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back to article Blighty's first home grown war robot takes to Welsh skies!

The UK tentacle of French arms giant Thales is delighted today to announce that its new "Watchkeeper" drone aircraft for the British Army has made its first flight in UK airspace. The machine first flew in 2008, above Israel, where the Hermes 450 it is based on is made. The Watchkeeper makes its first UK flight. credit: Thales …

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For the short term

Oh it'll boost the Welsh economy by creating "2000+ highly-skilled jobs" - right up until the Israelis decide their drones can be built more cheaply in Israel or elsewhere and the French decide the same. Then the "2000+ highly-skilled" workers can go back to the dole.

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LPF

Sweet weeping jesus

So we pay double for something that is less capable just so that defence companies can bleed

the defense budget dry >:(

This is the same rubbish that happened when we ordered the apache!

It seems if Thales or BAE cant get a cut of the action then the MOD is not allowed to buy something!

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Dead Vulture

How the hell...

..do you walk with such a heavy chip on your shoulder?

IT workers on the whole are better paid than assembly line workers, so should we get rid of all IT staff and give better pay to these?

On the whole, many grunts are poorly educated, with poor backgrounds and shit prospects. Even worse when the Army chucks them out on the streets with a useless 10 year career behind them.

So yes the money could be better spent, not on the Army, but in schooling and support resources, so they are not forced into shit jobs where they are target pratice for other poor, pissed off people

. And maybe, they to could earn a decent wage, pehaps working for these companies?

I know a hell of a lot of RAF people, that now work for your other "chip on a shoulder megacorp" BAE, what else would they do? One retrained and worked as a teacher for a year, thought it was shit and went back to BAE.

Get over yourself.

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Grenade

Don't knock Soldiers

It's the intelligent ones who do the best job of fighting. One of the problems of WW2 was that the infantry were last in the queue, and got the recruits who didn't qualify for anything else.

And there's a lot of very skilled jobs in the Army.

From my own knowledge, the Army is taking young people who are the sort of smart kids who don't always do well in a school. And the sort of person you need beside you in a battle is maybe never going to be quite comfortable in civilian life. Yes, they should be better paid, and their families better provided for. And, yes, anyone who has been in a war is going to need help.

It hasn't changed so much since Kipling's day.

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@Don't knock Soldiers

I don't think the last post was intending to denigrate our armed forces, but the facts remain - it is a short-term career for all but the lucky few, that does almost nothing to prepare them for what you and I would call the real world. Yes, they deserve more pay, but so do our Nurses, Police and teachers, and as a country we cannot afford to give pay rises to them all. We can afford to make sure that as much as possible of the MOD budget is invested in UK and european jobs - we are already far too reliant on the US, we don't want to be tied to a country that appears to be about to take a nose-dive.

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Testing armed Israeli drones in Britain?

Anyone who wears one of those Palestinian scarves* might want to leave it at home until they've ironed out all the bugs then.

*You know, those things that are the de facto uniform of the junior wing of the champagne socialists.

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ROTM

First test flight yesterday. Today, all flights in UK airspace cancelled.

Coincidence? I think not.

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Anonymous Coward

I'd trust the French to keep us safe

I'm all for European harmony, but whatever next.... the French helping protect our borders.

Historically they rolled over when the Germans rolled in, and they sold missiles to the other side when we were fighting over the Falklands

Looks like they've worked out how to conquour us financially instead.

And wasn't the first RotM(tm) killer car a French one?

Oh, and the one bright thing in this is the Israeli involvement... a better bunch of scrappy fighters are not to be found, though you have to wonder if they're going to give us the best of the bunch of keep that for themselves.

We need to stop just pissing money against the wall on these stupid huge projects and actually put money where it can do some good - making sure we train and equip our troops to the best standards in the world and don't send them off to fight "wars" that are really just oil company raids

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French roll over?

Historically speaking, in the First Big One, the French Army mobilized en masse and engaged in a war of attrition with the Jerry at Verdun. A battle that some have likened to Stalingrad or the Somme. Verdun in 1916 cost them half-a-million casualties Overall loss in the war was about 4% dead- twice that of the UK.

Less surprising then in the Second Big One, that when the front collapsed the French decided they'd had enough of war.

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Historically,

the french laid waste to western germany from the early 17th century up to the early 19th century with depressing regularity. You might want to look that up, they managed to push their borders eastward quite a bit. My home town was burned down 6 times by the french during that period, another time in 1870 and a last time in 1945 while the place where I was born was only burnt down thrice.

