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WATCHKEEPER – NEARLY THERE?

15 Jul 05. The PQ on Watchkeeper published this week as below indicates that the MoD is ‘considering’ the proposal from Thales, not confirming the purchase of.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether his Department is evaluating the benefits to the UK of producing in the UK unmanned aerial vehicles with (a) offensive, (b) defensive and (c) observational capabilities. [6832]

Mr. Ingram: The Ministry of Defence is pursuing a twin-track strategy to explore the conceptual thinking and underlying technology for unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs). The former involves participation in the US Joint Unmanned Combat Air System Programme concept work. The latter is focused on ensuring the UK is able to make intelligent choices with respect to UCAV design, technology development and manufacture, and is intended to enhance the UK’s industrial position to undertake either an indigenous or collaborative programme should a firm military requirement for UCAVs emerge in the future. Under our Defence Industrial Policy we routinely consider the benefits of producing new defence equipment in the UK when taking procurement decisions.

In addition, we are considering a proposal from Thales UK as preferred bidder for a tactical unmanned air vehicles (UAV) system manufactured in the UK to meet the Watchkeeper requirement for an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capability. We will make an announcement on this as soon as possible.

As our readers can see the last sentence says, ‘We will make an announcement on this as soon as possible.’ This appears to contradict the statement of Thales Supremo Denis Ranque who said that the contract had been confirmed at ‘over €1bn,’ (See BATTLESPACE PARIS EXHIBITION NEWS Vol.7 ISSUE 2, 13th June 2005, U.K. Watchkeeper Programme to be signed in weeks). What this current PQ may be stating and this is reflected in conversations with sources is that a contract is in place ‘subject to’ various technical difficulties being resolved. These are believed to include auto take-off and land, de-icing and a new undercarriage to accommodate unprepared runway sorties. (How can you have a tactical UAV that cannot operate off unprepared runways!?) Thales said that it ‘hoped’ to have a contract in place by the recess but, these technical difficulties could also be compounded by the current study into the requirement for UAVs to have collision avoidance systems and IFF, particularly when operating from the RAF’s operational runways. But a new robust undercarriage would indicate a significant weight increase which, coupled to the new IFF requirements, could leave little room for advanced payloads?

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