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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 05:45 GMT 06:45 UK
Spy plane jobs promise
The RQ-1 Predator spy plane was developed in the 1990s
Wales could become the UK's home to the growing industry in pilotless spy planes.

As many as 230 jobs are promised in the short term in Ceredigion, with the Welsh Development Agency saying 1,000 jobs could be created in 20 years.

The 21m investment aims to turn Parc Aberporth into a centre of excellence for developing the planes.

Work began on Monday on creating a 50-acre high-tech centre for aerospace firms.

The planes, known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are part of an industry already estimated to be worth 1bn.

Their cameras and radar are used to gather intelligence during warfare or routine espionage without risking the lives of pilots.

Nato has also used them recently in Kosovo as tank-busters.

Before the war in Iraq, America accused Saddam Hussein of having developed UAVs with a range so great that they could attack American targets.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell also said Iraq had UAVs which could dispense chemical and biological weapons, one of which had flown 500km.

But the civilian potential of the planes is also massive. As well as keeping an eye on the roads, they could check the coasts for drug runners or illegal fishing, for instance.

UAV in American intelligence evidence
Pre-war, the US said Iraq used UAVs like this with a 500km range
Aberporth is also home to a Ministry of Defence missile-testing range, and it is hoped that local skills will help attract business.

The Welsh Development Agency (WDA) is optimistic that the site could support to 1,000 jobs.

Alex Bricknall from the WDA told BBC Wales the project would see a wide variety of sophisticated systems being developed on site.

"We are talking about a range of applications, from maritime surveillance through to defence applications - things like targets for missile systems," he said.

The project is receiving funding from European Objective One funds and the Welsh Assembly Government.

Alan Lewis, assistant director for economic development for Ceredigion Council, said the benefits could be considerable.

"It will make a major impact," he said. " Over the last 18 months we have seen the loss of over 500 jobs from the Cardigan area, and this particular site has been a sleeping giant in the eyes of the county council, and we are now beginning to see it waking up once again.

"The 230 jobs to be created in the first phase will be high value jobs that will provide an opportunity for training education and career development - not just for inward investment companies and their staff, but also for residents of this county."

Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies said : "Today is a red letter day for west Wales. With the closure recently of factories, including Dewhirst, hundreds of jobs were lost.

"We are confident that Parc Aberporth, as part of the South Ceredigion Regeneration package, will bring high-quality jobs to this area."

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