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Stop

Rewriting that for you

"...British drone-manufacturing industry in the process, our troops fighting overseas would have got what they needed a lot quicker and for a lot less money."

Should read:

"..British and NATO troops defending their OWN borders and territory are having a good time at the barracks."

Even the best and most cost-efficient American drone with 256 Hellfire missiles will not convince those stone-age people that they have to boot out the Taliban. Mr Karzai's soldiers are a band of drugs-addicts who only joined his army because they get free meals and clothing. The Taliban are the one and only functional Afghan army and they are respected by the locals because they are not corrupt losers. Not just respected, but supported.

The West has to accept that we punished the Taliban for harbouring AlQaeda and now it is time to get out. If they make trouble again - go in for punishment and go out again QUICKLY.

Or slowly bleed withe. That's what we currently do.

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Grenade

Re: Rewriting that for you

jlocke,

Having rewritten that, take a read at this ...... http://thedailybell.com/968/Germany-Done-With-American-Wars.html ....... which could very well be the the writing on the wall for the Certifiable Madness which is all about American Economy and Intellectual Weakness in trying to ensure that the Rigged Capitalist System doesn't Collapse ....... but that is a Truly Titanic Lost Cause unless they start Dealing Credit to Everyone rather than Debt.

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title

ah, spending much more £ on items which have less features than other cheaper items of the same class, well, business as usual then again in this country, eh?

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What the hell?

The British army has been saying for ages that they want more robo drones, as soon as they get delivered, you then go and bleat about them not getting the kit they want?! You are picking the wrong project to slag off Lewis, there are others more deserving of even more of your (somewhat but not always flawed) analysis.

Buying defence kit directly from the Isrealis and directly supporting the Isreali arms biz who produce that kit with the specific purpose of bombing the crap out of Palestinians is a big political no no. (Damn those UK people for having some ethics!!) This approach, at least means the UK gets the good stuff without directly supporting what gets used on Palestinians (Hermes 450, the UK version, does not drop bombs). Holes can be picked in this argument I know, but are you suggesting a totally un-ethical buying policy?

Buying from the US is a pain in the arse. Everyone knows this, in fact everyone knows this so well, some countries have gone out of their way NOT to buy stuff from the US. Ask the Germans (who bought Isreali) or all the other countries like France and Italy who publically state they want European alternatives. The UK (and Italy) bought Reapers to support Afghanistan and they don't want to be totally reliant on this one very capable, but horribly restricted system. The UK has a great relationship with the US, but still cannot fully use Reaper to its full potential.

Sky Warrior and Reaper may be per unit cheaper, but the Yanks have poured billions into development and have more Reapers than most countries even have jets which makes the sums spent on Watchkeeper seem paltry by comparion. You just cannot compare the two systems in terms of costs like you have done. As for supporting people in the British economy, right now the economy needs all the cash it can get!

This article does a severe dis-service to British service men and women. I generally have some respect for the writing of this author, but this is so bad I feel quite peeved on their behalf!

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Taffy-ho

Is it wrong that I'm imagining the MoD head honchos thought "hmm, test flight of armed UAV, might go wrong - ok we'll do it in Wales then. Tally-ho"

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Anonymous Coward

Time For EuroDrone ?

As unmanned vehicles seem to be important, cooperation along the lines of Eurofighter, Tornado, A400M and EuroLeopard seems to be the right idea.

Currently there are at least three different European drone programs (nEUROn, Barracuda, Taranis) on-going. Time to rationalize that.

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Black Helicopters

a Columbo moment !!!

Just one more question.....

Why the fuck are spending so much tax payers money on a Israili robo plane with onboard french radar tech?

shouldent we be developing our own robo plane with on-board british radar technology and other top secret items? then selling cut down versions to france and israil.

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Anonymous Coward

or to be more sensible

buy existing better spec-ed drones for less £ from across the pond.

Why waste money in the first place for insufficient overpriced crap (french/israeli or british-build) when better and cheaper drones are available?

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Black Helicopters

spec

you can read specs all you like, technology generaly doesnt live up to the expectations from the specs...

plus the whole idea of the gov pouring our hard earned money in to it was to prop up a few thousand jobs.. buying from ove the pond wll not do this.

not only that, look what happened with the last load of kit we got from the yanks.... a fleet of helicopters that we could not fly or train pilots in because of incompatabilities with our weather and climate.

We should be developing our own hardware and selling it accross the pond. put the great back in to great britan...

black helicopters?... well its simples really...

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£17m for *this*

The words you got to be s^&*ing me come to mind.

