Goodbye Democracy – article in Heddwch first published in 2008

I wrote the following article for Heddwch, the newsletter for CND Cymru, in 2008.  I republish it here for those who may have missed it first time around.  Parc Aberporth is still largely unoccupied and Selex have pulled out.  It is an economic development fiasco but the issues raised vis a vis drone technology are more relevant than ever.

Goodbye Democracy

UAVs over West Wales

‘Skynet’ is a fictional, computer-based military defence system that acts as the
primary antagonist in the ‘Terminator’ series of films and computer games. This
is a fictional example of an artificial intelligence that becomes sentient, and turns
against its creators. Of course this is Science Fiction and not happening in the
real world. Or is it?

An ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) Centre is being established at Parc Aberporth on the Ceredigion coast, with the backing of £3 million of public money on top of the cost of building the Parc itself. ASTRAEA is a British programme with Welsh Assembly and Westminster Governments support and funding, which involves a number of arms companies including the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), QinetiQ, Flight Refuelling Ltd (FRL), Thales and BAE Systems.

Remote killing

At Aberporth, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) are being developed for a variety of purposes, some benign and some most certainly not.  QinetiQ is currently carrying out experiments marrying up ‘artificial intelligence’ with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). While these could have peaceful applications, it quickly becomes worrying when the same technology is applied to Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs). The future of warfare is computer controlled and where the human element is removed from the theatre of operations. Civilian populations could be kept in check by a variety of robotic drones.  Some drones are designed to be spy planes for collecting information and intelligence; others carry weapons for combat and bomb delivery. All this is talked up with glee by various politicians and civil servants as a perfect way to solve the problems of economic regeneration in West Wales.

Think again

There are dark things going on at Parc Aberporth. Why is the Welsh Assembly Government so keen to get into bed with these major armaments developers? QinetiQ’s website makes no bones about the fact that the company is linked in with the UCAV programme for the Ministry of Defence and will be connecting in with BAE, joint partners in the ASTRAEA project with offices in the Parc Aberporth complex.
Those in favour of the civil aviation authority airport planned for Aberporth might think twice about arms dealers and international weaponry experts flying in and out of a West Wales Airport. It is time that New Labour ’s Andrew Davies AM, Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Finance and Public Service Delivery, began to understand that Wales is a fledgling democracy and that the people of Wales do not want to be blinded with spin in the usual smoke and mirrors approach of the Westminster style of government.

Despite this huge ‘investment’ it was reported last May that the Parc Aberporth remained largely unoccupied more than 18 months after it was first opened. The Assembly Government had originally announced over 230 jobs would be created by 2008 with a further capacity for up to 1,000 employees. Selex (Sensors and Airborne Systems),  Europe’s second largest defence electronics business occupies one unit on the site. The ‘expertise’ of EADS, QinetiQ, Flight Refuelling Ltd, Thales and BAE Systems was to have been combined with that of university departments at Aberystwyth and Cardiff ’ to create even more jobs. The Parc is now frequented by practicing learner drivers and the grounds are unkempt. As we know, the ideal situation for profit in the military industrial complex is ‘endless war ’.

People in Wales demand better and want to know that industry in Wales is being used for purposes other than being part of the US led world domination inspired military transformation strategy which George W Bush, Tony Blair, Rhodri Morgan, and now, Gordon Brown have bought in to.

Harry Rogers

Drones at Aberporth demo 18/05/2013 – report.

On Saturday afternoon last week I attended a small demonstration organised by local Quakers outside the MOD base in Parclyn just above Aberporth.  There were only ten activists there on this cloudy day plus one desultory police car parked 5o yards down the road.

MOD Aberporth is renowned for having been one of the main missile testing ranges in Britain. However it has effectively been privatised and, following a management buyout, it is now run by QinetiQ. QinetiQ is a research company with many links to the MOD.

There have have been a number of arms sales fairs held at Parc Aberporth, in particular focused on UAVs and UCAVs.  Since 2010 the base has been involved in the testing of the Watchkeeper drone (developed by Thales) for the British Army flying out of West Wales airport. Members of Bro Emlyn For Peace and Justice and other local resident groups have been monitoring the ongoing drone development at Aberporth for the last ten years.

It is quite clear with the opening of the new drone facility in Lincolnshire that the British Government, like the rest of the world, are intent on maintaining and increasing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for use by the armed forces in all current and future theatres of war, However it is also clear that there are other uses to which this technology can be put, including surveillance and social control within the home borders.

It is a fact that many police forces across the world have invested large sums of money in drones and are now using them on a regular basis. It is also clear that there is now a lot of interest in the development of autonomous weaponry and surveillance systems using AI (artificial intelligence). Such Autonomous weapons are already in use in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the form of anti aircraft weapons that don’t have to wait for a human to give it an order to deploy.

There is a lot of discussion going on between the MOD and The Pentagon about the use of autonomous AI in drones and other robot development. All of this research is partly driven by political aims in that it is becoming less and less acceptable for young men to be seen coming back from the front in body bags or severely damaged by conventional war.

Many people argue that the spectre of autonomous UAVs and other forms of social control technology is just pie in the sky sci fi fantasy. This is a dangerous delusion. QinetiQ has it’s own AI division and has been linking it’s work with its UAV development for about 7 years now. The pentagon via DARPA and The MOD are regularly discussing the ethical dilemmas associated with selling the concept of drones that take their own decisions to the politicians and the people.

In West Wales we have fought a lone battle against the developments at West Wales Airport and Parc Aberporth. Local politicians who are desperate to try and solve some of the economic development problems caused by recession and unemployment have been beguiled by the false promises of government agencies and arms manufacturers and have largely turned there back on the issues outlined here. It is time for the people to take action and we need national co-ordinated support from peace activists for future events.