Jean-Pierre Audy MEP (a French Christian Democrat and member of the conservative PPE block) has drafted a report on the “mid-term review of the 7th Framework Programme for Research” for the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

The draft report proposes:

that an ambitious European research plan for technology and defence be adopted between the Union and the Member States and receive significant initial financing from FP7 and the European Defence Agency on the basis of Article 45(d) of the EU Treaty, with a view to enhancing the industrial and technological base of the defence sector while at the same time improving the efficiency of military public spending (paragraph. 14)

The report also suggests that:

industry’s participation rates do not appear any higher than in previous FPs, particular under the ‘Cooperation’ chapter (paragraph. 15)

This is patently not the case with the EU’s Security Research Programme (ESRP), which has thus far been dominated by large multinationals from the defence industry (see the Report commissioned by the European Parliament’s Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs’ policy department, published last October).

The new draft Committee Report signals a worrying potential shift in the position of the European Parliament, which has traditionally opposed the outright militarisation of the EU.

The report also goes much further than what the European Commission apparently envisages for the next EU Framework Research programme. That is: limited cooperation between the European Defence Agency and the ESRP, which is already taking place in FP7 (for example in respect to UAVs/drones). See further the Commission’s “Background Paper” to the public consultation on security research (p.4). In contrast, the draft Audy report is much more closely aligned with the repeated demands of European defence industry lobbyists.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy is scheduled to adopt the report at “first reading” on 12 April 2011 (see EP procedure file).

The USA’s Secure Border Initiative, a complex network of high-tech surveillance equipment to police the entire northern border (with Canada) and southern border (with Mexico), has been cancelled.

While agents in the field were said to “love the gear”, Janet Napolitano (US Homeland Security Secretary) testified before Congress that the project “has been plagued with troubles from day one… It has never met a deadline, it hasn’t met its operational capacities, and it doesn’t give us what we need to have”.

Instead of fulfilling lucrative contracts with Boeing and Raytheon, the USA will instead procure surveillance systems, UAVs, thermal imaging and other equipment from the commercial market.

Defence Industry Daily has published a detailed dossier describing all the goings on.

Article by Ben Hayes for the Economist’s “European Voice” newspaper, published 2 December 2010.

The robot armies at our borders

The EU is entering a new, and disturbing, phase in its efforts to police its borders.

In a hi-tech upgrade to ‘Fortress Europe’, the EU is developing drone planes, satellite surveillance systems, unmanned ground and marine vehicles, even combat robots, to be deployed to ‘defend’ Europe from migrants.

The policy is the result of a convergence in the EU’s ‘industrial competitiveness’ strategy, which has identified the global ‘homeland security’ market as one in which Europe should prosper, and an EU approach to migration control that places the prevention of refugees and undocumented migrants from crossing borders above any other objective, principle or approach.

In this upgrade, the defence sector, the surveillance industry and quasi-autonomous EU bodies such as Frontex and the European Defence Agency are joining forces.

More than €50 million in EU funds from the security research component of the Commission’s seventh framework programme for research (FP7) has already been allocated to the adaption of military surveillance techniques to Europe’s borders – and the programme is still in its infancy. Defence giants such as BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, Sagem and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) feature in numerous consortia. At least six EU-funded projects envisage the use of ‘drones’ (or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) for border control; others promise an array of surveillance and detection technologies.

They have names such as Seabilla, Sectronic and Talos, and ‘24/7 blue and green border situation awareness’ is their objective. Talos – a €20 million partnership between PIAP (a Polish producer of combat robots), IAI (the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli drones) and others – is field-testing “a mobile, modular, scalable, autonomous and adaptive system for protecting European borders” that will “take measures to stop the illegal action almost autonomously with supervision of border guard officers” – combat robots (or ‘Robocops’ perhaps?) in plainer terms.

It would be comforting to dismiss this research as a meeting of science fiction and science fancy, but the US has already deployed an equivalent – Predator drones – along its border with Mexico, part of an $850m (€624m) investment that also includes a ‘virtual fence’.

The determination to create a similar virtual fence in Europe is very real. The European Council has endorsed the European Commission’s Eurosur proposals for a hi-tech European border surveillance system and Frontex is now investing in fixed surveillance and border-drone technology (expressions of interest are currently being invited for UAV demonstration projects).

The European Defence Agency is also involved, by funding manufacturers to develop collision-avoidance systems and other measures needed to ensure the drone programme does not fall foul of rules on the use of drones in civilian airspace. At least seven member states are exploring how they might use drones for civilian security purposes.
There has been little comment so far about these plans in general or, specifically, about Europe’s intended deployment of drones, a technology now synonymous with ‘targeted assassinations’. The UN, though, has spoken forthrightly about the US’s drone programme: Phillip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, has accused it of giving the CIA a “licence to kill” and encouraging a “Playstation mentality” that devalues human life.

