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Coming to a West Wales UAV fly zone above you?

New to this issue? Before reading this BEPJ article you might want to read this one.

Outside the Royal International Air Tattoo’s row of corporate hospitality chalets is a full-scale model of an armed unmanned air vehicle which is close to making its first flight for manufacturer BAE Systems. Will this British UAV be using the proposed fly zone in west Wales?

The Mantis was unveiled at last year’s Farnborough air show and intended to deliver a national alternative to systems such as the General Atomics Predator B/Reaper. The BAE Mantis is being produced as a concept demonstrator to whet the appetite of the UK Ministry of Defence.

The Register describes the Mantis as:

“…a fairly normal unmanned aerial vehicle of the same general type as the well-known American Predator and Predator-B/Reaper. The exact capabilities and subsystems are being decided, but Mantis will have visible and infrared imaging, a ground-scanning radar, and in all probability a laser-dot pointer for precision guided munitions. The model here at Farnborough was shown with mockup smartbombs and “Brimstone” missiles attached, too (Brimstone is the Europeanised version of the successful Hellfire tankbuster, already employed on attack helicopters and Predators).”

BAE Mantis

BAE Mantis

Other UAVs that could be flown in west Wales are mentioned in the Welsh Assembly Government document “Wales Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) Environment – A Precis Paper

“Possible examples of the largest UAVs that could feasibly use the facility are the General Atomics Mariner and Altair long endurance systems.”

The Atomics Mariner is part of the Predator B  programme begun in 1999.  Another offshoot is the Predator B offensive UAV which is now called the MQ-9 Reaper and along with the Mariner they can fly continuously for 24 hours and for over 500 miles. Both carry high resolution ground scanning cameras. According to

“The aircraft is equipped with a color nose camera (generally used by the air vehicle operator for flight control), a day variable aperture TV camera, a variable aperture infrared camera (for low light/night) and a SAR for looking through smoke, clouds or haze. The SAR provides all-weather surveillance capability, it has a resolution of 1 foot.”

The RAF already owns at least 5 MQ-9 Reapers and describes their role as:

“..a medium-to-high altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aircraft system. The MQ-9’s primary mission is to act as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels.”

However this story in the Daily Telegraph entitled RAF bomb the Taliban from 8,000 miles away, and this report from the BBC in 2008 describes how they are used offensively:

What are the implications for west Wales?

BEPJ members who attended the “drop in consultations” in 2009 were told that the Welsh Assembly Government has “no control” over the military usage of the space once it is created. Conveniently the proposed zone links an existing military training area north of Sennybridge to the offshore missile testing range at Aberporth. The proposed fly zone will be the only area of the UK where UAVs can be tested over land, so one doesn’t need to be Nostradamus to work out how keen will be the military to use of the zone.

Click to see larger image and look at the lower images on the video screens

Click to see larger image and look at the lower images on the video screens

Whether the usage be military or civilian however, the residents of, and visitors to west Wales could never be sure that they were not being filmed from above the clouds while sunbathing in their back garden or going about any other routine activity in the open air.

Are the Welsh Tourist Board (ie Visit Wales) going to put the zone on their tourist maps with a privacy warning saying that anyone living or holidaying under the zone could be videoed in high definition by someone sitting in an airforce base thousands of miles away?

I think we had better ask them…