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British Army’s Watchkeeper UAV Flies First Missions In Afghanistan

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Army’s Next Generation Eye-In-The-Sky Takes Flight In Afghanistan

(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued Sept 29, 2014)


The British Army shipped its long-delayed Watchkeeper tactical UAV to Afghanistan and began flying ISR missions there before making it public on Sept 29, three months before it is to pull out its last troops deployed there. (UK MoD photo)


The Ministry of Defence has announced that the Army’s next generation of Unmanned Air System (UAS), Watchkeeper, is now fully operational in Afghanistan.

This new capability is providing force protection for British troops as they prepare to draw down from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

Footage released today shows Watchkeeper carrying out surveillance tasks and gaining situational awareness via its cutting edge cameras and radar capability, a new asset for the UK’s Armed Forces.

Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, made the announcement on a visit to Kabul alongside Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, who also visited Camp Bastion where he met the Army personnel and saw Watchkeeper flying operationally.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

“Watchkeeper is the first Unmanned Air System developed and built in the UK to become operational and will be a significant surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Army for years to come. There is no doubt that it will prove to be a battle-winning technology.

“Watchkeeper will provide real-time information for troops conducting operations on the ground, allowing them to understand better and thereby overcome threats they may face.”

Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton said:

“I was delighted to see Watchkeeper in operational use earlier this week when I visited British and ISAF forces in Afghanistan.

The enhanced real-time situational awareness Watchkeeper provides means that our local understanding is greater, our tactical decisions better informed and that, ultimately, personnel on the ground are safer.”

Watchkeeper pilot and payload operator, Sgt Alex Buchanan, said:

"It's been a real privilege to be the first to fly the Army's new Watchkeeper Remotely Piloted Air System on operations. It's an amazing capability and has already provided important information to the troops, enhancing the safety of everyone that lives and works at Bastion. The video and images we provide are a bit like what you might have seen during police chases on TV, the main differences are the videos and pictures are a much higher resolution and we fly the aircraft from a control centre on the ground."

Gathering crucial information from the battlefield, Watchkeeper, built by Thales UK, will provide UK troops with life-saving surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence. It will also give personnel on the ground greater situational awareness, helping to reduce the risk of threats.

Before reaching this milestone, Watchkeeper, which is unarmed, underwent extensive flight trials at West Wales Airport, Parc Aberporth followed by the Army’s highly skilled pilots completing their training at Boscombe Down airfield. Following the handover of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, the Unmanned Air System will return home to Wiltshire where Royal Artillery troops will continue to train with the system in a restricted airspace over Salisbury Plain.


(EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite continuing claims that Watchkeeper is a UK-developed system, it in fact is based on an Elbit Hermes 450 airframe and it and its components are developed by UK companies in which Elbit has a majority share.)

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Thales Welcomes Watchkeeper Operations for British Army in Afghanistan

(Source: Thales; issued Sept 29, 2014)

NEUILLY-SUR-SEINE, France --- The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) today announced the first operational flights in Afghanistan of Thales’s unmanned air system, Watchkeeper.

Commenting on the announcement, Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales UK, said: "It is a proud moment for everyone at Thales to receive the great news that Watchkeeper is operational in Afghanistan, supporting and protecting British forces on the ground. It is an important milestone for the MOD, Thales and the wider European aerospace industry, made possible by its ground-breaking safety certification.

The system embodies a number of major technological innovations including ultrahigh resolution, multi-modal radar and automatic take-off and landing to deliver an outstandingly effective military capability for the British Army.”

The news comes as other countries assess Watchkeeper for their tactical unmanned requirements.

Thales is the prime contractor for Watchkeeper. The programme has established the company as a leader in unmanned air systems, setting new benchmarks in safety. Watchkeeper secured the first Statement of Type Design Assurance from the Military Aviation Authority for an unmanned air system, a critical step to ensure the best in class system.

Watchkeeper was given a Release To Service (RTS) in March 2014.

Thales has also delivered a new comprehensive training capability based at MOD Larkhill and Boscombe Down, and has helped to establish Aberporth, West Wales as a leading UAV Testing Centre in Europe.

Watchkeeper is a dual sensor, all-weather system that can provide round-the-clock intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, anywhere in the world.

“Watchkeeper is the first Unmanned Air System developed and built in the UK to become operational and will be a significant surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Army for years to come.

There is no doubt that it will prove to be a battle-winning technology. Watchkeeper will provide real-time information for troops conducting operations on the ground, allowing them to understand better and thereby overcome threats they may face. ”
Michael Fallon, British Defence Secretary

KEY POINTS:
 Watchkeeper begins operations in Afghanistan.
 Providing information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support and protection for British forces.
 Major milestone for Europe’s leading tactical UAV.


Thales is a global technology leader in the Aerospace, Transportation and Defence & Security markets. In 2013, the company generated revenues of €14.2 billion (equivalent to £11.5 billion) with 65,000 employees in 56 countries. Thales UK employs 7,500 staff based at 35 locations. In 2013 Thales UK’s revenues were around £1.3 billion.

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