Watchkeeper keeps time

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The UK’s Watchkeeper unmanned air vehicle programme moved a step closer to production last week, with the establishment of a joint venture company between prime contractor Thales UK and airframe designer Elbit Systems of Israel, writes Craig Hoyle.

Officially established with the receipt of an almost £320 million ($570 million), eight-year subcontract from Thales, UAV Tactical Systems (U-Tacs) will initially employ 50 personnel in Leicester, although this number is expected to double. The site will be used during the development, manufacture and in-service support of subsystems for the UK’s Watchkeeper 450 tactical UAVs, operations of which should begin in 2010. Elbit will receive around one-third of U-Tacs business, it says.