Thales UK’s Watchkeeper program is moving forward, with the first production unmanned air vehicle (UAV) platform flying since April this year. The first flight took place in Israel, the second aircraft is being completed by U-TacS, the joint venture company established by Thales UK and Elbit Systems in England. Flight testing is expected to continue in Israel until fall, focusing on envelope expansion, airworthiness and testing of the sensors. By fall the first and second aircraft will transition to ParcAberporth in Wales, where special corridor and operating airspace have been established for these unmanned aerial systems.
“The coming months are critical for the program” said Alex Dorrian, Thales UK Chief executive Officer. With the platform undergoing flight testing, the next steps will include integration and testing of the EO/IR/laser target designation capabilities, automatic takeoff and landing and the I-Master radar and dual payload flights.
Watchkeeper will provide real-time imagery and situational awareness enabling commanders on the ground to gain a detailed picture of the battlespace and to make timely decisions accordingly. The system will be configured with a dual payload as standard, comprising of the D-Compass, an electro-optical payload and Thales I-Master synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). “The SAR imagery seen in initial trials of I-Master is outstanding and testing of the Ground Moving Target Indication (GMTI) functionality is well underway” said Dorrian. “The combination of the radar and EO/IR sensors operating form a tactical platform will provide a transformational step in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability for the UK armed forces”.
According to Nick Miller, Business Director, UAV Systems at Thales, the system is designed for a high degree of autonomy, supporting autonomous takeoff and landing (ATOL). This system will be capable of operating in all weather conditions, using GPS and radar navigational systems, determining the direction and approach glide slope in regular as well as GPS-denied conditions.