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Cost of British Army UAV Jumps to £1.2 Bn

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UK's £1.2bn Bill for Drone That's Seen 146 Hours of Active Duty (excerpt)

(Source: The Guardian; published Oct 2, 2015)

Watchkeeper surveillance drones commissioned in 2005 have only completed six days of active duty in total after a decade in development.

A British army drone developed as an affordable solution is four years late and expected to cost £1.2bn to become fully operational, an investigation has found.

The order to design and build 54 Watchkeeper surveillance drones was announced by the then defence secretary John Reid in 2005, who said they would be “key to battlefield surveillance of the future”. He signed off on costs of about £800m, with the contract going to a consortium led by the French defence firm Thales.

The first Watchkeeper drones were expected to enter service from 2010 and be fully operational by 2013, but software glitches and army staff shortages have meant the date is now 2017 at the earliest.

A joint investigation by the non-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Guardian has revealed that the project is expected to cost significantly more than originally planned.

After 10 years in development, only three Watchkeeper drones have seen active duty, arriving in Afghanistan weeks before last year’s troop withdrawal. The drones flew for a total of 146 hours, equivalent to two days each, before British forces left the country.

So far, 33 of the 54 Watchkeeper drones have been delivered. Eight are being used for army training on Salisbury Plain, while most are boxed up and in storage.

Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said Watchkeeper was “just the latest of a string of examples of overdue and overcost defence equipment projects”.

He said: “Only too often in defence procurement, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And there is no point striving for perfection if it arrives too late to actually do the job.” (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the Guardian website.