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04 Aug 05. The U.K. MoD and Thales UK have signed a contract worth £700 million for the full Development, Manufacture and Initial Support (DMIS) phases of the WATCHKEEPER programme. WATCHKEEPER will provide the UK armed forces with an essential Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability based on an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) system and will be a key component of the UK’s Network Enabled Capability (NEC).

This programme will deliver equipment, training and facilities, with the capability coming into service from 2010.

WATCHKEEPER will provide UK Armed Forces with all weather day and night surveillance in times of war, tension or during peace-keeping operations, without the need to deploy troops into sensitive areas or harmful situations. The WATCHKEEPER system can provide continuous 24/7 surveillance when needed, using unmanned air vehicles able to stay airborne for more than 16 hours each.

The WATCHKEEPER system consists of the WK450 unmanned air vehicle carrying day/night sensors and laser target designator connected by a data link to a network of containerised Ground Control Stations where Army 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 system is capable of rapid deployment and operations anywhere in the world. WATCHKEEPER will support the information requirements of all three services and will be operated by the Royal Artillery.

Alex Dorrian, CEO Thales UK said, “As the largest single contract for Thales UK to date this is an important moment for us and one we have all worked toward for a long time. We will continue to work closely with the MoD in order to deliver an excellent operational capability on time, on budget and to requirement. Based on this endorsement of our solution, we expect to secure export sales of at least £400 million over the next ten years.”

Denis Ranque, Thales Chairman and CEO added, “I am delighted with this decision, which firmly establishes Thales in the global UAV systems market and reinforces our position as a major British defence company and trusted prime contractor. It also demonstrates our strong ISTAR and NEC capabilities that are so key to the future strategy of Thales UK and the British armed forces. Thales intends to leverage these capabilities to offer similar systems in Europe and abroad.”

The Thales UK WATCHKEEPER solution will create or sustain up to 2100 jobs, all of which will be in the UK. These high technology jobs in systems integration, prime contracting, engineering and manufacturing will be within Thales UK, the Thales WATCHKEEPER team companies and throughout the UK supply chain. Exports are expected to increase this total to 2500.
Thales UK has established a JV company with Elbit Systems in Leicester to manufacture, support and upgrade tactical UAV sub-systems for both WATCHKEEPER and the rapidly growing worldwide UAV systems market which is estimated to be worth around £3bn over the next 10 years. A significant WATCHKEEPER subcontract will be placed with the JV in the forthcoming weeks.

The total value of the programme is approximately £800m, consisting of the contract worth around £700 million to Thales, MoD costs for programme Management, Government Furnished Equipment and infrastructure.

There have been two main improvements to the system since Thales was selected as preferred bidder in July of 2004:

WATCHKEEPER will provide 24 hours a day persistent ISTAR for British Forces. Where needed, two unmanned air vehicles will operate in combination (for example to allow operations by one air vehicle at low levels below clouds while maintaining line of sight communications via a second UAV flying at higher levels (acting as a communications relay). These air vehicles will now be of the same type (WK450) provi

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