The British Army is expected to induct the long awaitedUAV system with its field units, following Release To Service (RTS) by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD). Unfortunately, this milestone is achieved three years behind schedule.
Certified to the same safety standard as manned aircraft,
is the first UAS to be awarded a full (RTS) and is the only UAS of its
type allowed to fly in UK airspace. Although 26 air vehicles and 14
ground systems already produced, lack of the formal safety clearance
prevented the full induction of the drone with Army units. is on contract to deliver 28 additional systems and one additional ground system.
Cleared for operations in the UK, the RTS will allow army crews to fly
sorties in segregated airspace, integrating with the military exercises
taking place on Salisbury Plain. The RTS follows the announcement (24
February) that the British Army will begin training flights from
Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. Sofar the drone operations were restricted
to testing and evaluation – nearly 1000 flight hours were performed by
the operators of the prime contractor, , 600 of these flights were performed in the approved test airspace near Parc Aberporth, West Wales.
Col Craig Palmer of the British Army commended the high safety levels
demonstrated by the new system, “The safety bar for Watchkeeper has been
set very high. The detailed reviews and testing of the whole system
have provided significant evidence that the system is maturing rapidly;
sufficiently enough to support an RTS recommendation.” Over the coming
weeks the pilots and support crews of 1st Artillery Brigade will be
trained to fly the drones in a restricted airspace over the Salisbury
Plain Training Area. The flights, which will take place between 8,000
and 16,000 feet, will be overseen by military air traffic controllers.
“The process of achieving RTS and the other certifications required for Watchkeeper has been ground-breaking, not only for Thales but also for the MOD and the CAA”, said Victor Chavez, CEO of . “Much painstaking work has been required by all parties to deliver the comprehensive and rigorous certification, but our collective achievement is a great one: the first tactical UAS allowed to fly in UK airspace.”
RTS is the formal statement, on behalf of the Chief of General Staff,
that an acceptable safety case has been prepared for the aircraft and
its equipment. An RTS is required for all aircraft (manned and unmanned)
subject to Military Aviation Authority (MAA) regulated service flying,
and is written for the aircrew and engineers responsible for the
day-to-day supervision of flying operations and the desk officers
responsible for developing policy and procedures.
is a high-performance, multi-sensor, all-weather UAS that can remain
airborne for more than 16 hours in a single mission. These unarmed
tactical UAS will be deployed by the British Army surveillance,
reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and target acquisition missions,
in support of military operations at supporting brigade-level and below.
Watchkeeper is expected to remain in service at least until 2040.
has been developed by Thales with strong support from its supply chain,
including UAV Tactical Systems Limited (U-TacS), which was established
at contract award as a joint venture company between Thales and .