Let's just hope its video downlink and command uplink are a little bit more secure than their American counterparts.

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Crackistan

Two weeks ago three German soldiers were killed in an ambush that was fully supported by an Afghan village. The soldiers were looking for buried/hidden mines close to a village and everything appeared peaceful - villagers working on the fields, a party going on in the village.

Then the people on the fields disappeared and immediately after that all hell broke loose - heavy fire from machine guns out of the village from probably 40 Taleban. During the battle, three soldiers killed and an armoured vehicle destroyed by a mine dug in probably weeks before. The Taleban had virtually unlimited supply of ammo and tried to kill as many Germans as possible. Air strikes "not being possible" because "woman and children" were seen around the houses were the machine gun fire came from.

What's the lesson of that event ?

1.) The population supports the Taliban to the point of complete conspiracy and deception of NATO troops.

2.) They use "women and children" to protect themselves from airstrikes, because they know of the stupid NATO engagment policies on that.

3.) The Opposition has all the time they need to accumulate enormous amounts of weaponry and ammunition until they decide to stage an ambush.

Bottom Line: We are not fighting "the Taleban". That's a F**king Fairy Tale. We are fighting the Afghan people, who support their fighters, WE CHOSE TO CALL TALEBAN. They can blend into the "civilian population" anytime. Store weapons, ammo and supplies with "civilians".

Short of Hitler-style killing of populations supporting the enemy we could lock up probably 50 percent of the Afghan population in "reeducation camps". The efficiacy of reprisal killings is questionable, as the Russians discovered between 1978 and 1989. So even the "Hitler" solution might not work. Apart from our own moral questions about that.

SO: Stop believing into the DREAMWORLD OF POLITICIANS AND JOURNALISTS. We have to get out of this hell-hole right now.

Today, four more German soldiers died. For the f**king dreams of stupid Americans who can't cope with reality. And British lapdogs sucking up to them. And the German government emulating the British.

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OK its a bit more than this....

But its a remote controlled plane. The basic technology has been around for donkeys years. I guess its got some kind of encrypted channel (ooh), and some hyped up signal transmission and a few other goodies (like anyone will actually tell us - but still - £900M? Nice work, if you can get it .

Why not cheap and cheerful? Swarms of the buggers of cheap planes acting as a swarm , you can't shoot them all down and you get cheap and extensive coverage? Probably missing something , but if anyone wants to offer me a job to make up this stuff then call me, I've got loads of this stuff, I watched Battle of the Planets as a kid

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Not really

These aircraft are remotely controlled for some of the time, a lot of the time they are autonomous and carrying out a pre-programmed flight plan.

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Flame

About time you learnt some economics

Think of it this way...

If the government spends 1M in the good ole US of A it costs 1M. (more - cos theres upgrades to follow)

If the government spends 1M in the UK it costs nothing!

How come?

Well firstly those well paid armsbiz jobs pay tax and NI, and then VAT on what they buy - so the government gets 51% back immediately. Then the remainder get spent in the british economy and more Tax and NI and VAT is paid. After a couple more cycles the government has got 100% back in tax and has kept a whole load of people in jobs.

Q.E.D.

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FAIL

^ this ^

I was going to post almost exactly the same thing. It's not quite a 100% recovery because some of that money will be exported as profits by the operating companies and some will be spent by the employees on imported goods and services, but I would guess the actual money 'lost' by the government would be less then £10 per £100, making these drones a snip at only £1.7m each.

Lewis : I mostly love your work, but ignoring the monetary facts on these kinds of projects is starting to take the gloss off. It's simple economics. Ask Tim Worstall at El Reg's economics desk - he'll set you straight.

(Disclosure : Never worked in global warbiz, don't know anybody that does).

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FAIL

No Welsh jokes yet?

It's barren ground though, not much scope for taffy-baiting.

I thought it was going to be about the new Cardiff blimp:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/cardiffonline/cardiff-news/2010/04/15/giant-cardiff-bay-balloon-is-granted-planning-permission-91466-26246342/

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a view from above

UK also operates quite a lot of small, cheap and cheerful hand launched US UAVs - Desert Hawk, currently up to about Mk 3. These work well but have very limited sensor capabilities, can't fly very high and can't fly for very long. Watchkeeper is the next level up, quite big, good sensor fit and flies for a useful length of time (sufficiently long that they can use airstips well away from the action instead of having to be launched from trucks closer to the action).

