Britain's secret role in America's drone war: Government approves UK defence company to supply technology to the U.S.
By Robert Verkaik
April 22, 2013
- Defence firm Cobham plc supplies parts for deadly U.S. drones
- Government granted company 31 drone export licences between 2008-12
- Human rights groups say they violate international law and kill civilians
A major British defence company is supplying the deadly US drone programme, which has killed scores of civilians, leading critics to condemn the UK as complicit in 'war crimes’.
The firm, Cobham plc – which specialises in defence and communications electronics, including satellites – manufactures antennas for armed Predator drones used to launch fearsome weapons on to targets.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the Government has approved a series of controversial export licences for the firm, showing that Ministers are officially sanctioning the controversial US drones war.
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Question marks: A UK defence firm has been given licences to supply parts for armed U.S. drones such as this Predator model
Under scrutiny: Dorset-based firm Cobhams plc boasts on its website of its work with the Predator
Human rights groups say that the drone attacks violate international law and kill civilians.
British companies supplying military equipment to other countries must seek approval for contracts from the Government. Last year another British company, GE Intelligent Platforms, pulled out of supplying the Predator programme following an outcry.
But according to a document seen by The Mail on Sunday, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) granted Cobham 31 drone export licences between 2008 and 2012. Many of the parts covered by the licences will end up being used in drones, including the Predator and Reaper.
In its literature, Cobham boasts of its work with the Predator. It says: 'Cobham’s communications antennas, radar components and sub-systems play important roles in modern UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], including the General Atomics Predator family of drones.'
Deadly: The Reaper (pictured) and Predator drones are responsible for thousands of civilians deaths and human rights groups say the attacks violate international law
VIDEO See a predator drone being tested at a US Air Force baseLast night human rights group Reprieve called on the Government to review its policy on granting the licences. Reprieve lawyer Catherine Gilfelder said: 'US drones hover over towns in non-war zones 24 hours a day, seven days a week, terrorising communities and indiscriminately killing, in violation of international law.
'The manufacture of components for Predators on British soil further implicates this country in these gross human rights violations.
'The Government, by condoning the export of these components, is demonstrating a complete lack of concern for those affected by drones and for the UK’s reputation. Export controls urgently need to be tightened in order to end our complicity in this unlawful programme.’
John Hemming MP, a Liberal Democrat member of the all-party committee on drones, said: 'The UK needs to stop facing both ways on armed drones. They may be efficient and cost effective tools for extra-judicial executions, but they don’t deliver peace.’
And Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, said: 'It has previously been alleged that the Government has supported the American drone programme through providing locational intelligence and both of these issues raise serious questions about whether the Government has acted in accordance with international law.’
Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that the UK supports the use of armed drones only in Afghanistan where the UN has authorised military action. But the US military also operates armed drones in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, where innocent civilians have been killed in attacks on suspected terrorists.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has refused to disclose details of licences on grounds of commercial confidentiality. A spokesman said that human rights issues were properly considered in all export licence decisions.
A spokesman for Cobham, which is based in Dorset, confirmed it supplied antennas 'to numerous unmanned systems including the US Predator, specifically via our facility in Texas.’