The British Army's Watchkeeper unmanned air system programme has made sufficient recent progress to escape inclusion on the UK Ministry of Defence's new Projects of Concern list, defence secretary Dr Liam Fox has confirmed.

Aiming to deliver a fleet of WK450 air vehicles and associated equipment for tactical intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks, the Watchkeeper project had been among three late-running acquisitions discussed during the first meeting of the Major Projects Review Board (MPRB) in June.

Contractors were warned that a failure to demonstrate satisfactory progress over the following three months would see them "named and shamed" on a formal Projects of Concern list.

On 1 October, the MoD confirmed that two of the reviewed programmes - the Thales UK/Elbit Systems-developed Watchkeeper and the Falcon secure communications system - had made progress, and would not go on the list.

 Watchkeeper Aberporth - Thales UK

© Thales UK

As detailed in June, the first WK450 air vehicles and equipment are due to be deployed to Afghanistan late this year, before entering frontline use in the first quarter of 2012.

"It is clear that the additional rigour and scrutiny being applied through the Major Projects Review Board is having a beneficial effect on the behaviours of our suppliers," Fox said.

However, the Royal Navy's Valiant jetty programme was included on the list, with the effort to provide submarine basing infrastructure running about four years behind schedule and an estimated £92 million ($143 million), or 70% over budget.

The MPRB will hold its next meeting in December. The body was established to scrutinise the MoD's top 50 equipment procurement projects, which have a combined value of more than £100 billion.

Source: Flight International