The problem with armed UAVs is that they have to be able to land with a full munitions load, this means they have to be a lot more capable (read, stronger and heavier with bigger engines) than would otherwise be the case. Naturally this has a price.

The Watchkeeper contract is not just airframes, it includes sensors, ground stations and their vehicles (Viking armoured ones, which are not cheap and are going to be relatively widespread). The Watchkeeper figures also include maintenance and related costs for however many years (this is how MoD budgeting works), and a substantial ground training facility (including new building). Typical US vendor figures carefully omit all this stuff. I think some of the ground training will include contractor staff, some of whom will be ex-services.

Incidentally, there is no evidence to support the b0ll0ks that all Afghans support the Taliban. In fact it points the other way. A small number support them, a small number are strongly opposed and the vast majority are waiting to to see, although having experienced the Taliban would prefer not to have them back. Taliban terrorise the locals into helping them, this is one of the reasons they are called terrorists. I won't go into what looks remarkably like a demonstration of German incompetance (failed to keep the Taliban away from civilians).

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Dead Vulture

Sigh

Lewis has again outdone himself... Chip? I'd say the whole spud is on that shoulder.

Were you once frightened by a UK company that makes you want to run and spend your money on US kit so rapidly? (Where is the Chinook Mk3 angle? Could you not have worked that into this article??)

For the general audience... Thales, large multinational, owned by Johny Foreigner, but employing people in the UK (its a fact of life - get over it).

To the other AC with the columbo moment in mind - read the article not your prejustices (which are Lewis's prejustices anyway). The "Killer Drone" is unarmed. The clever stuff in the thing is UK based tech... if it wasn't they would still keep using the Hermies 450.

Iain - It's not a remote controlled plane... if it was it wouldn't cost that much - doh!

Its not a Reaper... Then it's not going to do that job. Also we dont need to be in a bunker in the states to use it with our special friends watching.

Posted as AC too as I clearly know more than I'm saying.

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LPF

@jlocke

"The population supports the Taliban to the point of complete conspiracy and deception of NATO troops." lmao

Know the population know that they have Tabliban nutters in their midst and if they say anything

once those NATO troops go their kids die!

Because of course the population of Ahganistan want the religious nutters back, why dont you go

ask those women going to school for the first time in years to confirm your incredible insight into

thier country from the safety of your armchair in the west!

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Not good Lewis!

I think you've got it wrong this time Lewis. We do need to develop a capability in the UK to design and produce these type of aircraft but what would the investment be to achieve this capability come to?

Probably about the same amount as this project is costing and possibly up to twice the amount and certainly 18 months to 2 years longer to achive. This way we tap into technology already developed and use this to set up a new industry in UK. Once this is established then we can start using our own expertise to develop newer versions.

Should we be doing this?

I'll leave the military strategic view of this to others, economically speaking an emphatic yes!

Your view of buying cheaper from the US is flawed because you assume that we have the money to do this. But how do we gain this money? By selling something, product or services. Over the last 30 years this has increasingly become services. However, it has recently been demonstrated how vulnerable we are to economic disruption caused by - a lot of people agree - these services getting it wrong or just plain swindling us!

We need to establish a new manufacturing base that can provide product that UK plc can sell. This not to replace the money based services that seem to have become our major industry but to balance the economy, to remove a single point of failure - to use an engineering idea.

We can't compete with the mass produced consumer goods from the far east so we must look at our strengths - hi tech hi value products. One of the areas we can still shine at is aerospace, despite years of chronic mismanagement. Therefore we must exploit this and develop new product in this area - despite your view Lewis that we buy in all our aerospace needs from the US.

Bluntly Lewis, if we follow your prescription, we won't be able to buy in anything for lack of money.

Andrew Newstead

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Not good this time Lewis!

I think you've got it wrong this time Lewis. We do need to develop a capability in the UK to design and produce these type of aircraft but what would the investment be to achieve this capability come to?

Probably about the same amount as this project is costing and possibly up to twice the amount and certainly 18 months to 2 years longer to achive. This way we tap into technology already developed and use this to set up a new industry in UK. Once this is established then we can start using our own expertise to develop newer versions.

Should we be doing this?

I'll leave the military strategic view of this to others, economically speaking an emphatic yes!

Your view of buying cheaper from the US is flawed because you assume that we have the money to do this. But how do we gain this money? By selling something, product or services. Over the last 30 years this has increasingly become services. However, it has recently been demonstrated how vulnerable we are to economic disruption caused by - a lot of people agree - these services getting it wrong or just plain swindling us!

