BRISTOL AGAINST THE ARMS TRADE TAKE THE FIGHT TO THE FAIR

Activists from Bristol Against the Arms Trade and Bath Stop The Drones claim a victory as Drone conference moved away from Bath.

Following a raucous protest in Bristol, and a packed out public meeting in Bath, the Clarion Events UAV conference had to be moved to deepest darkest Wiltshire.

The Defence Academy near Shrivenham is managed by Clanfield University and the MOD. Safely protected by barbed wire and a police presence the conference commenced whilst members of BAAT  unfurled their banners and made, what has become a trade mark of theirs, lots of noise. They plan to visit again at the end of the conference on Wednesday.

Taranis is the next generation of unmanned fighter plane. This drone has no civilian role and is a “threat to 50 years of international law according to Christof Heyns of the United Nations. Activists say this is not only unlawful but will  lead to greater threat of terror in the western world.

So far the drone program has clocked up 34,000 drone hours, fired 281 Hellfire missiles and killed 1800 people.

The body of international law that governs conduct in war, enshrines the principle of distinction, which requires parties of a conflict to distinguish between combatants and civilians. To ensure civilian immunity from acts of violence. The evidence emerging from Pakistan and Palestine is of high civilian casualties.

Noel Sharkley, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at Sheffield University highlights: “The further away you are the easier it is to kill… its changing the nature of war dramatically”

Activist’s promise to return for the final day of the drone conference this Wednesday (27/06/2012) from 15:00. Everyone welcome. Please contact John Williams Press Officer for Bristol Against Arms Trade 07837001518 for any more information or bristolagainstarmstrade.wordpress.com

M.O.D. REVEAL CIVILIAN DEATHS FROM DRONES IN AFGHANISTAN

From the Bristol Against the Arms Trade blog:

Nick Hopkins of The Guardian reported on 18th June:

The British military is increasingly relying on unmanned drones to wage war against the Taliban, and has fired more than 280 laser-guided Hellfire missiles and bombs at suspected insurgents, new figures reveal.

In the past year alone, the remotely controlled Reaper aircraft have flown more than 11,000 hours over southern Afghanistan and attacked targets with 105 high-impact precision weapons.

But the use of the drones, which are flown by RAF pilots from a US air force base in Nevada, is raising fresh concerns among human rights lawyers and MPs.

The Ministry of Defence says only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its drone strikes since 2008. However, it also says it has no idea how many insurgents have died, because of the “immense difficulty and risks” of verifying who has been hit.

DRONES MANUFACTURER BASED IN BATH

Bath-based engineering company Altran Praxis, in their news archive from the 8th July 2010, teamed up with arms company Thales, providing systems and safety expertise to get the UK Watchkeeper military/security surveillance drone in the air for its first testflight. From their website:

http://www.altran-praxis.com/news/watchkeeper_22_Jun_10.aspx

Altran Praxis completes critical milestone in safety system project for WATCHKEEPER Unmanned Air Vehicle
Altran Praxis provides Safety Case and Safety Support for first flight of WATCHKEEPER UAV

Altran Praxis, the international specialist in embedded and critical systems engineering, today announced the successful completion of a major milestone in its ongoing project to provide safety support to Thales UK for the WATCHKEEPER Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV).

WATCHKEEPER completed its first unmanned flight in UK airspace on 14 April 2010 at West Wales Airport near Aberporth. The first flight saw the vehicle complete a twenty minute flight from the airfield before landing successfully under automatic control.

The WATCHKEEPER project, which commenced in 2006, saw Altran Praxis take the lead on the system level safety engineering for the air vehicle, ground system and ancillary equipment, delivering safety programme management and human factors safety consultancy.

Once deployed, WATCHKEEPER will provide the UK armed forces with an essential Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability based on a tactical unmanned air vehicle (UAV) system and will be a key component of the UK’s drive for Network Enabled Capability (NEC).

Altran Praxis used its innovative electronic safety case technology to develop the safety case for the vehicle, minimising the cost and time of safety argument development and simplifying scrutiny by assessors and approvers for the WATCHKEEPER system.

“We’re pleased with the successful completion of WATCHKEEPER’s first UK flight here in the UK. Its development will deliver the UK armed forces with a key intelligence tool which will help increase capabilities during operations. Altran Praxis is a key member of our WATCHKEEPER programme team, bringing to the project its wealth of industry knowledge in safety engineering and management,” said Eddie Awang, WATCHKEEPER Programme Director, Thales UK. “Altran Praxis’ team of experts has been instrumental in building the safety case throughout the course of the project, enabling us to secure clearances for the first WATCHKEEPER unmanned flight in the UK.”

“The WATCHKEEPER flight is a major milestone in UAV development in the UK, and we are really pleased to have helped Thales achieve this. The delivery of a vehicle like WATCHKEEPER demands complex engineering, at the heart of which sits vital safety management which is essential in this advanced, unmanned vehicle,” said Keith Williams, Altran Praxis Managing Director. “Our embedded safety and critical systems engineering skills perfectly complement Thales UK’s capabilities, delivering practical benefits to UK military operations. We are extremely pleased to have partnered with Thales UK in the development of this complex and innovative project.”

