Thursday, May 8, 2008

WATCHKEEPER UAV undertakes maiden flight

WATCHKEEPER UAV undertakes maiden flight
06 May 2008

Thales UK today announces the successful first flight of the WATCHKEEPER unmanned air vehicle (UAV) platform.
The WATCHKEEPER UAV, flown for the first time on 16 April from Megido airfield in northern Israel, is the first produced air vehicle, designed and built to meet the demanding requirements of the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

WATCHKEEPER will provide the UK armed forces with an essential intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability, and will be a key component of the UK's network enabled capability (NEC). Thales UK, as Prime Contractor for the WATCHKEEPER programme, will deliver equipment, training and facilities, with the capability coming into service from 2010.

Commenting on this major programme milestone, Richard Deakin, Managing Director of Thales' aerospace business in the UK, says: "Thales UK's WATCHKEEPER programme is on track and has been steadily moving forward since June 2007 when the company unveiled its final configuration following a Critical Design Review undertaken by the MoD. We have made tremendous progress since the contract was signed in 2005 and all the customer-agreed programme milestones have so far been met on or ahead of schedule."

Looking forward to the plans for the rest of the year he adds: "2008 is an important year for the programme as it will also see the testing and integration of the automatic take-off and landing (ATOL) system, the I-Master radar and EO/IR/LTD payloads*. The I-Master radar flight trials have been extremely encouraging. The SAR imagery seen in the initial trials is outstanding and testing the GMTI functionality has just commenced. The combination of these sensors operating in a networked manner will certainly provide a transformational step in ISTAR capability for the UK armed forces."

Production of the WATCHKEEPER system will take place at U-TacS (UAV Tactical Systems Ltd), the Thales UK and Elbit Systems joint company, based in Leicester.

Notes to editors
The WATCHKEEPER system consists of the unmanned air vehicle, with a dual-payload configuration. This includes day/night electro-optic sensors, laser target designator, as well as advanced synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator radar. The ISTAR information and images are provided to a network of highly 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 imagery will be exploited and disseminated to provide valuable intelligence for operational commanders.
The WATCHKEEPER air vehicle is fully autonomous, including ATOL, and has a de-icing capability, to expand its ability to operate in all weather operational environment. The system is capable of rapid deployment and operations anywhere in the world. WATCHKEEPER will support the information requirements of all three services.

SAR - Synthetic Aperture Radar
GMTI - Ground Moving Target Indicator
EO - Electro Optical
IR - Infra-red
LTD - Laser Target Designator
ATOL - automatic take-off and landing

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