Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (British Army)

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SKB
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Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (British Army)

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Introduction
The Thales Watchkeeper WK450 is a Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) for all weather, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) use by the British Army, provided under an £800 million contract awarded in July 2005 to Thales UK.

Overview[edit]
The Watchkeeper WK450 is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV. The engine is a rotary Wankel engine. It has a mass of 450 kg and a payload capacity of 150 kg, with a typical endurance of 17 hours. It was originally intended to enter service in June 2010.

The Watchkeeper is built in the UK by a joint venture company, UAV Tactical Systems (U-TacS), set up by the Israeli company Elbit Systems (51% ownership) and French company Thales. UAV Engines Ltd, who build the rotary engine in the UK, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems. The majority Israeli ownership has caused some unexpected problems obtaining U.S. export authorisation for anti-icing components. A prime difference between the Hermes 450 and Watchkeeper is that the 450 is fitted only with an electro-optical/infrared sensor, while the WK450 has a dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication that allow it to see through weather conditions such as dust storms that the Hermes aircraft can not.

History
On 15 July 2007, the UK MoD revealed that 54 Watchkeepers will be delivered to the British Army. The average cost to the taxpayer is therefore £800m divided by 54 aircraft, approximately £15m per platform. However, this figure includes construction of new basing facilities at Boscombe Down airfield, ground training facilities and simulators at the School of Artillery, Viking armoured vehicles and other equipment for tactical parties, ground control stations, development and testing of extensive aircraft modifications including automatic take-off and landing and the integration and provision of new sensors including radars.[citation needed]

Watchkeeper's first UK flight took place on Wednesday 14 April 2010 from ParcAberporth in Wales.

In October 2010, the contract was extended by a further 18 months, and the delivery date slipped. Deployment by the Royal Artillery was said to be imminent in 2013, though certification by the Military Aviation Authority was still awaited. As of 2013, the programme was running about three years late; in September, release to service approval was expected to be granted before the end of the year. British Army officials said the Watchkeeper could enter service in spring 2014. As of January 2014, 26 air vehicles have been produced with another 28 on order, and 14 ground control stations have been produced with one more on order. Watchkeeper aircraft had performed over 600 flights totaling 950 flight hours. The Watchkeeper system will be in service with the British Army until 2040.

The Royal Artillery has a future aspiration to weaponise Watchkeeper. In February 2014, the French Ministry of Defense indicated that the French Army may purchase the Watchkeeper WK450 if the British Army buys the French VBCI armored personnel carrier. In March 2014, the Watchkeeper was cleared for military flight training with the Royal Artillery. Operating out of Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, 1st Artillery Brigade is training with the Watchkeeper in restricted airspace over Salisbury Plain between 8,000 and 16,000 feet. The British Army will receive 30 Watchkeepers and a further 24 machines due to go into store to be pulled into service as needed.

Deployment
On 29 September 2014, the MoD revealed that an undisclosed number of Watchkeepers had become fully operational and sent to Afghanistan. The aircraft were stationed at Camp Bastion to provide force protection for British troops as they drew down from Afghanistan towards the end of the year. There had been no prior indication that the Watchkeeper would be sent to Afghanistan before the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force completed its mission. The aircraft worked alongside Hermes 450s that it is derived from, although the Watchkeeper carries a twin payload of an electro-optical/infrared sensor and a synthetic aperture radar.

One system of four Watchkeepers was sent to Afghanistan in August 2014, performed its first in-theatre flight on 2 September, and conducted the first operational flight on 16 September. One mission had a Watchkeeper providing wide-area surveillance for U.S. Marines using its Thales I-Master radar, which then cued a Hermes 450 to continue tracking, which then passed the information on to a Royal Air Force MQ-9 Reaper to conduct an airstrike against a target. Some 140 flights were conducted for 8 hours a day until operations ceased in mid-October. One reason the WK450 was deployed so late in the conflict was to use its dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication, which the Hermes 450 lacks, to identify Taliban fighters attempting to hide under the cover of dust storms; when the ground-based radar coverage at Bastion was switched off, the British Army stopped using the interim leased Hermes 450. Once operations in-theater ceased, the Watchkeepers were brought back to the UK. Full operational capability is to be achieved in 2017 with enhancements including de-icing features, rough strip capabilities, and others.