The flight is the first milestone in a long-term programme to demonstrate that the WATCHKEEPER system meets the rigorous safety criteria required to fly UAVs initially in segregated airspace in the UK. 2010 will also see the opening of a WATCHKEEPER training facility based in Larkhill, and the continuation of the technical field trials at Parc Aberporth.
About Altran Praxis
Altran Praxis is a specialist systems and software house, focused on the engineering of systems with demanding safety, security or innovation requirements. Altran Praxis leads the world in specific areas of advanced systems engineering and innovation such as: ultra low defect software engineering, Human Machine Interface (HMI), safety engineering for complex or novel systems and tools (such as SPARK) /methods for systems engineering. It offers clients a range of services including turnkey systems development, consultancy, training and R&D. Key market sectors are aerospace and defence, rail, nuclear, air traffic management, automotive, medical and security. The company operates globally with active projects in the US, Asia and Europe. The headquarters of Altran Praxis are in Bath (UK) with offices in Sophia Antipolis, London, Paris, Loughborough and Bangalore. Altran Praxis is an expertise centre within, and wholly owned by, Altran which is a global leader in innovation engineering and employs 17,000 staff across the world.

www.altran-praxis.com
About Thales and Thales UK
Thales is a global technology leader for the Aerospace and Space, Defence, Security and Transportation markets. In 2009 the company generated revenues of £11.5 billion (€12.9 billion) with 68,000 employees in 50 countries. With its 25,000 engineers and researchers, Thales has a unique capability to design, develop and deploy equip¬ment, systems and services that meet the most complex security requirements. Thales has an exceptional international footprint, with operations around the world working with customers as local partners.

Thales UK employs 8,500 staff based at 40 locations. In 2009 Thales UK’s revenues were around £1.5 billion.

Press contacts:
Leena Chauhan
Altran Praxis
press@altran-praxis.com
Tel: +44 (0) 203 1170884

Chrissie McGoldrick/Dan Howe
Speed (for Altran Praxis)
altran-praxis@speedcommunications.com
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7842 3200

Kathryn Bell
Thales UK
kathryn.bell@thalesgroup.com
Tel: +44 7813 903274
www.thalesgroup.com/uk

DRONES OUT OF BATH

According to the Bath Chronicle, Clarion have decided to pull out of the event, after all!:

Drone conference to be moved out of Bath

A conference showcasing the use of high-tech aerial drones which was due to be held in Bath later this month has been moved to a bigger venue outside the city.

This year’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) conference had been due to take place at the Assembly Rooms in the city centre.

But organisers say they have been forced to move it somewhere bigger after an unexpected demand for places.

The event from June 25 to 27 would have been greeted by protests, with a new group called Bath Stop the Drones holding a five-hour public meeting on Saturday to discuss plans to oppose the event.

Peace campaigners had tried to persuade Bath and North East Somerset Council to withdraw permission for the conference to use the venue, but the authority stood its ground, saying the city had long links with the defence industry.

The event will now be held at the conference’s academic partner Cranfield University’s campus in Shrivenham in Wiltshire.

Duncan Reid, spokesman for UAS, said as well as more space, the university campus site also provided a number of pre-existing static displays of UAVs.

He said: “The surge in demand has been attributed to greater press coverage than a specialist conference of this type would usually receive and a greater focus on the growing civilian, humanitarian and commercial sectors which these vehicles are used for in addition to their military uses.”

The conference will showcase military and civilian use of unmanned aerial devices, with topics on the agenda including the use of aerial surveillance to combat fly-tipping and observe traffic congestion, its applications in meteorology, as well as its potential for improving border security.

Mr Reid added: “It is great that our programme has attracted such interest from across the emergency services and the armed forces so we’ve had to find a new location with a much larger capacity.

“UAVs have often been associated with military support but growing interest in commercial and civilian uses is helping drive growth.

“Our academic partner, Cranfield University at Shrivenham, was able to provide a new much larger venue with plenty of space not just for conference delegates but also static displays of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Most of the attendees are from the UK MoD so are familiar with the venue as well.”

The withdrawal of the event from Bath will mean the city losing out on lucrative accommodation bookings.”

Whilst part of our objective has been served with the move – the death dealers are now out of our backyard – several in the BSTD campaign still intend to follow them to their new location and communicate our message: illegal assassination and anti-civilian terror tactics are no more acceptable now in this ‘civilised’ era than it ever has been in all the horrors of our war-torn past.

Sources within the LibDems stated unofficially that the original decision to allow the conference to go ahead at the Assembly Rooms – and the negative publicity repercussions that followed – had begun to tear the local LibDems apart, aiming disgust at the leadership. Under no circumstances could the council then go and cancel the event without the threat of destructive lawsuits from Clarion – if so, B&NES should go ahead and sue Clarion back the dark ages for their renegement of the contract!

