Germany’s long road to drone power

The German Bundeswehr has been flying reconnaissance drones for 60 years, and now they are to be armed. In a study, the author describes all German military drones and the role of the Airbus Group.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Agnès Callamard, more than a hundred states have drones in military use. Most of these are reconnaissance and surveillance systems that date back to well into the last century. Germany is one of the countries that have been using unmanned systems for decades.

In the early 1960s, the Ministry of Defence sent 22 soldiers to the Grafenwoehr military training area for training on US drones, and others were trained as maintenance and repair personnel in the USA. They flew a drone made by a US manufacturer that was later taken over by Northrop Grumman. Today, the US defence contractor builds the world’s largest military unmanned aerial vehicle, the „Global Hawk“; several air forces of NATO countries and also the military alliance itself fly the giant drone for surveillance and reconnaissance. „Germany’s long road to drone power“ weiterlesen

EU law: No one can stop Frontex

For the first time, the EU border agency commands and arms its own police force. Because its director is „fully independent“, this reinforces a glaring control deficit.

Frontex is an agency which was established by the Council of the European Union in 2004 with Regulation 2007/2004 without a parliamentary decision. It was only subsequently given parliamentary legitimacy within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon by means of several amendments to the Regulation (first with the amending Regulation 1186/2011 on the basis of Article 77 (2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

Frontex’s governing body is the Executive Director, Fabrice Leggeri, and his now three deputies. Leggeri is, according to the current Regulation 2019/1896, „completely independent in the performance of his or her duties“ from the other EU institutions as well as from the member states. He may „neither seek nor take instructions from any government or from any other body“. This also applies to the agency as such, which „should be independent as regards operational and technical matters and have legal, administrative and financial autonomy“. „EU law: No one can stop Frontex“ weiterlesen

EU has spent over 300 million on surveillance with drones in four years

Unmanned systems have been flying regularly for the European Union’s agencies since 2017. Now, member states are also receiving funding for drones at their external borders. Soon, remote-controlled patrol boats could be deployed.

The EU Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has published a new call for unmanned surveillance of European maritime areas. A company is being sought via the European tendering platform „Ted“ to carry out an initial 2,300 flight hours with larger drones for 20 million Euros. They are to operate in a radius of at least 500 kilometres and remain in the air for more than ten hours. According to the plans, the drones will operate without a runway. This should make it possible to decide quickly and flexibly on their deployment to an operational area.

With the new order, the EU Commission has spent at least 308 million Euros on the use of drones since 2017. That does not include research and development of drone services. A study presented in 2014 by the British non-governmental organisation Statewatch, for example, put this at around 500 million euros. „EU has spent over 300 million on surveillance with drones in four years“ weiterlesen

Spain wants to station its gendarmerie in Gibraltar

Frontex should actually control the new EU external borders at the Rock of Gibraltar. According to an EU paper, however, the Guardia Civil will take over border tasks there for the first time. In addition to maritime surveillance, this concerns queries of the Schengen Information System or the new EU travel register ETIAS and the imposition of entry bans into the British exclave.

Literally at the last minute, the European Commission and the UK have agreed on a post-Brexit deal. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement concluded on 31 December regulates numerous aspects of future coexistence. Among other things, fishing quotas, but also the uncontrolled border crossing between the British Northern Ireland and the EU member Ireland were disputed until the end.

Brexit also has far-reaching effects on Gibraltar. However, the overseas territory, which has belonged to Great Britain for over 300 years, appears in the agreement exactly once: According to the final provisions, its regulations „shall neither apply to Gibraltar nor have any effects in that territory“. The small town at the Rock is therefore also not part of the EU Customs Union and the Schengen area. Spain would thus have had to introduce border controls on goods and people from Gibraltar from 1 January 2021. This is a major problem in the region, as every day around 15,000 people commute from Spain to work at the crossing in the small town of La Linea to the much richer Gibraltar. „Spain wants to station its gendarmerie in Gibraltar“ weiterlesen

After the war over Nagorno-Karabakh: British military flirts with Turkish-style armed drones

Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles are smaller and much cheaper than their US counterparts. They can be procured in large numbers, so their loss in action is of little consequence.

There is growing support in the UK for a new programme with smaller armed drones. This is what the daily „Guardian“ writes with reference to senior officials of the British Ministry of Defence. According to the paper, the military should procure light-weight unmanned aerial vehicles like those used by Turkey in Azerbaijan’s attack on the region around Nagorno-Karabakh. These are significantly cheaper than the US combat drones currently flown by the Air Force. Therefore, they could be bought in much larger numbers.

