As the final Thales WK450 Watchkeeper unmanned air vehicle for the British Army enters production, the company is incorporating a series of new capabilities to increase its export appeal.
The British Army’s has ordered 54 Watchkeepers - 30 operational units and 24 held in strategic reserve. All operational examples have been handed over, but the total number of deliveries is undisclosed, says Matt Moore, Thales' UAV product line manager, while noting that the final aircraft is in production.
Thales is looking to offer the Flir Systems Star Safire 380-HDc sensor in addition to the Elbit Systems-developed Compass IV: “We’re going through the process now…and will integrate [Star Safire] later this year,” says Moore.
The HD sensor fits into the same 15in (38cm) gimbal as the Compass IV, and will fly on Watchkeeper next year. Moore says the development is a Thales-driven initiative, and the army is yet to decide on whether it will opt for the new payload.
In addition, a maritime mode has been added to the Thales I-Master radar, which it is in“dialogue and discussions with the Royal Navy” about.
Watchkeeper is expected to fly with the maritime mode during the RN’s Unmanned Warrior exercise planned for late-2016, but no decision has been taken on which service will operate the UAV.
The system is also being pitched for the Polish Gryf armed tactical UAV requirement under the company's "Watchkeeper X" designation, which Thales will combine with freefall lightweight multirole missile (FFLMM).
“That integration work is happening at the moment with Thales in Belfast,” Moore says. By the end of 2016, risk reduction activities such as wind tunnel testing and safe separation trials will have been completed, ahead of first flight next year.
Although the decision-making process surrounding Gryf is sketchy, Moore says the development programme for FFLMM is compatible with the Polish acquisition timeline.
Poland may additionally require the maritime mode on the radar, Moore says.