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The British defence secretary has revealed plans to invest £7m in a swarm squadron of drones theoretically capable of jamming enemy air defences, in a bellicose speech in which he spelled out how the UK could “enhance its lethality” after Brexit.

Gavin Williamson said he wanted the RAF to form a new “concept unit” composed of hundreds of small flying craft, although some experts in the field questioned whether the technology described existed yet.

The UK would “develop swarm squadron of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defences”, Williamson said, and he promised to have them “ready to be deployed by the end of this year”.

Information about Williamson’s plans was scant beyond a few remarks contained in a speech intended to present Brexit as an opportunity to strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality and increase our mass”.

One expert, Chris Cole, from Drone Wars UK, an NGO that monitors the use of armed drones, said he thought the defence secretary had overblown the idea. The idea of swarm drones was “very much at the concept stage, and it’s very unlikely he can meet the deadline of the end of the year,” he said.

The MoD indicated the exact design had not yet been tendered for, although insiders said the new drone unit would be used to locate radar and missile systems from countries such as Russia and China, and allow British or other aircraft to avoid or destroy them.

Williamson argued that defence would be “pivotal in reinforcing Britain’s role as an outward-looking nation” after Brexit. In a speech designed to bolster his position on the Tory party’s right, he added: “We should be the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership.” Read more

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