07 Apr 05. Thales has updated BATTLESPACE on the progress towards the Main Gate date for the contract. Tim Orr PR Director at Thales told BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold that, “ The ISD is a matter for declaration by MoD and will be decided at Main Gate. We are expecting a Main gate decision soon. One air vehicle is, and has always been, an option under consideration; a single fleet of 450s would have certain capability benefits. A final decision will be subject to MOD decisions at Main Gate. The overall budget has not changed. Funding profile will match delivery requirements. Performance requirements have not been reduced – Key User requirements are unchanged.”
BATTLESPACE had heard that the MoD may be considering an interim buy of mini-UAVs. “We cannot comment on the MOD’s aspirations for Mini UAVs as they are not part of the WK programme,” Orr said
BATTLESPACE had also heard that the existing fleet of some 60 Phoenix UAVs will be life-extended to 2008, “Phoenix life is a matter for MoD.”
However when the Editor questioned Thales about the proposed Air Worthiness Certificate, the spokesman said that it would be granted after contract award. BATTLESPACE understands that no UAV has such a certificate at the moment and that the RAF in particular is concerned about the control methods for the 450 which requires a man with a box to land the system at the end of the runway. Also the 450 would be seen as quite large for the role envisaged for the 180. Also there has been no announcement from the Mod as to the user of the system. Geoff Hoon said at Farnbrough that the user had not been decided. If the RAF is to operate Watchkeeper it will have to be sure that the system and the operators match the grueling requirements of flying with its fleet of fast jets. Given that Watchkeeper was supposed to be an off-the-shelf buy, a ten year gestation period is somewhat lengthy for such a system!