As war rages in Gaza and Pakistan, drone companies gather at Farnborough to market their wares

Palestinians gather around a taxi in which four members of the Abu Daqqa family were killed in a reported Israeli drone strike on Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on 16 July.  (Ramadan El-Agha / APA images)
Palestinians gather around a taxi in which four members of the Abu Daqqa family were killed in a reported Israeli drone strike on Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on 16 July.
(Ramadan El-Agha / APA images)

Against a backdrop of horrific Israeli air strikes in Gaza as well as a US drone strike in Pakistan, the Farnborough International Air show took place this week in the UK. Although billed as an air show, the event is in reality a week-long marketing event for the world’s military (and some civil) aviation companies to show off their wares with an open-to-the-public air show tacked on at the end.

Drones are increasingly important at Farnborough with a reported 78 companies displaying unmanned drones this year. In terms of British drones the key event was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UK and France on the £120m ($205m) agreement to study the development of the Future Combat Air System. This funding was first announced earlier this year at the Anglo-French Summit at Brize Norton.

Both BAE Systems and Dassault are independently developing their own advance combat drones  – called Taranis and Neuron respectively – which will be used to ‘inform’ the FCAS programme.. Both companies have prototypes of their combat drones already flying and BAE Systems took the opportunity to promote Taranis with some details and many glossy images of flights that have taken place in ‘stealth’ mode.

Watchkeeper, the Anglo-Israeli drone which is being developed for the British army, is being offered to the French as part of the ongoing UK-French co-operation on drones.  As Watchkeeper programme is now more than three years behind schedule and unlikely to be fielded in Afghanistan, reports are that around half of the UK’s order of 54 aircraft will be mothballed even before being used. Thales UK, which is developing the drone with Israeli company Elbit Systems, announced at Farnborough that it is willing to sell the drone to civil customers.  Or even to lease them.  Given the size and cost of Watchkeeper, and the difficulty of getting regulators to give permission to fly them, the company is looking increasing desperate to find future customers – any customers – for Watchkeeper.

UK and French ministers and officials sign agreement on future drone developments
UK and French Ministers sign an agreement on developing future combat drones at Farnborough 2014

But it was not just the larger drones that were being marketed at Farnborough. As Associated Press rather breathlessly pointed out “the hottest thing” at Farnborough was small drones.  As we have previously reported, drone companies are increasingly looking to weaponize small drones and military companies are happy to provide such weapons.

This year Thales (again) with US company Textron were marketing a new small missile specifically designed for small drones. The 70cm long missile with a 6kg (13lb) warhead is called the Free Fall Lightweight Multi-role Missile (or even less snappily the FFLMM). Ricky Adair, Thales director of sales and marketing for the missiles division was happy to proclaim “There are many market opportunities for a weapon like this.”

Israeli companies were of course present at Farnborough. Who knows, perhaps they were delighted that their products were available for all to see in action on the nightly news. IAI certainly seemed in no way abashed to declare that its Searcher, Heron and Eitan drones were “fully operational with the Israeli air force” during the week despite the horror and revulsion many feel at the horrific loss of life and damage to the civilian infrastructure.

Military companies at these marketing events speak a sanitized language of ‘kinetic events’ and “ordnance consumables” and seem obviously to the misery their products cause. Thankfully, as the latest Pew Research poll on public reaction to US drone strikes shows, (outside of the US) the world is really beginning to become aware of just what a threat drones are to global peace and security.

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

Watch out! Watchkeepers over Wiltshire

Watchkeeper UAV first flight in UK at MoD Aberporth. 14th April 2010.Drone Wars UK understands that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will announce on Monday (24 Feb) that live training flights of the Watchkeeper drone will begin over Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

The Watchkeeper drone has been developed under a £900m MoD contract by U-TacS,  a joint-venture company owned by Thales UK and Israeli company Elbit Systems.  Watchkeeper has now gained certification from the Military Aviation Read more

Israel and the Drone Wars – New Briefing from Drone Wars UK

Click to download
Click image to download

Drone Wars UK is today publishing a new briefing focusing on the use of drones by Israel, the only other country besides the US and the UK to have used armed drones.

Israel and the Drone Wars: Examining Israel’s production, use and proliferation of UAVs’ scrutinizes Israel’s 40 years of military drone use, the devastating effects of drone operations in Gaza, and Israel’s burgeoning drone exports.

While its drone use is shrouded in secrecy – Israel has never publicly admitted to the use of armed drones – DWUK’s research pieces together the evidence and describes the human cost to Palestinians living in what campaigners have characterized as a ‘test zone’ for drone warfare. Nader Elkhuzundar, for example, a Palestinian from Gaza interviewed by Drone Wars UK, tells of the fear instilled by the constant noise of drones flying overhead. Read more

Afghans launch legal action over British drone strike as experts suggest British drones heading to Africa

Haji Abdullah, 56, and his son Habibullah, 18, who were both killed by a drone in Helmand province in October 2011
Haji Abdullah, 56, and his son Habibullah, 18, who were both killed by a drone in Helmand province in October 2011

Legal action has been launched against the UK following the deaths of two men in an alleged British drone strike in Afghanistan.  The family of Haji Abdullah (56), and his son Habibullah  (18), say the two men were killed by a drone strike as they drove a tractor on their farm in Nawzad province, Helmand. According to The Times, their relatives watched as a high altitude drone launched a missile which struck the tractor, killing Habibullah almost instantly and leaving his father fatally wounded.  The family also said that they had registered the case with local officials without any response. Read more

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