09 Mar 04. Former Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Roger Wheeler set the scene with regard to the Thales offering for the UK Watchkeeper programme. In a concise speech he laid out to the audience at the Army & Navy Club the military reasoning behind the need for a Tactical UAV system such as Watchkeeper. Sir Roger has the depth of knowledge and combat experience in areas such as Northern Ireland where he was GOC for four years, Bosnia, Kosovo and The Gulf to recognize the military value of such systems, “We could have done with Tactical UAVs in all those places,” he said. His speech outlined that prior to the use of Tactical UAVs in Operation Desert Storm, the military Battlegroup, Brigade and Divisional Commanders relied on satellite and manned airborne systems which were slow and difficult to task, supported by ground recce elements; these did not have extended range and were not 24/7 available. He said that Tactical UAVs were clearly a ‘Force Multiplier’ which coupled to today’s advanced C4I systems gave today’s commanders a networked enabled capability which enabled today’s armies to ‘get inside the enemy’s decision making systems in real time and ‘see over the hill.’ The use of Phoenix for the first use off Phoenix in the Kosovo had clearly demonstrated the benefit of day/night 24/7 reconnaissance capability that UAVS, supplied with a downlink, gave the tactical commander battlefield information well beyond current capability; thus the Israelis have used UAVs for 25 years in their various conflicts.
Alex Cresswell then gave details of the Thales offering and its partners involvement.
“Thales would base its UAV business in Britain if it wins the £800m Watchkeeper programme, the biggest in Europe. We have had talks with Elbit with regard to the division of the world markets. The first UAVs would be delivered direct from Elbit to ensure the ISD of 2006 whilst subsequent systems would be built and supported in the UK. Full details of its plans after the bidding date, including where in Britain components such as airframes, engines, sensors and ground stations will be manufactured, the spokesman said. Thales plans to help the UK create a UAV business to support Watchkeeper and beyond for the UK and the export market worth an estimated £1.5bn over the next 10 years.” he said.
Boeing joined the Thales consortium on Monday, just 10 days before two groups are due to present final bids to the MoD on March 18. Boeing will support future U.S.-UK interoperability and do work on scheduled upgrades through the life of the programme. Thales UK and Boeing will work together on the WATCHKEEPER programme. This future work with Boeing will add to the strong interoperability already built into the Thales WATCHKEEPER solution with the assistance of Cubic Corporation; a team member. Interoperability already includes adoption of relevant international standards for imagery transfer and the use of NATO standard datalinks, as used by US forces. Thales, with ISTAR programmes throughout Europe, is ideally placed to ensure that WATCHKEEPER is capable of deployment with all coalition partners from within NATO, Europe and the US.
“The Boeing link will give us crucial access to the expertise on the X-46 UCAV and other US UAV programmes. We expect the evaluation process to be complete in early summer with an announcement of the preferred bidder in mid 2004 after the summer recess,” Cresswell said
Other firms in the Thales bid, which offers both a medium-altitude and high-altitude UAV, include Israel’s Elbit Systems (NasdaqNM:ESLT – News), LogicaCMG (London:LOG.L – News), providing the tactical comms interfaces wioth BOWMAN in particular, Cubic Corp (AMEX:CUB – News), providing the datalinks, Vega Group Plc (London:VEG.L – News), providing the training package and Marshall SV providing the Ground System shelters and specially equipped Supacat HMT vehicles.
Thales UK and Boeing will undertake joint activities to ensure future