The United Kingdom plans to use a military-grade UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to monitor for illegal migrants crossing from France to Britain.
The Watchkeeper drone will be used to help the Border Force agency’s efforts to “tackle” boats making the dangerous crossings, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has confirmed.
It is the first time the surveillance drone, which has been used by the Army in Afghanistan, will fly operationally in the UK.
A Ministry of Defense spokesperson said:
“The deployment of Watchkeeper provides further defence support to the Home Office in tackling the increasing number of small boats crossing the English Channel.
“It will provide a leading surveillance and reconnaissance capability, feeding information back to the Border Force and allowing them to take appropriate action.”
More than 5,000 migrants have crossed to the UK in small boats so far in 2020.
Boris Johnson’s government said it is working with France to make the sea route “unviable”, but campaigners have called for safer legal routes to claim asylum in the UK.
The drone will be launched from Lydd Airport in Kent, England. Members of the 47th Regiment Royal Artillery will operate the aircraft and provide a live feed of the sea surface back to base for further analysis.
Other UK armed forces aircraft, including Atlas A-400M, Shadow R1 and P-8 Poseidon have also been authorized to help monitor Channel crossings.
The Ministry of Defense says the unmanned aircraft hosts a range of sensors including Electro-Optic and Infra-red full motion video day and night camera, Synthetic Aperture Radar and a Moving Target Indicator radar.
The Watchkeeper programme has cost the UK more than £1 billion, figures released in 2017 showed.
Four Watchkeeper drones are known to have crashed, including two which took a permanent dip into the sea off the coast of Wales in early 2017.
The other two crashes happened in 2014 and 2015 during landing at West Wales Airport and MoD Boscombe Down respectively.
Migrants appear to be a significant issue, since in between August 4th and 13th, at least 1,000 migrants crossed the English Channel.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace initially authorized the use of the Atlas A-400M and since has approved flights by a Shadow R1, while a P-8 Poseidon was also enlisted.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in 2019 vowed that the migrant crossings would be an “infrequent phenomenon” by now and has since insisted she is working to make the route “completely unviable”. It turns out he was wrong.
In August 2020, she told Tory MPs that the asylum system was “broken” as she promised to bring forward legal reforms while she claimed laws were being exploited by “leftie Labour-supporting lawyers” who were trying to frustrate Government efforts to deport people.
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