Migration control: EU agency spends € 1.5 billion on virtual borders

The launch of the new Entry/Exit System is delayed to September 2023, the Commission says the contracted companies are to blame.

Between 2014 and 2020 alone, Frontex and eu-LISA agencies spent a total of €1.9 billion on contracts for border surveillance and control systems. This figure is provided by the British civil rights organisation Statewatch, which analysed tenders on the European procurement platform. The money went mainly to large corporations from the IT sector and to arms companies.

Around a quarter of the money was spent on Frontex. After the so-called „migration crisis“, the EU border agency began setting up its own air surveillance service in 2016. This flight service with charter aircraft was supplemented last year by contracts for two large drones in the central Mediterranean. In the current budget, around one-sixth of the agency’s annual budget goes towards leasing the manned and unmanned aircraft. „Migration control: EU agency spends € 1.5 billion on virtual borders“ weiterlesen

Space-Eye: Satellite surveillance from underneath

High-resolution images from earth observation could help with non-governmental sea rescues in the Mediterranean. However, these have to be purchased from commercial providers, because openly accessible images from EU satellites are of low quality. An initiative now wants to enrich this data with other sources and evaluate it with algorithms.

The EU border agency Frontex uses satellites to stop unwanted migration to Europe. As part of the EUROSUR surveillance system, Frontex has set up various services to automatically detect ships and boats carrying refugees with the help of aircraft, drones and also satellites. Frontex then informs the relevant coast guards of the sighting; North African authorities then return the boat occupants to countries such as Libya or Tunisia. The satellite data comes from the Sentinels of the EU’s „Copernicus“ earth observation programme; Frontex also buys higher-resolution images from private providers. In addition to Frontex, the EU’s maritime safety agency EMSA also maintains a satellite-based monitoring system, „CleanSeaNet“.

The German association Space-Eye is now also experimenting with the use of satellite data. The information is intended to help rescue organisations take on board people in distress at sea and bring them to a safe harbour. The association’s satellite working group consists of a dozen scientists and students. For the interview, i spoke with development engineer Elli Wittmann, Steffen Merseburg and Jonathan. „Space-Eye: Satellite surveillance from underneath“ weiterlesen

War in Ethiopia: Armed drones could be again a gamechanger

In a surprise move, the Ethiopian military was able to stop the advance of attacking Tigray rebels on the capital, according to international media reports, with the help of armed drones. Allegedly „Bayraktar TB2“ ordered in Turkey have not been sighted anywhere so far. However, competitors from China and Iran have been documented.

Ethiopia has been in a civil war with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for 14 months. The rebels from the region bordering Eritrea are discontent with the policies of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. After taking office in April 2018, the 43-year-old lifted the state of emergency, released prisoners and promised to fight corruption. As a result, the TPLF, which had been powerful until then, also lost political influence.

Only a few weeks ago, the Tigrinese rebels were on the verge of entering the capital Addis Ababa, but the tide has now turned decisively. On 20 December, the TPLF surprisingly announced a ceasefire and peace talks in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and promised to withdraw back to the north. Both warring parties are accused of serious human rights violations, and the UN Human Rights Council now wants a to investigate this with an independent commission. „War in Ethiopia: Armed drones could be again a gamechanger“ weiterlesen

Unrestrained killer robots in Geneva

A UN convention on lethal autonomous weapons systems is not in sight

For more than seven years, several dozen states have been discussing a possible ban on autonomous killer robots at the United Nations (UN). So far, the talks have not led to any concrete negotiations; above all, the major military powers – the USA, China, Israel and Russia – are putting on the brakes. It is also unclear how a joint treaty within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) could be structured.

Lethal autonomous weapons are systems that pursue a target and – with the help of artificial intelligence, for example – decide on the best time to attack. They can be drones in the air, on land or at sea. Such systems can also identify the people to be killed on the basis of their appearance, stature or biometric data. „Unrestrained killer robots in Geneva“ weiterlesen

Under Spanish leadership: EU military develops novel police drone

Several defence ministries are participating in a project on „dual-use“ reconnaissance drones. Only the Spanish army reveals that they can also be armed for military use.

EU member states want to develop drones with „autonomous behaviours“ that can be used for civilian and military purposes. These „dual-use“ aircraft are to weigh around 150 kilograms and do not require a runway. Accordingly, they could also be flown by law enforcement and disaster control agencies as well as civilian rescue organisations for aerial observation. The military wants to use them with the army, the air force and the navy.

The project is called „Next Generation Small RPAS“ (NGSR) and is part of the Permanent Structured Cooperation agreed by the European Council in December 2017. With the exception of Denmark and Malta, all EU Member States participate in what is also known as PESCO. The initiative aims to improve military cooperation between member states. To this end, the governments commit to increasing their defence spending and investing more money in joint research and development projects. „Under Spanish leadership: EU military develops novel police drone“ weiterlesen

Coordination by Europol: Special Intervention Units train with drone carrying explosives and robot dog

Since this year, the ATLAS network has had a Support Office at Europol, with which the police agency coordinates cross-border operations of units from Schengen states. Most of the money from the coming budget will again go to police forces from Germany.

