The UK will place a £700 million ($1.2 billion) contract for its Watchkeeper unmanned air vehicle system within the next few weeks, according to Ministry of Defence and industry sources. To achieve a revised 2010 in-service date with the British Army’s 32 Regiment Royal Artillery, the surveillance system will be delivered by prime contractor Thales UK and include WK450 air vehicles with an endurance of up to 16h.

UK defence minister John Reid on 20 July announced a “green light” to conclude the Watchkeeper deal, a contract for which had originally been expected late last year for initial operations during 2006 (Flight International, 27 July–2 August 2004). “As the largest single contract for Thales UK to date it will be an important moment for us and one we have all worked toward for a long time,” says Thales UK chief executive Alex Dorrian.

Army officials, meanwhile, confirm the UK will have to address a capability gap between the retirement of its BAE Systems Phoenix UAVs and the availability of its new WK450s. These modified variants of Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 will be manufactured in the UK.

Source: Flight International