Drone wars: UK week of action

IssueJuly / August 2011
News by Chris Cole

Over the past month Libya has been added to the list of countries subjected to drone strikes by US and British forces, joining Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq. Unfortunately, the list of countries facing these kind of remote attacks is only likely to grow as US military procurement plans, released this month, show that the Pentagon is planning to double its arsenal of large military drones over the next decade.

In Pakistan, anger at the continuing CIA drone strikes continues to intensify with many demonstrations and protests - including the blockading of NATO supply routes - taking place. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported in early June that “fissures have opened within the Obama administration over the drone program targeting militants in Pakistan.” However it seems that while “a slowdown” in drone strikes was debated, CIA director Leon Panetta made the case for maintaining the current program and, as the WSJ article concluded, the result was “a decision to continue the program as is for now.” Hardly a fissure then.

The UK, which has already said that it plans to double the number of its armed Reaper drones from five to 10, has also moved a step closer to building a new “sovereign” drone. BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation have announced that they have begun planning and preparation work on a new armed drone called Telemos, which will be developed from BAE’s Mantis drone.

Funding for the new drone - budgeted at around £2bn - was expected to be announced this summer but, according to a French statement, may now be delayed.

The Watchkeeper drone, jointly produced by the British arm of Thales and Israeli company Elbit, has also, yet again, been delayed. It is now expected to be with British forces in Afghanistan in December.

Unfortunately, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has finally given the go-ahead for a drone test zone over west Wales. The 500-square-mile segregated air space is centered around Parc Aberporth, from where Watchkeeper are already being test-flown.

Finally, some good news. The Drones Campaign Network, a British coalition of groups working to ban armed drones has announced a Week of Action to be held from 3-9 October as part of Keep Space for Peace Week.