The UK Ministry of Defence and Thales UK have signed the long-awaited £700 million ($1.2 billion) contract for the development, manufacture and initial support of the Watchkeeper unmanned air vehicle system. The system is due to come into service in 2010.

Thales UK chief executive Alex Dorrian says the company expects to “secure export sales of at least £400 million over the next 10 years”.

The system will comprise WK450 UAVs with an endurance of more than 16h to be operated by the Royal Artillery. Thales UK says it will announce details of its selected payload and synthetic- aperture radar/ground moving-target indicator suite shortly.

Thales UK and Israel’s Elbit Systems have set up a Leicester-based joint venture to manufacture, support and upgrade tactical UAV subsystems for Watchkeeper and other UAV systems. Thales says “a significant Watchkeeper contract will be placed with the joint venture in the forthcoming weeks”. Elbit estimates the value of the contract at £300 million.

Source: Flight International