As Simon Jenkins recently pointed out, British media has such skewed priorities that we risk becoming blind to the real issues of the day.
In 2009, a West Midlands online news outlet reported Amnesty International’s concern that Lichfield-based UAV Engines Limited (UEL) – which proudly describes itself as the world’s leading supplier of power units for Unmanned Air Vehicles – was supplying hardware for unmanned drones – which helped F16 bombers identify their targets in the area. As many Palestinians had been dying in aerial attacks, Amnesty called on the British government to halt further exports and ensure that UK-based firms are not implicated in future attacks. Many backbench MPs signed a statement written by Northfield MP Richard Burden calling for an arms embargo on both sides.
However, matters have not improved, in Gaza (see Richard Burden’s March 12 account), Lichfield, or Lincolnshire.
In October it was reported that five recently bought Reaper drones, made in America, will be sent to Afghanistan. Pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire (above) will direct them from a hi-tech hub built on the site in the past 18 months. This will be the first time UAVs are controlled from a UK base. The first five drones the UK operates in Afghanistan were controlled from a US Air Force base in Nevada.
Engines manufactured in Shenstone are thought to be used in drones currently operated by the Israeli Air Force over Gaza and the Mail reported that earlier that month the Bishop of Wolverhampton, Clive Gregory, joined locals and activists outside the Israeli-owned Elbit UAV Engines factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire, followed by a five-mile peace march from the site to Tamworth. Bishop Clive said he was campaigning for the “veil of secrecy” over British drone use to be lifted:
“Military Drone Aircraft are a cause for real concern at the moment yet the British people know very little about their use within the British army and airforce . . . but the introduction of this technology into warfare has consequences that have not been fully accounted for. Drones are being used not just in legally recognised conflicts but to attack and kill suspected terrorists in other places.”
“I am greatly concerned about the secrecy surrounding the use and impact of Drones, and the detachment of this form of warfare, where remote robots, controlled from another continent, appear to reduce death to the level of a computer game.”
The week–long march passed through Tamworth and Nuneaton to the Thales Watchkeeper factory in Leicester, which manufactures the Watchkeeper drone for the British Royal Air Force to kill people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.