15 April 2010
Thales UK today announces the maiden UK flight of the WATCHKEEPER unmanned air system (UAS). WATCHKEEPER flew for the first time in the UK on 14 April, taking off from dedicated facilities at Parc Aberporth in West Wales for a 20-minute flight. The Parc Aberporth facilities, managed by QinetiQ through the West Wales Unmanned Air vehicle (UAV) Centre, are the premier test facilities for UAVs in the UK.
The success of this first flight, which can be attributed to the combined efforts of the integrated Thales UK and Ministry of Defence (MoD) team, is the first milestone in a long-term programme to demonstrate that the WATCHKEEPER system meets the robust safety and airworthiness criteria required to fly UAVs initially on ranges and segregated airspace in the UK.
The WATCHKEEPER system provides enhanced capability that will enable commanders to detect and track targets for many hours without the need to deploy troops into potentially sensitive or dangerous areas. The system is capable of rapid deployment and oper¬ations anywhere in the world and will support the information require¬ments of all three services.
Commenting on this major programme milestone, Alex Dorrian, CEO of Thales UK, says: “This is a momentous accomplishment in the WATCHKEEPER programme and just one of a number of flight trials scheduled over the coming months. This milestone reflects the years of hard work by Thales UK, the MoD and other parties since the contract was signed.”
Looking forward to the plans for the rest of the year, Dorrian adds: “2010 is an important year for the programme as it will also see the opening of the WATCHKEEPER training facility based in Larkhill, and the continuation of the technical field trials at Parc Aberporth.”
Notes to Editors
WATCHKEEPER is a high-performance muilti-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 environment. Delivered in a dual-payload configuration, the system includes enhanced electro-optic / infrared sensors, with laser target designator, as well as an advanced I-Master 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 image exploitation and dissemination provides valuable intelligence for operational commanders.
Thales UK, as Prime Con¬trac¬tor for the WATCHKEEPER programme, will deliver equipment, training and facilities, with the capability being delivered to the MoD customer from late 2010. 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.
At ParcAberporth, QinetiQ provides the secure, managed accommodation for the WATCHKEEPER programme, and manages UAS access to and use of the civil airfield (West Wales Airport).
QinetiQ also delivers the provision and management of existing segregated airspace for UAS flights, and will be managing proposed new segregated airspace linking Aberporth to Sennybridge through the air traffic control unit based at the QinetiQ-managed MoD Aberporth range. Through a dedicated project support team QinetiQ provides a range of ground testing facilities and expertise to support various aspects of this programme.
About Thales and Thales UK
Thales is a global technology leader for the Aerospace and Space, Defence, Security and Transportation markets. In 2008, the company generated revenues of £10.2 billion (12.7 billion euros) with 68,000 employees in 50 countries. With its 25,000 engineers and researchers, Thales has a unique capability to design, develop and deploy equip¬ment, systems and services that meet the most complex security requirements. Thales has an exceptional international footprint, with operations around the world working with customers as local partners.
Thales UK employs 8,200 staff based at 40 locations. In 2008 Thales UK's revenues were over £1.4 bn.
Defence Matters campaign
The Defence Matters campaign, in which Thales UK is playing an active role, is an industry-wide initiative to raise public awareness of how thousands of companies,
employing hundreds of thousands of people, are supporting our Armed Forces and making a unique contribution to the British economy. For example:
- The UK output of defence companies equates to about 10% of this nation’s entire manufacturing industry
- Productivity in our industry is 15% higher than the UK manufacturing average
- In 2008 defence companies in the UK topped the list for the value of global export orders, with an order book worth £10 billion
- In 2006-07, the defence sector invested £3.34 billion in research & development, around 14% of the UK’s total R&D spend
- Including Thales there are over 3,000 companies in the UK defence industry, with a combined workforce of 305,000