According to news reports ambitious plans of raising a British drone squadron might not quite take off just yet in spite of the British defence secretary revealing plans to invest £7m into such a venture. Gavin Williamson’s latest plan is to increase UK’s ‘lethality’, namely a swarm squadron of drones theoretically capable of jamming enemy air defences.
In a bellicose speech in which he spelled out how the UK could “enhance its lethality” after Brexit Gavin Williamson said he wanted the RAF to form a new “concept unit” composed of hundreds of small flying craft, although some experts in the field questioned whether the technology described existed yet.
The UK would “develop swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defences”, Williamson said, and he promised to have them “ready to be deployed by the end of this year”.
The MoD indicated the exact design had not yet been formulated yet, although insiders said the new drone unit would be used to locate radar and missile systems from countries such as Russia and China, and allow British or other aircraft to avoid or destroy them.
Williamson emphasized that defence would be “pivotal in reinforcing Britain’s role as an outward-looking nation” after Brexit. We should be the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership.” In wake of the recent threats from rouge drones in public airspace near airports Williamson announced that the MoD would spend £65m “to improve offensive cyber” – hiring extra hackers who could target foreign networks – in conjunction with GCHQ. He also highlighted plans to buy “pioneering robotic fighting” vehicles, such as self-driving tanks.
Chris Cole, an expert from Drone Wars UK, an NGO that monitors the use of armed drones, opined that the defence secretary had overblown the idea. The idea of swarm drones was “very much at the concept stage, and it’s very unlikely he can meet the deadline of the end of the year,” he added. According to information compiled by Drone Wars UK, based on official data Britain has made extensive use of drone strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014, firing more than 4,100 missiles and bombs in a total of 1,925 strikes. The minister’s proposal would amount to an extension of the concept.
A BBC defence correspondent reported Williamson saying, “ the specially-adapted drones could be in operation by the end of 2019 and the ‘Swarm squadrons’ of drones are to be deployed by British armed forces to overwhelm enemy air defences.”
While confirming that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is being deployed to the Pacific region, where China has been involved in a dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea the defence secretary added that the carrier will take part in the mission along with F-35 jets from the UK and US.
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