> our title:

UK Auditor Keeps Watchkeeper on Red List, MoD to Set New FOC Date

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UK National Audit Office Puts Watchkeeper UAV on Red List As MoD Reviews Program

(Source: Defense-Aerospace.com; published Feb 04, 2014)

PARIS --- In a report issued today, the UK’s National Audit Office revealed that it has placed the Watchkeeper UAV program on its “red list” of projects of major concern, and that the program is being reviewed by the Ministry of Defence to determine new in-service dates.

The NAO also reveals the program’s cost has increased to £1,079.1 million.

A Thales UK spokesman did not respond to several requests for comment by telephone and messaging.

The report on Watchkeeper is included in the NAO’s Major Projects Authority Annual Report 2012-13, released today, and can be found in its Appendix One, page 38.

Here is the NAO’s assessment of Watchkeeper:

Watchkeeper Programme, Ministry of Defence

-- Start date: 1 March 1998
-- Whole-life cost: £1,079.1 million

Overview and objectives
Watchkeeper is a system of unmanned air vehicles, sensors, data links and ground control stations. It will provide a 24-hour, all-weather, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capability supplying high-quality imagery to support decision-making. Watchkeeper will be delivered incrementally to allow the system to benefit from both existing and emerging technologies.

The new system was intended to reach Initial Operating Capability by June 2010 and Full Operating Capability in 2013.

Reason for red rating in September 2012
The red rating reflects the delay in achieving Release to Service. The programme has been slowed by more stringent software certification requirements than anticipated, the rectification of a small number of safety-critical deficiencies in the system’s technical publications, and errors in the training courseware.

Action taken since September 2012
The Authority reviewed the programme schedule and contract at the end of 2012 and further risks were identified in February 2013. In September 2013, the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) provided a Statement of Type Design Assurance for Watchkeeper, confirming its airworthiness. Training on the new system began in January 2014.

Current status
In March 2013, the Authority raised serious concerns that the Release to Service date would not be met, but acknowledged that the target of reaching Full Operating Capability of Watchkeeper in September 2015 was more attainable.

A Departmental review of the programme is under way, to set new targets for Initial Operating Capability/Full Operating Capability stages. These changes will be submitted to the MoD Investment and Approvals Committee for approval in early 2014, along with a revised longer-term programme schedule. The revised plans will incorporate enhancements to the training regime and revised assurance processes.

Equipment deliveries remain on track and over 900 hours of flight trials have taken place, as of October 2013.

Planned actions and timetable for implementation
The programme is scheduled for initial Release to Service in early 2014. The timetable for achieving Full Operating Capability will be set as part of the Department’s current review.

The Authority and HM Treasury continue to work with the programme team to understand the ongoing impact of the increased regulatory and training requirements, and the consequent risk of delays.

Click here for the full report (49 PDF pages) on the NAO website.