Future

Meet The 'Euro Hawk,' Germany's Data-Trolling Super Drone

Germany has just unveiled the Euro Hawk, a prototype drone that vacuums up data - cell phone conversations, text messages, you name it - and can fly to New Zealand without refuelling. The German military is so excited about the Hawk it now wants five of t

A model of Germany's 'Euro Hawk'
A model of Germany's 'Euro Hawk'
Simone Meyer

MANCHING -- The plane comes down out of the sky and lands with little noise. The enthusiastic sounds emanating from the people watching the landing at Manching air strip in Bavaria are almost louder than the landing of the 15 ton "bird." Bird is what staffers at the technical aircraft defense service here almost affectionately call their new hero, the Euro Hawk.

This reconnaissance drone signals a new era for Germany's Federal Armed Forces -- the debut of the largest unmanned flying object in German airspace.

"It's a milestone for us," says Rüdiger Knöpfel, a project manager at the Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement, for which this represents nearly 10 years of planning. At 15 meters long, and a wingspan of 40 meters the Euro Hawk by far outstrips other systems of this type.

The "hawk" can fly at speeds up to 600 km per hour, stay airborne for up to 30 hours, and fly 23,000 km -- or as far as New Zealand. It can easily reach Afghanistan, where the German Armed Forces will soon be reducing the number of personnel.

Euro Hawk already passed one important test: on July 21, pilots in Germany and the United States flew it 10,000 km from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Upper Bavaria – and after 24 hours flying time it appeared in the skies over Manching.

The grey drone is a massive data collector. From an altitude of 20,000 meters – which is to say, well above the altitude at which civil aircraft fly – the Euro Hawk can listen in on even the most softly whispered radio message, not to mention cell phone conversations, and intercept text messages. It can also record radio and TV broadcasts and register enemy missiles and radar stations.

Pilots trained in the United States

The captured electromagnetic information can be sent via three different radio links and reach earth in Nienburg, Lower Saxony in real time. The Electronic Warfare Battalion 912 stationed there conducts data analysis. Up to seven telecommunications specialists help the deployed troops to analyze data concerning their own operations and protect against possible threats.

In the pilot phase, the workspace of the analysis unit is housed in a container in a high security tract at Manching air strip. But it's slated to remain mobile so that it can be transported to wherever it's needed.

The German Armed Forces have so far trained 11 pilots. Long flying times mean that several have to share a shift. The pilots and weapons systems officers were trained in the United States on the Northrop Grumman-produced Global Hawk, which provided the basic model for the Euro Hawk.

Euro Hawk "9901" arrived in Manching "naked." Technicians from Cassidian then equipped it with German sensors and intelligence technology.

The Euro Hawk fills a gap. The previous model used by Germany was the NATO Breguet Atlantic that has been out of service for more than a year. Countries routinely exchange reconnaissance information – only for a while now, Germany hasn't had any to provide.

Euro Hawk is supposed to change that. In the summer of 2012 the plane will be turned over to the "Immelmann" Reconnaissance Squadron 51 in Jagel, Schleswig-Holstein. The first series models should be ready in 2015 at the earliest. Presently, the Euro Hawk – a so-called test carrier – only has a temporary traffic permit and every time it takes off or lands air space has to be cleared.

Both military and civilian Armed Forces staffers treat the Euro Hawk as carefully as they might a raw egg. Visitors to the hawk's space are even asked to take off their rings before they touch the bird.

Read original article in German

Photo - Bundeswehr-Fotos Wir.Dienen.Deutschland

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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