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DSEI: Thales introduces new Watchkeeper concept for export

Thales has introduced a new concept – the WK X – to sell its Watchkeeper unmanned air vehicle to export markets.

The British Army is currently the sole operator of the WK450 Watchkeeper, but Thales is offering the WK X to France and Poland for their tactical UAV requirements.

“One product for the whole market will not be the solution,” says Pierre-Eric Pommellet, executive vice-president of defence mission systems at Thales. “We have decided to invest in a new approach called WK X.”

Described as “moving from a programme to a product”, WK X involves taking the Elbit Systems Hermes 450-derived WK450 and adding four different modules – mobility, sensors, exploitation, and effectors – to tailor it to customers' needs.

With customers demanding more sovereignty, these modules would allow in-country supply chains to be incorporated into export programmes.

France is acquiring a tactical UAV and is in the process choosing between two bids – thought to be the Watchkeeper and Sagem's Patroller system.

Thales says that it submitted its final bid to the French defence ministry in September following a series of flight trials in Wales in June with a British Army Watchkeeper. It is understood that Paris requires 14 aircraft in total.

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Poland has not yet released an official tender for a tactical UAV, but is understood to be in discussions about what its armed forces require.

A request for information was issued in 2014, but Polish parliamentary elections in October will push back the release of a request for proposal until the following months.

The procurement process is still not clear. It could be an open tender, commercial off-the-shelf sale, or a government-to-government deal. There is also the possibility that the government will require a Polish prime contractor.

Poland wants an armed tactical UAV, so weapons would need to be integrated with the Watchkeeper platform. Thales’ Free Fall Lightweight Multirole Missile is an option that has been touted, but Matt Moore, head of Thales UK’s UAV business, says that this will not be tested on board Watchkeeper until a customer requires it.

“It is speculative, but of all the players I think we are the most flexible,” says Mark Stevens, director of international business development at Thales UK. “I don’t think Poland can make a decision of this magnitude before the election.”

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