“Ground the Drones
(…) The use of drones has grown quickly in recent years because unlike manned aircraft they can stay aloft for many hours, they are much cheaper than military aircraft and they are flown remotely so there is no danger to the flight crew. While the British and US Reaper and Predator drones are physically in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are controlled via satellite from Nellis and Creech USAF base outside Las Vegas, Nevada. British Reapers will be controlled from RAF Waddington in Lincs when RAF pilots move back from the US in 2012.
Ground crews launch drones near the conflict zone, then control is handed over to pilots sitting at video screens in specially designed trailers in the Nevada desert. One person ‘flies’ the drone, another operates and monitors the cameras and sensors, while a third person is in contact with the “customers”, ground troops and commanders in the war zone. While armed drones were first used in the Balkans war, their use has dramatically escalated in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the CIA’s undeclared war in Pakistan. The US has two separate ‘squadron’ of armed drones – one run by the US Air Force and one run by the CIA. Former CIA Director (now US Defence Secretary) Leon Panetta called drones are “the only game in town.”
The UK has several different types of armed and surveillance drones in Iraq and Afghanistan and others in the production or development stage. The UK began using armed drones in Afghanistan in Oct 2007 after purchasing three Reapers from General Atomics in 2007 at a cost of £6m each. The MoD confirmed in June 2008 that a British Reaper UAV had fired its weapons for the first time, but refused to give any details.
In July 2011 the UK MoD reported that British Reapers had undertaken 178 armed attacks in Afghanistan since 2008. The MoD was forced to admit for the first time in July 2011 that Afghan civilians had been killed in a British drone strike. They continue to maintain however that this was a one-off due to “intelligence failures on the ground.”
As well as armed drones, the UK has several types of surveillance and targeting drones, most notably Watchkeeper, a drone jointly produced by Israeli company Ebit and Thales UK. The UK is purchasing 54 Watchkeeper drones and ground stations at a cost of £860m. The first ten have been built in Israel and production will now be transferring to a specially built facility in Leicester at the Thales factory. Testing is taking place at Aberporth in Wales and Watchkeeper is due to enter service in December 2011.
Manufacturers are also looking for civilian uses for drones to expand their markets and this includes the use of drones for domestic surveillance. Drones will no doubt make possible the dramatic expansion of the surveillance state. With the convergence of other technologies it may even make possible machine recognition of faces, behaviours, and the monitoring of individual conversations. The sky, so to speak, is the limit. (…)”
(Quelle: Drones Campaign Network.)