Technology firm Qinetiq is to provide the UK Ministry of Defence with airborne and ground-based testing work for its unmanned air vehicle operations, in a contract worth £5m ($10.3 million).

The deal forms part of the Thales UK-led Watchkeeper UAV programme, and means that Qinetiq will carry out a variety of airborne test and evaluation elements at ParcAberporth, Wales, over the next 18 months, also using the MoD's adjoining Aberporth air range.

Ground-based work will also be conducted using Qinetiq-operated facilities at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, to enable a range of pre-flight activity including environmental and electromagnetic compatibility testing. Worth £900 million, the UK's Watchkeeper system is scheduled to achieve a June 2010 in-service date, according to the UK National Audit Office's Major Projects Report 2007.

Administered through the West Wales UAV Centre, Qinetiq will work with West Wales Airport, which last year secured approvals to deliver UAV support services for both civil and military clients.