Army orders controversial painting showing drones patrolling the English coast for dinghies
A painting of two drones circling dinghies approaching England depicts ‘illegal people smuggling’. The painting is by famous aeronautical artist Nicolas Trudgian and was commissioned by the British Army.
The scene depicts two Watchkeeper drones in flight, alongside a Coast Guard helicopter and plane, and a Border Force vessel as two dinghies approach a beach near white cliffs. The coin’s caption states that it describes ‘Operation Deveran’, then read: ‘A 47th Regiment Royal Artillery Watchkeeper keeps watch over the British Border Force’s interdiction of the illegal smuggling of people across the English Channel. »
A British Army spokesman said the piece was commissioned by the Commanding Officer of the 47th Regiment Royal Artillery, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Britton, and was painted to mark his departure from the regiment. Lt. Col. Britton shared the painting on his Linkedin profile, saying, “After 2.5 incredible years, I have handed over command.
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“Approved by the integrated review, Watchkeeper continues to be a vital part of the Defense order of battle. I am proud that we have succeeded in proving its usefulness over the past two years, whether in Cyprus, across the English Channel or at Keevil Airfield, where we have made enormous progress in integrating the capability in the field army and other agencies, as we did with the British Border Force.
“It was therefore an honor to hold a parade to recognize our deployment to Kent in the summer of 2020 as one of my final acts, where Master Gunner St James’ Park unveiled a painting celebrating our success.”
The painting drew criticism online, including from Ian Kikuchi, senior curator and historian at the Imperial War Museums. He described it as showing an “army artillery drone watching seasick men, women and children struggling on land”.
He added on Twitter: “Part of me even wonders if the fact that the boats in this image are so small reflects a bit of embarrassment that Britain in 2022 feels the need to use weapons systems of the army to “monitor” the “ban” of a few inflatable boats.
As of April 2021, the British Army had 46 Watchkeeper aircraft in its fleet, 11 of which were in service.
Five of the drones have crashed in recent years, including two which plunged into the sea off the coast of Wales in early 2017 and one which crashed in June 2018. The drone was deployed to counter refugee crossings in the English Channel in August 2020, with the Ministry of Defense saying at the time that it would provide “surveillance and reconnaissance capability, relaying information to border forces and allowing them to take appropriate action if necessary”.
The drone’s involvement continued through October 2020, according to a report released earlier this month by the Defense Committee. Providing evidence to the committee, campaign group Drone Wars UK said the Watchkeeper carried out 21 sorties during the period.
The group added: “Watchkeeper’s contribution to operations in the English Channel has been minimal.”
With a wingspan of almost 11 meters, it can be flown remotely at an altitude of 16,000 feet for up to 2 p.m., according to the British military.
The Watchkeeper program has cost more than £1.1billion, Defense Minister Jeremy Quin said in November 2021, compared to an initial estimate of £847million in 2005.
A British Army spokesman said: “The Commanding Officer of 47 Regiment Royal Artillery has commissioned a painting to signify the Regiment’s support of the UK Home Office and working with HM Coast Guard during the operation Deveran in 2020.”