whatsoever on the on-going development of the new Anglo-French advanced combat drone. “We will still be working with the EU on defence, certainly in terms of fighting terrorism, and we can preserve our relationship with France in developing the next generation of unmanned aircraft,” he told shareholders.
Just two months later Carr had to eat his words as a major realignment of European Read more →
Two different agreement were reached about drones. Firstly a relatively small contract (€13 million) was signed to undertake further basic research work on a future combat drone preliminary dubbed the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) intended for use between 2030 and 2040. Secondly France agreed to evaluate the British-Israeli Watchkeeper drone. According to DefenseNews “France is acquiring one system from the U.K. to conduct tests and operational studies, expected to last to mid-2013, which may lead to a future French Army acquisition.”
Head of Dassault, French industrialist Serge Dassault (who sits in the French Senate as a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling conservative party) was outraged that the Senate should interfere in arms procurement in this way saying it would cost jobs and stifle France’s arms industry.
“We proposed the Israeli drone to meet an obvious gap in drones today… If we buy an American one, well then everything is screwed up and we’ll spend more money, drive up unemployment and reduce exports – if that’s what you want, I don’t understand,” the 86-year-old head of said. “
Complicating European drone matters even more, German Defence Minister Stéphane Beelemans argued this week that EADS should be included in the proposed Anglo-French drone project, Telemos. EADS have their own separate future drone proposal, Talarion, but it seems unlikely at this stage to go anywhere. As Defence News reported this week : “EADS seeks a place at the top table in the Telemos project alongside BAE and Dassault, but Dassault will only consider a junior subcontractor role for the pan-European company, retaining leadership firmly in the hands of the Anglo-French team.”
With all this going on, if drones do come up at today’s Cameron-Sarkozy meeting, officials may wish their masters had stuck to the simple task of solving the Euro crisis.
Ian Fairclough, BAE’s Director of Strategic UAV’s stated: ‘We believe we are ready to begin the programme now. We have got some fairly mature plans in place for BAE Systems and Dassault to go ahead with this and we have also mobilised a joint team to work on this.’
Although supporters of drones technology refute any such connections, their denials are undermined by reports showing that gaming software and hardware are being used to control UAVs. Wired.com quotes Mark Bigham, business development director for Raytheon’s tactical intelligence systems as saying: “Gaming companies have spent millions to develop user-friendly graphic interfaces, so why not put them to work on UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]?”
What cannot be denied, is that the rapid increase in the use of drones has led to a shortage of drone pilots and hence the need to boost recruitment.
Enticing young people to join the military with video games – with the idea of then moving them on from playing at drone wars to actually undertaking drone strikes – is, disturbing to say the least. When CIA Director Leon Panetta called drone strikes “the only game in town” little did he know how prescient his words would be.