Qatar picks Thales for optionally-piloted aircraft project

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Qatar’s armed forces have signed a memorandum of understanding with Thales linked to the development of an optionally-piloted aircraft to be used during intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) tasks.

“The airframe selected by the Qatar armed forces will be integrated with a mission systems capability to enable the optionally-piloted capability,” says Thales, following a signing ceremony conducted during the DIMDEX exhibition in Doha on 27 March.

“Unimpeded by a human’s physiological limitations, an OPV [optionally-piloted vehicle] is able to operate under more adverse conditions and/or for greater endurance times,” the French company says. Under the terms of the agreement, the company will also be responsible for providing “a full, end-to-end training solution” to the Gulf state.

Further details about the arrangement – including potential candidate airframe types – have not been revealed.

Thales’s experience in the unmanned systems sector includes its UK operating unit’s role as prime contractor for the British Army’s Watchkeeper tactical ISTAR system. It also produces sensors suitable for carriage by such aircraft, including the I-Master synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication payload.

The company is also part of a Dassault-led team which is offering the Rafale multirole fighter to meet the Qatar Emiri air force’s future requirements. The French bid faces competition from types including the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin’s F-16.