The hi-tech vision of the EU’s military researchers might be a less discomforting prospect if there were some assurance that the drones and other systems would simply be used to detect and rescue those on the overloaded and ramshackle boats and rafts in which so many perish.

But a sense of comfort is impossible, amid reports – for example – of European naval patrols “deliberately overturning” boats carrying migrants and of EU-sponsored Libyan patrols opening fire on Italian fishermen.

The EU’s interventions may already be making the sea more dangerous; drones and other robotic tools will add to the risks of a Playstation mentality developing along Europe’s borders.

The EU stands on the cusp of a shameful investment in a dystopia.

Ben Hayes is a project director for the civil liberties group Statewatch.

You can view the original article on www.europeanvoice.com.

Europe’s leading drone manufacturers have joined forces in yet another EU-funded R&D project on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’. The OPARUS project brings together Sagem, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, ISDEFE, Israel Aircraft Industries and others to “elaborate an open architecture for the operation of unmanned air-to-ground wide area land and sea border surveillance platforms in Europe”. The consortium has received €11.8 million in EU funding.

Meanwhile IPS reports that FRONTEX has invited expressions of interest in a tender to demonstrate “Small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and Fixed systems for Land border surveillance”.

Another article, by Dave Cronin, reports that the European Defence Agency (EDA) has now launched the SIGAT project (Study on the Insertion of UAS in the General Air Traffic), featuring EADS, Sagem, BAE and Dassault (see also previous post on the EDA’s drone programme).

Finally, Cronin’s article also notes that Sagem has entered into a “joint venture” with Elbit, the Israeli company which manufactured some of the most lethal weaponry ever used in Gaza.

The Quaker Council for European Affairs has published a briefing paper on “Security Co-operation between the EU and Israel” (pdf) – a topic that features regularly on this blog (see Israel posts).

The report makes the following policy recommendations:

  • Dual use technology, security and military research should be clearly separated from the other research areas. Industries working in the military sector should not have access to other research funds.
  • Israeli industries that profit from the occupation in Palestine should not be eligible to apply for EU funding. Israel is able to control the Palestinian territories thanks to its military supremacy which depends on the hardware and software provided by its homeland security.
  • Cut the funds for unmanned vehicles. UAV are currently banned in the European skies because of possible dangers to regular air traffic. Furthermore Israeli UAVs have been used indiscriminately against civilians during the Gaza War and therefore the EU should not subsidise Israeli UAV producers.

Ben Hayes of Statewatch will be giving evidence on EU subsidies for Israeli Homeland Security companies to the London session of the Russel Tribunal on Palestine on the 21st November 2010.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation, which organised the recent “Drone Wars” conference in London,  has published a briefing on the rise of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, in armed conflict.

It raises a number of serious concerns about the introduction of armed drones into modern warfare, including high levels of civilian casualties, the use of drones in targeted killings and the idea of a ‘Playstation Mentality’ whereby the geographical and psychological distance between the drone operator and target lowers the threshold for launching an attack.

The Drone Wars conference brought together over 80 academics, peace activists, and concerned citizens. Delegates took part in a range of talks and workshops aiming to find practical ways of challenging this new, lethal, robotic technology that is being brought in with very little public debate.

Convenient Killing: Armed Drones and the ‘Playstation Mentality’ [PDF, 1.3MB]

The Guardian (24.9.10) has reported that the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which works closely with police forces and MI5, has released an “unusually detailed” public tender notice requesting submissions from suppliers of airborne observation “platforms” that can be adapted for “target acquisition” and intelligence-gathering.

The agency’s request for bids is entitled “UK-London: intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance”. It proposes the use of both conventional planes and UAVs for a national air patrol service. The document suggests the surveillance contract could be put out to a private company.

The tender seeks information on “a fully serviced, airborne, surveillance-ready platform for covert observation”. Drones, or planes, should be available for deployment within two hours of orders for “urgent taskings”. Missions lasting up to five hours and night-flying are anticipated. “Low noise signature and unobtrusive profile” as well as a “discreet while accessible operating base” are said to be desirable features of any future aerial security system.

Pictures from onboard cameras and thermal-imaging equipment should be capable of being beamed down to “command and control rooms” as live, Soca’s tender specifies. The agency adds that it “welcomes information from potential suppliers with regard to any UAV technology options”.

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