UK Army cleared to fly next-gen eye-in-the-sky


Ap­proval has been given for the Bri­tish Army’s own pi­lots to be­gin live-fly­ing the un­armed Watch­keeper from Boscombe Down in Wilt­shire; up un­til now it has been only tri­alled by in­dus­try.

Gath­er­ing cru­cial in­for­ma­tion from the bat­tle­field, Watch­keeper will pro­vide UK troops with life-sav­ing sur­veil­lance, re­con­nais­sance and in­tel­li­gence. It will also give per­son­nel on the ground much greater sit­u­a­tional aware­ness, help­ing to re­duce threats.

Over the com­ing weeks, highly skilled 1st Ar­tillery Bri­gade pi­lots will be trained to fly Watch­keeper in a re­stricted airspace over the Sal­is­bury Plain Train­ing Area. The flights, which will take place be­tween 8,000 feet and 16,000 feet, will be over­seen by mil­i­tary air traf­fic con­trollers.

Min­is­ter for De­fence Equip­ment, Sup­port and Tech­nol­ogy Philip Dunne said: “Watch­keeper will pro­vide real-time in­for­ma­tion for troops con­duct­ing op­er­a­tions on the ground, al­low­ing them to un­der­stand bet­ter and thereby over­come threats they may face. The ‘re­lease to ser­vice’ is a ma­jor mile­stone in this im­por­tant pro­gramme.

“Watch­keeper is the first un­manned aerial sys­tem de­vel­oped and built in the UK to be­come op­er­a­tional. Watch­keeper will be a sig­nif­i­cant sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance ca­pa­bil­ity for the Army for years to come and there is no doubt that it will prove to be a bat­tle-win­ning tech­nol­ogy.”

Since its first UK flight in 2010 by Thales UK, Watch­keeper, which has a wing span of 35 feet, has al­ready com­pleted over 600 fly­ing hours from West Wales Air­port.

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