Thales UK has been awarded a contract worth £55 million ($82.5 million) to support the British Army's Watchkeeper 450 tactical unmanned air vehicle system during its first three years of use.
Announced in the UK Defence Equipment and Support organisation's Desider publication, the deal covers the provision by Thales of "initial provisioning and support spares, repairs and maintenance", it says.
"This milestone keeps the programme on track to achieve the in-service date later this year and deliver capability into theatre as soon as possible," says Steve Waller, Watchkeeper programme manager for DE&S's unmanned air systems integrated project team.
© Thales UK
Produced by Thales/Elbit Systems joint venture U-TacS, the WK450 will become "the primary source of tactical ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance] support to UK forces in Afghanistan from later this year", DE&S says.
Thales has also acted as prime contractor in delivering an interim tactical UAV service in Afghanistan and previously Iraq using leased Elbit Hermes 450 air vehicles. The WK450 has been developed from the Israeli design. It features dual mission payloads and has an increased maximum take-off weight and strengthened landing gear.
Flight-testing of the WK450 is expected to start in the UK soon, with the work to take place from the ParcAberporth UAV centre at West Wales airport. Thales had previously expected this to begin late in 2009, having started ground trials at the site in July.
All previous flight development activities involving the new UAV were conducted in Israel, with the first example having made its debut flight in April 2008.