Developments made on the WATCHKEEPER and other UAV programmes

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 4 July 2008



(2008), "Developments made on the WATCHKEEPER and other UAV programmes", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 80 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Developments made on the WATCHKEEPER and other UAV programmes

Article Type: Mini features From: Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology: An International Journal, Volume 80, Issue 4

Thales UK’s WATCHKEEPER programme is on track and has been steadily moving forward since June 2007, when the company unveiled its final configuration following a Critical Design Review undertaken by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The WATCHKEEPER system, developed with Elbit Systems, is now being produced at UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (U-TacS), the Thales UK/Elbit Systems joint company site in Leicester. The system will include the following features:

  • dual-payload configuration of advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)/Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) radar and Electro Optical (EO)/Infra-red (IR)/ Laser Target Designator (LTD);

  • ground control stations with advanced imagery exploitation and networked distribution;

  • flexible, all-weather operation with de-icing capability;

  • improved access to sub-systems for easier maintenance; and

  • fully autonomous flight capability, including automatic takeoff and landing.

Reg Humphryes, the Watchkeeper Programme Director, commenting on the progress to date says: “We have made tremendous progress since the contract was signed in 2005, and I am particularly pleased that all the customer-agreed programme milestones have so far been met on or ahead of schedule. We have a particularly good working relationship with the UK MoD and are looking forward to delivering this advanced capability to the customer in line with our original commitments.”

He adds: “2008 is an important year for the programme as it will see the first of the system level flights including the testing and integration of the Automatic Take-Off and Landing System, the I-Master radar and EO/IR/LTD payloads. The I-Master radar flight trials have been extremely encouraging. The SAR imagery seen in the initial trials is outstanding and testing the GMTI functionality has just commenced. The combination of these sensors operating in a networked manner will certainly provide a transformational step in ISTAR capability for the UK armed forces.”

British Army intelligence, surveillance target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities in southern Iraq and Afghanistan were significantly boosted in 2007, when Thales UK’s H-450 programme began operating in support of UK armed forces.

Recognising Thales UK’s expertise in the ISTAR and UAV domains, the company was awarded an urgent operational requirement contract by the UK MoD earlier in the year to supply UK forces on current operations with Tactical UAV systems to provide an urgently needed enhanced ISTAR capability.

To reduce time into theatre, Thales UK proposed an innovative “ISTAR by the hour” service provision such that Thales UK retains ownership of the equipment, which is operated and maintained by 32 Regiment Royal Artillery. Contractors on deployed operations, supplied by U-TacS, are providing flight line service support in theatre.

Drew Carmichael, special Projects Manager in the TUAV IPT, says: “Delivering this complex capability on schedule in just six months has been an exciting challenge. The first in-theatre flight of H450 was conducted on June 14 2007 and initial operating capability (IOC) was declared three weeks later.”

The H-450 is now regularly flying in support of operations, providing persistent ISTAR coverage, delivering very high-quality visual and IR imagery, day and night.

Additional Tactical UAV Systems have now been delivered and operations in both theatres will ramp up providing almost continuous ISTAR support to theatre troops over a large area.

Richard Deakin, Managing Director, Thales UK’s aerospace business states: “The WATCHKEEPER Tactical UAV System will provide this capability, and more, to the Land Component Commander when it enters service. As Prime Contractor for Watchkeeper, Thales UK investigated possibilities for short-term solutions by using off the shelf Tactical UAV Systems and having been awarded the H-450 contract is now working with the MoD to use the operational experience gained to reduce risk on the Watchkeeper development and to support other Watchkeeper lines of development.”

“WATCHKEEPER is a system that will form a key part of the UK’s network enabled capability – a capable and reliable UAV carrying highly advanced sensors, linked to a comprehensive network of command, control, exploitation and dissemination elements” adds Deakin, “The system’s reliability is proven and Thales will now offer a variant of the new air vehicle to customers outside of the UK WATCHKEEPER programme.”

Details available from Thales UK, Tel.:+44 (0)1932 824832.

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