But, what is more likely is that the council finally grew a pair once the realisation hit home of the s***storm of outrage and dissent that would accompany the event, and disruption from the inevitable protest, and told Clarion where to go. Even local police are allegedly glad the conference has been withdrawn.

Also in the article, you’ll notice a telling discrepancy: if the decision to move was all about ‘a greater focus on the growing civilian, humanitarian and commercial sectors’ (can we really afford overpriced UAV-monitored fly-tipping in this time of Con-Dem austerity?), then why is it that ‘Most of the attendees are from the UK MoD’?

So, did they jump, or were they pushed?


STOP THE DRONES IN BATH

From the 25th to the 27th June, there will be a huge drones conference happening in Bath’s Assembly Rooms. Plans are now being drawn up for protests before and during the event, and a petition calling for the event to be stopped can be found here.

So why all the fuss? Drones have many useful civilian uses that don’t involve weapons and killings – such as surveying the condition of rare habitats and searching for survivors following natural disasters: assuming such underfunded organisations can afford the hefty price tag. Part of the conference covers uses such as these, and no-one has a problem with this aspect of it. Not to as big a part as the event organisers constantly claim, however – after all, 98% of drone manufacture is military. And a quick glance at the website for the conference reveals that the military get to go for free. Non-military tickets are £2196 + VAT for the full conference. So, anyone with the intent of using drones for the good of humanity and the planet has to cough up a serious amount of money in order to get through the door, but military types who use drones to kill people get to go in for free? Yes, this is the world we live in.

OK, so the entry fee, or waiving of, is the responsibility of the organisers – so lets take a look at them. Clarion Events have the following to say about themselves:

“Clarion Events are the ONLY and FIRST organisation that has a policy of free military delegate places at our conferences. This means that the right people and organisations will attend and network with the RIGHT people.”

Until recently, Clarion Events used to focus on events like The Baby Show and The Travel show. They now organise seven arms fairs managed by their Defence and Security department, which include DSEi (Defence Security and Equipment International), the world’s largest arms fair, to which a large number of authoritarian regimes have previously attended. Their ethics, it seems, leave a lot to be desired.

So, what’s so bad about drones? Drones are unmanned aerial systems that are controlled remotely. Most of them are used for surveillance. The ones that we’re predominantly concerned with here are those fitted with weapons, such as missiles, like the Predator and Reaper models. Drones have played a major role in the “War on Terror”, featuring prominently in American and British military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, their efficiency has been called into question. Out of 60 strikes by American drones in Pakistan between January 2006 and April 2009, only 10 hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, and perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. Not only are innocents dying – survivors are becoming suicide bombers out of revenge for the attacks. Pakistan condemns the strikes and claim that they are fueling anti-US sentiment. A prominent lawyer for the families of drone strike victims has been denied a US visa. Things haven’t got better under Obama – Foreign Policy Magazine recently called him “Bush on steriods” and he holds weekly meetings to discuss drone strike targets. Drone strikes in Pakistan by the US currently occur every other day, with a recent strike killing 17 people. The official line is that these deaths are “militants”. However, the Obama administration effectively considers all military-age males in a strike zone as “militants.”

America is not alone in these strikes. Britain also has a presence in Pakistan with five armed Reaper drones and have carried out over 250 strikes.

Because strikes can now be carried out remotely, military action in other countries is now far easier and cheaper than before, with much fewer western military casualties – making military intervention and armed attacks more likely. Military pilots have claimed that drone operators cannot be trusted due to lack of contact with real world conditions on the ground and rewards for aggressiveness.

Police interest in drones is growing also, using small drones for surveillance. This article claims that Climate Camp and the Stonehenge summer solstice have been previous targets, and that police are interested in the larger military drones. There is a session by the police at the Bath conference.

At a recent drones conference in Bristol, a noise demo – “drown the drones” – took place outside and was attended by around 80 people. The Bath Drones Conference is bigger than the Bristol conference and several days of action are being planned by Bath Stop the Drones.

Plans during the event are yet to be announced in full:

Benefit Gig:
‘This Ain’t Robot Wars’ benefit gig for Bath Stop The Drones, Friday 22nd June, downstairs at the Hobgoblin pub on St James Parade, Bath, from 8pm, £3 entry; a night of punk, folko-pop, peace partying and droning on about UAVs; featuring 51st State (peace-punk duo from Somerset), Cosmo (one-man folk/rap/pop from Cardiff) + 1 more tbc

Public March:
Saturday 23rd – public march, meeting at 12:30 at Bath Abbey

Please help the cause by:

  • Telling your friends, family, workmates etc. about the conference and the march.

  • Share this, and any other articles about the drones conference, on Facebook and Twitter etc.

  • Write letters to your councillors and to local and national newspapers
  • Turn up for the march, benefit gig and protest events during the conference (to be announced).
This site is part of the Network23 network of free blogs.