‘UK Troops Use ‘War Crime Drones’ In Israel was a rather surprising headline this week from the sensational Sun Sky News. Behind the headline was the news that British troops are being trained by Israeli company Elbit to use Hermes and its Watchkeeper drones replacement in Israel.
As is well known the UK is currently renting Hermes drones for use in Afghanistan until the new Watchkeeper drones, built under a joint UK-Elbit venture, can be deployed next year. (see British Drones the Israeli Connection)
Meanwhile the battle to replace the British Reaper drone is sparking into life. EADS, which is developing the Talarion drone, urged decision makers to ‘make a choice’ with regard to the future armed UAV. Two drones, BAE’s Mantis and EADS Talarion are the main contenders but there are also other possible candidates which could be developed to fulfil the Scavenger requirement to be in service around 2015-2018. The joint UK-France treaty signed late 2010 seems to imply that these two main programmes will somehow be merged but it seems progress is slow and frustrating for EADS.
As the year draws to a close against a background of increasing drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan – between 50 and 60 people were killed in a number of separate drone strikes in Pakistan’s Khyber region this week – the development of drone wars continues right around the world. Three of the key themes that have emerged on this blog in the past six months –proliferation, the push to increased autonomy and drones crashes – are illustrated by developments this week.
Proliferation: As was clear through the Wikileaks cables, every dictator and military leader has the latest drones on their Christmas wish list and many companies, are happy to oblige. This week we learned that Israel are bidding to sell various drones to Chile and India while Peru has acquired micro drones from Israeli company Innocon.
Unsurprisingly, after more than 100 drone strikes this year alone in the area in which they are operating, the Pakistani government has refused the request. This stance has, to put it mildly, annoyed the powers that be with one senior anonymous NATO military official quoted as saying “If they understand our side, they know the patience is running out.”
Also barely reported this week (and anytime it happens) was Israel’s incursion by unmanned drone into Lebanon. The flight, which pass within almost 50 miles of the capital Beirut, was in direct violation of UN resolutions (as Israel regularly is).
While neither the US nor Israel are famed for their respect of international law, there does seem to be something about unmanned drones that appears to mean a decrease in respect for international borders and sovereignty. Perhaps it’s the fact that the drone is unmanned and so ‘no body’ is actually crossing a border makes a difference to the military mind.
With more than forty countries developing unmanned drones these precedents of armed drones crossing international borders seemingly at will makes for a worrying future and suggests that a ban on armed drones is more important than ever.
Western defense officials and experts were surprised to see more than 25 different Chinese models of the unmanned aircraft, known as UAVs, on display at this week’s Zhuhai air show in this southern Chinese city. It was a record number for a country that unveiled its first concept UAVs at the same air show only four years ago…. China is investing considerable time and money to develop drone technology, and is actively promoting its products on the international market …. It is of particular concern to the U.S. and Israel, whose drones are unrivalled in the world today.
One of the Chinese drones, WJ600, will caused considerable anxiety as a video animation showed it helping “to attack what appeared to be a U.S. aircraft carrier steaming toward an island off China’s coast that many visitors assumed to be Taiwan”. Another, dubbed ‘the Chinese Predator’ by the aviation magazines, has undergone a series of flight trials, including weapons launches.
Gul Nawaz, from North Waziristan, was watering his fields when he heard the explosion of drone missiles: “I rushed to my house when I heard the blast. When I arrived I saw my house and my brother’s house completely destroyed and all at home were dead.” Eleven members of Gul Nawaz’s family were killed, including his wife, two sons and two daughters as well as his elder brother, his wife, and his four children. “Yes, the drone strikes hurt the Taliban. Most of the strikes are effective against the Taliban but sometimes innocent people also become the victim of such attacks. Take my case … ” said Gul Nawaz. “I blame the government of Pakistan and the USA … they are responsible for destroying my family. We were living a happy life and I didn’t have any links with the Taliban. My family members were innocent … I wonder, why was I victimized?”
As Middle Eastern history Professor Juan Cole says in a piece this week by Johann Harri of The Independent “When you bomb people and kill their family, it pisses them off. They form lifelong grudges… This is not rocket science. If they were not sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida before, after you bomb the shit out of them, they will be.”
“The main aim of our project is to develop a centre or competence of world-class unmanned vehicle manufacturing in Russia,” says Oboronprom director general Andrey Reus. “In co-operation with IAI we expect to become a major player in the market within the shortest possible time.”
“The model should be that of a Kalashnikov [machine gun]: a robust, simple to make and easy to use design to which other specifications can be added as needs arise. This will require some surrendering of national military-industrial prerogatives. But just as the Airbus successfully replaced failed national aircraft such as the Comet or Caravelle, a Eurodrone could showcase Europe’s ability to produce a world-class model for worldwide export.”
Hopefully, with MacShane as its advocate, ‘Eurodrone’ will remain stuck on the drawing board.