Azerbaijan’s six-week war against the Armenian-defended region of Nagorno-Karabakh is considered the first to be decided with the help of drones. The Azerbaijani military used so-called kamikaze drones of the type „Harop“ from Israel, which can circle over the area of operations for hours before hitting. The German Army had also considered procuring these „loitering munitions“ until 2013, but initially postponed the plans until 2019 and later abandoned them in favour of larger drones. „After the war over Nagorno-Karabakh: British military flirts with Turkish-style armed drones“ weiterlesen

German proposal: EU to take over working group on covert observation and surveillance

European police forces are organised in three informal networks for the exchange of information on techniques and methods of clandestine surveillance. The German Presidency wants to merge the structures and establish them with the EU. Europol could be responsible for coordination.

Police tasks include clandestine surveillance, for example to convict suspects of a crime or to prevent the commission of further offences. To this end, the authorities use technical means to listen to the spoken word, to observe with miniaturised cameras or to trace with tracking devices.

To improve covert observation and surveillance, European authorities are joining forces in three networks. Police authorities from Eastern Europe, Finland and Malta are members of the „Surveillance Cooperation Group“ (SCG) founded in Prague in 2017. The countries of the Western Balkans as well as Austria join forces in the „Surveillance Expert Network for Southeast Europe“ (SENSEE). All other EU Member States, the associated Schengen members Norway and Switzerland as well as Europol are organised in the „European Surveillance Group“ (ESG). Great Britain is also still participating in this group. „German proposal: EU to take over working group on covert observation and surveillance“ weiterlesen

Lawful interception: German government sets up new surveillance unit at Europol

Germany uses its EU Presidency to reorganise digital surveillance in Europe. A 5G working group temporarily set up by the BKA is now being consolidated at Europol. It is to coordinate the „operational capabilities“ in the Member States and facilitate interception through new legislative proposals.

The German Presidency of the EU Council wants to set up a Europe-wide working group on the interception of telecommunications by police forces and secret services. This emerges from a document put online by the British civil rights organisation Statewatch. The „Permanent Group of the Heads of Interception Units“ is to consist of the departments responsible in several Member States.

With this initiative, the German Government wants to improve the „operational capabilities“ in the Member States. However, a central office for interception of telecommunications located at the European Union is probably not adressed, as this would be contrary to the EU treaties. Europol could, however, take on an intermediary role, as it does in the cross-border tracking of GPS transmitters, and ensure that in cross-border investigations different authorities do not monitor the same telephone lines. „Lawful interception: German government sets up new surveillance unit at Europol“ weiterlesen

EU database: European domestic secret services increasingly hunt abroad

50,000 people are under secret surveillance throughout Europe by the French police, another 50,000 are to be checked during routine police operations or when crossing the EU border. In the field of secret services, this wanted list is headed by Germany. Requests for such clandestine observation can also come from third countries.

More than 1,500 persons are being observed by the German secret service with the help of the Schengen Information System (SIS II) throughout Europe, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior writes in an overview. Entries are made by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), which is the leading office in the field of clandestine observations in Europe. Secret services in France and Great Britain have each issued alerts for slightly less than 1,500 persons, Sweden 625, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic around 500.

The SIS II has been used for 25 years by border, police, customs and immigration authorities as well as secret services from 26 EU Member States including Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Last year, almost one million people were wanted from these countries in the SIS II, for example, with a European arrest warrant or for missing persons. However, most entries concern persons who are subject to an entry ban after their deportation. Article 36 of the SIS II Council Decision covers with 168,000 in total a relatively large proportion of these one million, and the number is increasing significantly every year. „EU database: European domestic secret services increasingly hunt abroad“ weiterlesen

Ukraine and Serbia are new European drone powers

Four European states now have armed drones, two of which already use them to combat „terrorism“. Another four might consider to weaponize units which have already been ordered, including Germany. All leading manufacturers of unmanned weapons systems from the USA, China, Turkey and Israel could then be represented in Europe.

The Serbian government has received a delivery of armed drones from China. Six CH-92A („Rainbow“) drones and 18 air-to-ground missiles arrived at a military airport near Belgrade a few days ago, according to local media.

The two systems are comprised of three drones each and the respective ground stations. Serbia had ordered a total of nine drones, which together are said to have cost around 27 million Euros. According to reports, a follow-up order for a further 15 drones has been agreed. „Ukraine and Serbia are new European drone powers“ weiterlesen

North and Baltic Sea: German authority orders EU drone surveillance

In several projects, the German Federal Police is testing drones in maritime environments. So far, the unmanned aircrafts have to fly in restricted areas, but soon they could be integrated into civil airspace. The Ministry of Transportation, which responsible for this, is now asking the European Union to provide drone flights.

The German Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) has requested drone flights from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). In coordination with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), to which the BSH is accountable. The BMVI is now providing details in its response to a parliamentary question.

Accordingly, it is a three-month test phase which is intended to supplement the BSH’s ship exhaust gas measurement network. The authority will use it to examine the gas plumes of passing ships and calculate the fuel sulfur content, which in Germany may only contain 0.1 percent.The drones should also map tidal flats and shallow water areas. The ministry is not writing whether this is done for the construction of further offshore facilities. „North and Baltic Sea: German authority orders EU drone surveillance“ weiterlesen