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France, UK Advance Watchkeeper UAV Cooperation

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France and UK Take A Significant Step Towards Watchkeeper Cooperation

(Source: Thales; issued July 25, 2012)

The UK and France have moved a step forward today in demonstrating their commitment to defence cooperation under the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty with the announcement that France will undertake operational assessments and trials of the Thales Watchkeeper unmanned air system (UAS) in 2012 and 2013, with a view to cooperating with the UK on Europe’s most advanced tactical UAS system.

The announcement was made after a bi-lateral meeting in London between UK Secretary of State for Defence Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Victor Chavez, Chief Executive of Thales UK, says: “The battle-winning operational edge that UAVs bring to operations is well understood and these systems are rightly a central pillar of UK-French defence collaboration. The announcement today that France will undertake trials of Watchkeeper demonstrates both nations commitment to cooperation on the battlefield and in the development of this strategically important sector.”

Pierre Eric Pommellet, SVP of Thales Defence Mission Systems adds: “Collaboration offers perspectives for widespread benefit for both nations – shared support costs, joint development of enhancements to what is already one of the world’s most advanced tactical UAV systems, the ability to harness the capabilities and innovation of both British and French industry, and most importantly the provision of world leading intelligence capabilities for British and French Armed Forces. Joint technological, industrial and interoperability advances were at the heart of the Anglo-French Treaty, and today’s announcement demonstrates concrete progress towards those aims.”

“The Treaty has also already delivered much more than cooperation on systems - the twinning of the British Royal Artillery 32nd Regiment and the French Artillery’s 61st Regiment, whose relationship will only be deepened by joint operation of Watchkeeper, are the embodiment of the human links which are being formed across the Channel.”

Victor Chavez emphasizes: “Industrially, UAVs are central to the defence sector’s renewal over the next period, and there are huge opportunities for European companies to succeed in this growing market. Watchkeeper, as Europe’s largest UAS programme, positions Thales as a leading company in the design, development and deployment of UAS systems.”

“We continue to work closely with the UK’s Ministry of Defence towards Watchkeeper’s operational deployment. Watchkeeper is currently undergoing field trials with the British Army. We have conducted more than 400 flight trials which have clearly demonstrated its utility as a highly capable intelligence gathering asset.”

Watchkeeper is Europe’s largest tactical unmanned air system (UAS) procurement programme. The delivery of Watchkeeper equipment to the British Army is on track and over 200 hours of flying trials have taken place.

Watchkeeper will replace the Hermes 450 UAS, a Thales tactical UAV service provided as an Urgent Operational Requirement, which has already flown more than 65,000 hours in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing life-saving intelligence and reconnaissance.

The Watchkeeper system, built entirely in Europe, will deliver life saving surveillance and operational capabilities in theatre, and is also the only tactical UAV to meet European airworthiness criteria – completing over 100 flights in the UK as part of its trials programme.

Watchkeeper is a high-performance multi-sensor, all-weather UAS that can remain airborne for over 16 hours in a single mission. It includes a high degree of automation, with automatic take-off and landing (ATOL), and has a de-icing capability to expand its ability to operate in all-weather operational environments.

Delivered in a dual-payload configuration, the system includes enhanced electro-optic/infrared sensors, with laser target designator, as well as an advanced synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator radar.

The information and images are provided to a network of mobile ground control stations and remote viewing terminals, where UK military operators will control the whole mission and interface within a network-enabled environment. High-resolution optical and radar image exploitation and dissemination provides valuable intelligence for operational com-manders.

Thales UK, as Prime Contractor for the Watchkeeper programme, will also deliver equipment, training and facilities. Production of the Watchkeeper system will take place at the Thales joint venture company U-TacS (UAV Tactical Systems Ltd), based in Leicester.

Thales is a global technology leader for the defence & security and the aerospace & transport markets. In 2011 the company generated revenues of £11.4 bn (€13 bn), with 67,000 employees in 56 countries. Thales UK employs 8,000 staff based at 35 locations. In 2011 Thales UK’s revenues were around £1.4 bn.