Feeds

Blighty's expensive Watchkeeper spy-drone in further delays

Extra bonuses: It's unarmed and needs Israeli support

Application security programs and practises

Artillery can't afford armed drones - or don't want them?

The new Watchkeepers will be somewhat enhanced over ordinary Hermes 450s, as they will possess ground-sweeping, man- or vehicle-tracking I-Master surveillance radar as well as electro-optical cameras. The I-Master draws on radar expertise from Thales' UK operations as well as its French roots.

British Army UOR Hermes 450 in Afghanistan. credit: Thales

What's doing the job now. That extra bulge under the Watchkeeper is certainly taking a long time to stick on.

It seems quite clear that British Watchkeepers won't ever be armed, though Thales have exhibited mockup armed Watchkeepers at arms fairs. The UK craft, however, are intended for the Royal Artillery, which has two excellent reasons not to want them armed: firstly this would mean an almost certain turf grab from the RAF, and second an armed Watchkeeper would offer fewer opportunities for directing in strikes from mainstream artillery units. Furthermore it would cast doubt on the raison d'etre of the Royal Artillery's Fire Shadow prowler-bomb ("loitering munition") project.

For comparison purposes, the US Army intends to field a 132-strong fleet of its Sky Warrior roboplanes, modified and upgraded versions of the famous Predator which require no trained aeroplane pilot to operate them. These, like Watchkeeper, are equipped with radar and spyeye. They also carry Hellfire missiles (the same type used by British and US Apache attack copters), a favourite precision strike weapon widely used in recent and ongoing wars.

The Sky Warrior is being delivered now and its manufacturer says it has spare production capacity.

The US expects to pay no more than $7.5m per fully equipped Sky Warrior, as opposed to the UK's $27m, unarmed Watchkeepers.

Watchkeeper is supposed to be creating 2,000 jobs in the UK - for as long as the assembly lines run, anyway. It would be possible, alternatively, to buy 54 Sky Warriors which would be more powerful and cheaper to run (being part of a larger fleet, able to use many Predator parts). Then the 2,000 UK people could simply be hired at an average of £32,000pa to do nothing for five years, at least as long as the present UK workers will be kept in work by the Watchkeeper buy.

And we would still, in that scenario, have saved well over £300m toward the government's economy drive.

Meanwhile Watchkeeper is even further behind schedule, so our troops fighting overseas will wait even longer for their much-in-demand airborne spyeyes.

Comment

This project isn't about jobs or British industry or weapons for the armed forces. What it's mainly doing is pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into French and Israeli arms companies. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
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.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.