First put the allspice in the olive fruit

Ukraine and SerbiaNew European drone powers

The Serbian government has received a shipment of combat drones from China. Six CH-92A ("Rainbow") drones and 18 air-to-surface missiles are said to have arrived at a military airport near Belgrade a few days ago, according to local media. These are two systems, each with three drones and the associated ground stations. Serbia had ordered a total of nine drones, these are said to have cost around 27 million euros together. According to the reports, a follow-up order for a further 15 drones has been agreed.

China supports Serbian drone program

The "Rainbow" is manufactured by a Chinese state-owned company. With a span of eight meters, the Serbian version should be able to carry 75 kilograms of payload. The drone, which was actually developed for reconnaissance, has a stamina of eight hours and can allegedly fly up to six kilometers. However, their range is only 150 kilometers.

With the purchase of the “Rainbow”, Serbia wants to further develop its own “Pegasus” drone program. Vice Defense Minister Nenad Miloradovic announced this at the air show in Dubai last year. Like the “Rainbow”, the “Pegasus” will in future be equipped with Chinese “FT-8D” rockets. The government in Beijing has reportedly promised to support Serbian developers.

First missile launch in Ukraine

Ukraine has recently also become a European drone power. A year ago, the local air force initially received six “Bayraktar TB2” combat drones from Turkey for 62 million euros. They come from the Baykar company owned by MIT graduate student Selçuk Bayraktar, a son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In Turkey, the "Bayraktar TB2" is flown by police and border authorities, secret services and the military. Since 2017 alone, the military stock is said to have doubled to almost a hundred.

The “Bayraktar TB2” has similar specifications as the “Rainbow” from China. Their payload is 55 kilograms, which can be transported up to 200 kilometers. The Ukrainian army is now said to have finished testing the combat drone. A few days ago, according to a media report, a “Bayraktar TB2” fired a Turkish laser-guided missile for the first time as part of an exercise. Combat missions of the Ukrainian "Bayraktar TB2" are not yet known.

Battle-tested in Libya

Both China and Turkey are increasingly entering the world market with armed drones from various companies. For a long time Israel was the second largest exporter of unmanned systems after the US, but most of the drones made by Israeli manufacturers were sold unarmed. Meanwhile, according to various counts, China has taken this place. According to this, the armed long-range drone "Wing Loong" has been used by Saudi Arabia and meanwhile by numerous other countries in Africa and the Middle East since 2014, while the armed "Bayraktar TB2" from Turkey has so far only been ordered by Qatar and Azerbaijan.

Current theaters of war serve as testing and advertising for the manufacturers, in countries like Libya combat drones from China and Turkey are even used on both sides of the civil war: Turkey provides the Tripoli government with its "Bayraktar TB2", while China the Tobruk government in the east of the country supplied with the "Wing Loong". The “Defense World” platform counts a total of 25 shot down or crashed drones in Libya for 2020 alone, with Turkey reportedly losing 17 “Bayraktar TB2”.

British "Reaper" meanwhile on the wrong track

Great Britain was the first European country to start sourcing armed drones from the United States. The "MQ-9 Reaper" delivered from 2007 is the successor to the "Predator" from the US manufacturer General Atomics. It has been used by the United States for 20 years in various versions by the military and secret services in global combat missions or for extrajudicial executions.

The British "reaper" were first stationed in Afghanistan, today the air force flies them to "fight terrorism" in Iraq and Syria, according to the British platform "Dronewars" but also outside of the use there against the "Islamic State". The British Ministry of Defense wants to modernize its fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles with up to 26 "Protectors". The US drone is the successor to the "Reaper" and should also be able to be equipped with British missiles.

French combat drones in Mali

As the second European drone power, France armed its six “Reaper” last year and began testing. They are stationed at the French Air Force Base Niamey in Niger and can carry four 250 kilogram laser-guided bombs. Two more systems, each with three “reapers”, should be delivered at the beginning of 2020. This newer model can also fire air-to-surface missiles and heavier bombs, according to the French Ministry of Defense. In the meantime, the combat drones are said to have flown their first missions as part of the “Barkhane” anti-terrorist operation in neighboring Mali.

In addition to Great Britain and France, the government in Italy has also decided to procure armed "reapers". The sale of the US drones was approved by the State Department in Washington in 2015, but so far they have been flying without bombs or missiles. The Netherlands also ordered four “Reaper” from the USA in 2018, but it is unclear whether they will be armed. Finally, Spain also bought four armed Reaper, but there are currently no plans to arm them.

Bundeswehr as the fifth drone power?

The German Bundeswehr could soon be stationing combat drones in Afghanistan and Mali. The black and red federal government has been planning to acquire it since 2014; the Ministry of Defense has now carried out a “drone debate” and submitted a report to the Bundestag with arguments for arming its Israeli “Heron TP”, which it has already ordered. The reason given is that the Bundeswehr needs its own unmanned weapons systems because the "partners" (meaning the USA, Great Britain and France) have armed drones in joint operations, "these are often tied to other locations in the area of ​​operation".

Before a Bundestag decision is made, the SPD wants to hold a very last hearing. The governing coalition could then submit the proposal to a vote. After the missiles have been procured, certified and tested, the German combat drones would be ready for use in two years.

From 2028 Germany, France, Italy, Spain and possibly other EU member states want to switch to the armed “Euro drone”, which European armaments companies under the leadership of Airbus want to have developed ready for series production by then.

About the author

Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Bürgerrechte & Polizei / CILIP. All texts at digit.so36.net, in English digit.site36.net, on Twitter @matthimon. Not a believer in conspiracy theories of any kind. Use the Binnen-I despite the rumble of annoying masculists.
Published 07/11/2020 at 8:00 AM