The European Union is further expanding its association of special police units.The so-called ATLAS network, in which 38 Special Intervention Units (SIUs) from the Schengen states coordinate, is working with Europol to build up new capabilities. This is stated in a work programme for 2023 published by the British civil rights organisation Statewatch. According to this, Great Britain will also participate in the cooperation after Brexit.

The ATLAS network, founded after the attacks of 11 September 2001, has been part of the structures of the European Union since 2008 and is managed as one of the 18 expert groups of the Council Working Group on Law Enforcement. The EU wants to use it to prepare for major police situations that require support from other member states. This concerns operations in the event of terrorist attacks, serious and organised crime or other „crisis situations“. „Coordination by Europol: Special Intervention Units train with drone carrying explosives and robot dog“ weiterlesen

Takeover of German manufacturer: Rheinmetall re-enters the drone business

Equipping the German Army’s reconnaissance force with new LUNA drones seems to be secured, so a sale of the insolvent German manufacturer EMT to Israel is off the table. The Bundeswehr has also commissioned a study for kamikaze drones, such a system is also offered by Rheinmetall.

Defence contractor Rheinmetall is taking over major parts of insolvent drone manufacturer EMT from Penzberg in Bavaria. This was announced by the company’s Düsseldorf headquarters in a press release this week. The company, founded in 1978 by Hartmut Euer, a graduate engineer, built the LUNA tactical drone for the German armed forces. Originally, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems from Israel was supposed to buy up the company’s bankruptcy assets. This option is now off the table.

Rheinmetall intends to retain the four EMT sites in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein and integrate them and their 200 employees into the group structure. The group is thus returning to the drone business. Rheinmetall had developed the KZO („Kleinfluggerät Zielortung“) in the 1990s and sold 61 of these systems to the Army. In 2010, the company also won the contract to fly the Israeli HERON 1 for the Air Force, but gave this contract to EADS-Cassidian two years later. The jointly formed business was merged into the restructured Airbus Group in 2014. „Takeover of German manufacturer: Rheinmetall re-enters the drone business“ weiterlesen

German project: Drones for non-governmental maritime rescue

Searchwing has developed a waterproof drone that can be hand-launched from a ship. In a two-hour mission, the aircraft flies up to 120 kilometres. For real-time transmission, members are working on a new model.

In the Mediterranean, EU agencies use drones to track and stop refugees on their way to Europe. Since May this year, Frontex has stationed an Israeli „Heron 1“ on Malta, soon to be followed by an even larger drone. Individual member states are also increasingly relying on autonomous systems for their coast guards. They are supported in this by EMSA, the Maritime Safety Agency.

For some years now, non-governmental organisations have also been experimenting with unmanned aerial vehicles. Their objective is to rescue people on the high seas and then disembark them in a state that will not persecute or mistreat them. One of the groups is Searchwing. In October, the activists completed a test on the ship „Sea-Watch 4“. I spoke to Philipp Borgers about this. „German project: Drones for non-governmental maritime rescue“ weiterlesen

EU drones for people in distress: Dropping life rafts for pullbacks?

For the first time, drones are flying on behalf of an EU agency with rescue equipment on board. On the high seas, the actually useful technology could encourage illegal refoulements to countries like Libya. Perhaps the new function will only be used for minor maritime emergencies in European waters.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has awarded a new €30 million contract for drone services. It has gone to the Portuguese company Tekever, which is flying an „AR5“ for EMSA since 2016. Reconnaissance missions of this fixed-wing drone are carried out for coast guards of the Schengen member states, that have to submit a corresponding request to the agency for this purpose. According to the tender, the EMSA drones are also to monitor the Mediterranean Sea within the framework of missions of the border agency Frontex.

Tekever equips the „AR5“ with radars, day and night cameras as well as receivers for signals from ships or emergency systems. They can stay in the air for more than 12 hours. In Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, among others, the „AR5s“ have completed more than 1,200 flight hours in almost 250 missions, including surveillance and safety at sea, detecting pollution or combating illegal fishing. „EU drones for people in distress: Dropping life rafts for pullbacks?“ weiterlesen

Green stepping stone for armed drones in Germany

The Conservatives must watch their years-long push to arm drones from the opposition now

The commander of Bundeswehr operations abroad, Lieutenant General Erich Pfeffer, today warned against dispensing with armed drones. „The troops“ do not understand the political argument and need combat drones for close air support, for example in case a convoy is attacked, he said. „If you take the arguments against armed drones to their logical conclusion, you would have to abolish essential parts of the armed forces,“ Pfeffer, who is soon to retire, realised. But that does not seem to be the case at the moment.

Instead, all signs point to green: in the new coalition agreement, the parties of the „traffic light“ coalition („red“ Socialdemocrats, „yellow“ Liberals, Greens) will presumably agree on a „yes“ to armament. This will end almost decades of wrangling with numerous hearings and a „drone debate“ in the Ministry of Defence which brought together all the pro-arguments once again. In the meantime, only the Left Party in the Bundestag is clearly against automated weapon systems. It is now the conservative CDU/CSU MPs, of all people, who are vehement supporters, who have to watch their introduction from the opposition’s sulking corner. „Green stepping stone for armed drones in Germany“ weiterlesen