Feeds

UK's Watchkeeper drone in first autonomous flight

Over Israel

The Power of One Infographic

The British Army's new Watchkeeper robotic surveillance aircraft has made its first autonomous test flight, carrying out a full mission without remote piloting. The tests took place in Israel, at a facility operated by Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit.

Watchkeeper is being made jointly by Thales UK, the British arm of the French weaponry giant, and Elbit. The software used in the Ground Control Station (GCS) for the latest test flight was written at Thales' Crawley facility.

"This is another major step forward on the WATCHKEEPER programme," said Thales' Mark Barclay. "We have made steady progress since the contract was signed in 2005 and I am particularly pleased that Thales and our external partners continue to deliver in line with the agreed customer schedule."

Under the Watchkeeper programme the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) will pay £860m to acquire 54 aircraft and supporting items like spares and ground stations, putting each one at approximately £16m. Watchkeepers are relatively small, able to operate from short or rough airstrips. They will carry a ground-scanning radar system able to pick out moving targets such as vehicles, and an electro-optical camera system.

Watchkeepers won't be armed, but will be able to designate targets with a laser-dot pointer to be hit by smartbombs or missiles from other aircraft. The Watchkeepers will be some of the first large roboplanes to fly hands-off, without a formally-qualified "pilot". Rather, they will typically be under the supervision of a suitably trained Army non-com.

The US Army has a similar plan to use larger "Sky Warrior" aircraft, likewise flying themselves and operated by noncommissioned tech specialists rather than officer pilots. However, the Sky warrior - a variant on the established, remote-piloted Predator already in service with the US air force and CIA - will be armed, generally carrying four Hellfire missiles.

The US Army Sky Warrior programme is intended to field a fleet of 132 aircraft with ground stations spares and other support for approximately $1bn - or $7.5m per aircraft.

The Watchkeeper test programme is set to continue next year in the UK, at the new ParcAberporth flagship UAV facility in Wales. Meanwhile, the MoD is using a fleet of rented Hermes 450s - the Israeli aircraft on which the Watchkeeper is based - in Afghanistan. ®

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

More from The Register

next story
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Sit back down, Julian Assange™, you're not going anywhere just yet
Swedish court refuses to withdraw arrest warrant
UK Parliament rubber-stamps EMERGENCY data grab 'n' keep bill
Just 49 MPs oppose Drip's rushed timetable
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
Delaware pair nabbed for getting saucy atop Mexican eatery
Burrito meets soft taco in alleged rooftop romp outrage
LightSquared backer sues FCC over spectrum shindy
Why, we might as well have been buying AIR
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.