The event, an exhibition and flying display of UAV’s,was to be the focus of a number of protests by Welsh campaigners who have been meeting over the past few weeks to organise demonstrations. Now however the organisers have announced that “due to circumstances beyond their control” the event is to be cancelled. Although the organisers say they hope to put on an event in the future, let’s hope Pause has been put on hold for good.
P.S. I have updated the the drone crash database today with news of yet more drone crashes in Pakistan, Yemen and Turkey.
While the UK is developing its own “sovereign” drones at BAE Systems and using Reaper drones bought from the US, there is also a strong Israeli connection as the UK are leasing Israeli drones for use in Afghanistan and also jointly developing a new surveillance drone called Watchkeeper.
In October 2005 the UK government awarded a $500m contract to UAV Tactical Systems Ltd. (U-Tacs) a joint venture company formed by Thales UK and Israeli company Elbit Systems, based in Leicester, to build up to 100 Watchkeeper UAVs. Watchkeeper is a derivative of the Israeli Hermes 450 drone but differs in having an automatic landing capability and multiple payload configuration.
In April 2010, Elbit announced that it had signed a $70 million deal to provide maintenance and logistical support for the Watchkeeper project. The announcement came the very day the Watchkeeper drone made its maiden test flight, logging 20 minutes in the air in Wales.
Since July 2007, the UK has also been leasing Israeli Hermes 450 from Thales UK in an innovative ‘pay by the hour’ contract for use in Afghanistan until the Watchkeepers are in service. By April 2010, the leased drones had flown more than 30,000 hours over Afghanistan and the contract is likely to be extended until the Watchkeeper drones are ready to go into service in 2011
Speaking about armed drones to a group in Essex last night I was asked about the use of drones to spy on people in the UK. I get this question regularly since the Guardian reported in January that a number of police forces are working with BAE Systems in a Home Office backed project to develop a national drone plan.
Currently the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) does not allow unmanned drones to be flown in UK airspace with the exception of certain military test sites. When Merseyside police jumped the gun and used a drone to track a stolen car, they were threatened with prosecution by the CAA and had to promise not to use drones again. (I have been told that drones have been sighted at various demos but presumably after the high-profile rebuke of Merseyside police this is not happening now).
It is not just the UK that does not allow unmanned drones to be flown in civil airspace for safety reasons . Frustrated by this, the military industry has been working on ways to put pressure civil aviation authorities. The latest bit of pressure is a ‘year long study by 23 European military companies’ into how manned and unmanned aircraft can fly together. Flight Magazine reports:
“One of the major issues at the heart of UAS development today is the integration of these vehicles into civil airspace. We need to ensure proper segregation of existing air traffic and maintain a high level of safety for all airspace users to the standards of international civil aviation,” says Pierre-Eric Pommellet, Thales senior vice-president in charge of defence mission systems. While calling the SIGAT findings “decisive” and “a major outcome for European defence ministries” considering the technical and regulatory aspects of operating manned and unmanned aircraft in the same airspace, no details on the findings were released.
In my experience the military industry usually gets what it want. Whilst the CAA holds the upper hand at the moment, I suspect that over the next few year, in particular in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, there will be increasing pressure to allow drones to undertake surveillance work in UK airspace.
Cymdeithas y Cymod (Wales Fellowship of Reconciliation) held a service and vigil at Parc Aberporth, Ceredigion where Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) and their spying and tracking equipment are being perfected for use by arms companies and the British military. The use of unmanned drones as weapons of war in conflicts around the world has been called into question by one of Britain’s most senior judges. Lord Bingham, a former senior law lord, said that some weapons were so ‘cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance’.
Jill Gough, National Secretary of CND Cymru said: ‘Many know that if there is to be any healthy, safe future for our children and those all around the world then it is nigh time we learned, as humans, to behave differently. Life on the planet is already damaged by human activity; people are suffering from resource depletion, pollution and disease and poverty – as a result of violence and greed. ‘We want Wales to be part of the solution, not the problem. There will be more of the sort of situations we are seeing in Israel and Palestine, more conflict and further suffering unless we stop fuelling the arms trade – which itself fuels wars. We say ‘No’ to more military development at Aberporth and ‘No’ to the proposed Military Academy at St Athan.’