We need to establish a new manufacturing base that can provide product that UK plc can sell. This not to replace the money based services that seem to have become our major industry but to balance the economy, to remove a single point of failure - to use an engineering idea.

We can't compete with the mass produced consumer goods from the far east so we must look at our strengths - hi tech hi value products. One of the areas we can still shine at is aerospace, despite years of chronic mismanagement. Therefore we must exploit this and develop new product in this area - despite your view Lewis that we buy in all our aerospace needs from the US.

Bluntly Lewis, if we follow your prescription, we won't be able to buy in anything for lack of money.

Andrew Newstead

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FAIL

Er...

...haven't they been flying these drones for years for years here in Wales or have the journos just caught up with yesterday's news? One of the bays near here is littlered with the damned things that they've been flying and testing for decades.

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Is it me?

Or does this watchkeeper thingy look a bit Blue Peter and, well, just crap?

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@LPF

You are right that I have never been to Afghanistan. Have you ?

All I hear here is that the population helps the NATO Opposition whenever they can. They give them food, shelter (for men, weapons, ammo) and Intelligence. Where is the oppressed woman using her mobile phone to tip off the Germans that the "Taleban" are gathering in her village ? Why are these "women and children" running around a house that is used as an emplacement for a heavy manchine gun, so that bombers overhead don't drop a bomb ??

I can tell you - these "oppressed women" don't see it (which exists for at least 1000 years) as a problem. Rather they see US as a problem. That's why they ALL wage war against us.

We should really stop to see their life through OUR eyes. They don't like our presence in Afghanistan and their "vote" against that with heavy machine gun fire. Time to get out and just dump the politico's theory about the dangers of Terror nests there.

What we need to do is to properly secure our borders and incoming airliners and simply don't allow the muslims into our countries. Then it doesn't matter what they do in Afghanistan, Jemen or Somalia.

Anyway, there are more than two billions of Chinese and Indians who are 100% peaceful and happy to do business with us; I don't understand this Anglosaxon sympathy with those adherents of a brutal religion - must be a leftover from the time of Lawrence of Arabia....

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Unhappy

127.0.0.1

Any chance of one of these picking me up from Schiphol airport or am I stuck here until this bloody volcano thing STFU?

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Anonymous Coward

Lewis Page if.....

.....you love America, so much why do you do us a favour move over there.

Perhaps you should have a basic lesson( if simplistic) in economics.

Scenario 1.)

Government pays UK company to provide equipment

UK Company pays corporation tax which goes back to government

UK company pays UK workers

UK workers pay UK Income tax which goes back to government

UK workers pay VAT, Fuel Tax etc which goes back to the govenrment

UK gains skill and expertise

Scenario 2.)

Government pays US company to provide equipment

Money leaves country never to be seen again.

Government gets no tax revenue

UK workers have no jobs, Government then has to support UK unemployed.

Less money for Armed services.

Personally I would feel very uneasy about trusting the US to supply all our Tech. In this crazy world, I could see a scenario where a EU force might have to stand up against US aggression. Do we really want an enemy using equipment where they hold the kill switch?

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Terminator

call me when they

finally link the drones an xBox 360.

Obviously the enemy combatants will be using PS3's.

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Linux

Netbook with Linux surely

The xbox has a fundamentally flawed os - I think I would want a bit of reliability so would be using Linux. You could always replace X with a Java windowing system to give a faster and more flexible interface - whoops - I've just invented Android.

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Coat

Why Wales?

The reason Wales was chosen is because it very similar in terrain to Afghanistan. Think about it:

1, Mountainous terrain - Check

2, Deep valleies - Check

3, Large areas of sparce population - Check

4, Unfriendly populace - Check

5, Large qualtities of opiates - Check

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Buying American

Taking these sort of "buy American" arguments to their logical conclusion, the smartest thing would be to leave the Americans to fight their own wars. This means they could pay their own soldiers to use their own kit and we would have to pay for neither the equipment nor the soldiers.

The French seem to have taken a different view, sticking to making their own kit, despite the availability of cheaper/better choices from other countries. Perhaps that's why what remains of our defence industry is called "Thales".

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Afghanistan / wired.com

To those still believing in the crap they get from those well-meaning politicos and journalists, please read this:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/04/army-researchers-why-the-kandahar-offensive-could-backfire/

The US Army themselves figured that the Afghan National Army and Police are considered a bunch of corrupt rent-seekers, while the "Taleban" are seen as incorruptible.

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robot takes to Welsh skies!

It's dustproof then?

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It may be Britishj(ish)

But is it any *good*?

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