The new issue of Flight International includes a two-page feature on the UK’s glacial-paced Watchkeeper unmanned air system programme, which harks back to the legacy of the British Army’s earlier Phoenix: a UAV so unreliable that it was nicknamed the “Bugger off”, due to the at-times slim chance of it actually returning from a mission.
Where are all the Watchkeepers?
By Craig Hoyle on 16 April, 2013 in Uncategorised
These are worrying times for the UK military’s UAS community. Despite having been first flown in Israel five years ago, Watchkeeper is still without a publicised entry into service schedule, although it is now roughly three years late. An announcement on that is expected later this year, but with the drawdown in Afghanistan only to gather pace, it’s possible that the army’s new tactical UAV capability (Crown Copyright image below) might never serve there.
We have to guess a bit about the main factors behind the major delay in getting this enhanced system into the air in Afghanistan, but it’s likely to be a combination of the high accident rate involving the army’s interim use of Hermes 450s (eight crashes), French interest in the system (why make it harder to incorporate changes for Paris if it could yet decide to get onboard?) and the dreaded certification process.
In February, the Ministry of Defence told me that it had taken delivery of exactly one-third of the army’s eventual 54 Watchkeeper UAVs, plus nine of the programme’s contracted 15 ground control stations. It didn’t tell me where this mass of kit is currently gathering dust, though. For its part, prime contractor Thales UK didn’t respond to requests to comment. Pity.
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