Criticism over plan to spend €2m on Israeli-made drones

Documents show plans to ‘accelerate upgrade and acquisition’ of drones by the end of 2017

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn:  “Our Government is going against the will of our people.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: “Our Government is going against the will of our people.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Defence Forces’ decision to spend almost €2 million on upgrading their drone systems from an Israeli defence company goes “against the will of our people”, according to a Sinn Féin Senator.

Department of Defence documents, released under Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation, reveal plans to “accelerate the upgrade and acquisition” of Orbiter 2B UAV systems by the end of 2017.

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or remote piloted aircraft systems, are pilotless radio-controlled aircraft used mainly for surveillance, with larger combat drones fitted with weaponry.

The plan to upgrade the 14 UAVs in service was outlined at a high-level meeting between the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces last May.

The Defence Forces confirmed the upgrade will cost €1.9 million, excluding VAT, and expects 12 new UAVs to be fully operational by next March.

To date, more than €4.6 million, excluding VAT, has been spent by the Defence Forces on UAV systems, spare parts and training, including a down payment on the UAV upgrades.

The Orbiter UAVs, described as a “key asset” for both national and international military courses in an April 2016 document from the Defence Forces contract branch, do not have weapons capabilities.

Surveillance

They are also called a valuable “over the hill” surveillance asset for Irish peacekeeping operations and help reduce the risk of exposure to units on the ground.

“Not to move to the upgraded model will result in a serious loss of capability for the DF [Defence Forces] which could have force protection implications going forward,” the document continues.

The UAVs are made by Aeronautics Defence Systems Limited, an Israeli company whose drones have been used in conflict zones in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Aeronautics Defence Systems has supplied the Defence Forces since the introduction of their UAV programme in 2007 when two Orbiter 1 portable mini-UAVs were ordered.

While not objecting to the use of drones with the proper judicial oversight, Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the decision to continue business with the Israeli company was not something the Irish people would support.

Israeli arms trade

“The issue we [Sinn Féin] have is that we should not be spending one cent to do commerce with the Israeli arms trade,” he said. “Our Government is going against the will of our people.”

An upgrade has been considered for some time, according to then minister for defence Simon Coveney, in a response to a parliamentary question from Independent TD Clare Daly last November.

“The matter of barring Israeli companies from entering tender competitions for the provision of military goods would be akin to Ireland unilaterally placing an embargo on such goods from Israel and this raises, inter alia, serious implications for Irish foreign policy,” Mr Coveney said.

But Ms Daly called on the Government to officially support the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, which she said had been recognised last May as a “legitimate political viewpoint” by Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.