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by shark bait »

If France does come on board , along with the polish it could accidentally become the European drone that never was. Let's hope they can help us weaponise it!

I always think it's strange meeting watchkeeper next to humans, I always forget how big it is

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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Incredibly well spent money. :roll:

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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downsizer wrote:Incredibly well spent money. :roll:
I would agree. A program that delivers good kit and reasonably well managed. Delivers close to cost with no reduction in units! I still think 54 seems to good to be real!

Shows the ball ace trying to pamper to the needs and whims of different forces and different nations can cause to a project.
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by Gabriele »

Downsizer was being sarcastic, and implying that Wathckeeper is wasted money, i think.
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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Gabriele wrote:Downsizer was being sarcastic, and implying that Wathckeeper is wasted money, i think.
Oh damnn :o , well I think its time the sarcasm mark was more widely adopted (⸮)

I would actually say Wathckeeper isnt too bad, especially in amongst the many other balls ups MOD procurement have delivered over the past decades
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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shark bait wrote:
downsizer wrote:Incredibly well spent money. :roll:
A program that delivers good kit and reasonably well managed.
If you call 4 years late on parade and a token effort when it eventually turned up, sure, great kit and reasonably well managed. FFS.

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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downsizer wrote: If you call 4 years late on parade and a token effort when it eventually turned up, sure, great kit and reasonably well managed. FFS.
yes, compare it to almost any military procurement and is seems pretty good. Delivered very close to budget, without watering down specifications or unit numbers, future growth potential, very promising export leads. Admittedly delivery date was not so good, but its not that the product wasn't ready mostly issues about flying certification.
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by downsizer »

It has been an appallingly managed clusterfuck and waste of money from the start. Should've just invested in more Reapers.

And the RA are a joke when it comes to airmanship.


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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by Gabriele »

The Armchair Soldier wrote:Image

Is that a weaponised Watchkeeper? The Tweet the image is from doesn't reveal too much.
It is. The weapons under the wings are almost certainly the free-fall derivative of LMM. The rack is new. So far, they had been shown hanging from a rail, 2 or 3 one behind another, instead of side by side like in this other installation. http://aviationweek.com/farnborough-201 ... -bomb-uavs

To the left, the Thales laser-guided rocket ILGR can also be seen, sticking out of its twin (i believe) launch pod.

LMM itself, one per wing, is another option they can offer.

Watchkeeper can carry up to 50 kg under each wing, if i remember correctly. Fuel tanks were another mooted option. For now, the british examples, of course, carry a whole lot of nothing under the wings.
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by The Armchair Soldier »

Gabriele wrote:
The Armchair Soldier wrote:Image

Is that a weaponised Watchkeeper? The Tweet the image is from doesn't reveal too much.
It is. The weapons under the wings are almost certainly the free-fall derivative of LMM. The rack is new. So far, they had been shown hanging from a rail, 2 or 3 one behind another, instead of side by side like in this other installation. http://aviationweek.com/farnborough-201 ... -bomb-uavs

To the left, the Thales laser-guided rocket ILGR can also be seen, sticking out of its twin (i believe) launch pod.

LMM itself, one per wing, is another option they can offer.

Watchkeeper can carry up to 50 kg under each wing, if i remember correctly. Fuel tanks were another mooted option. For now, the british examples, of course, carry a whole lot of nothing under the wings.
Thanks for the enlightenment, Gabriele. Much appreciated.

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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The Armchair Soldier wrote:
Is that a weaponised Watchkeeper? The Tweet the image is from doesn't reveal too much.

Glad to see such a thing is being actively perused.

For me weaponizing watchkeeper is a no briner, squeezing out extra capability from existing platforms is exactly what is needed right now. A variant of the LLM is also a very smart way to go, squeezing more capability out of existing investments, again very smart. This is clearly the developments for the polish that we must get on board with.

Ive also seen a video of the powered version being tested under wing somewhere..
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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The Armchair Soldier wrote: Is that a weaponised Watchkeeper? The Tweet the image is from doesn't reveal too much.
Image

Shown again at DSEI.

I hope the British are interested, it makes total sense to get as much use out of watchkeeper and LLM, extra capability without having to invest in new kit. Could be very handy, dramatically shortening the information chain and response times, as well as giving us a cheaper alternative to the brimstione.

Reusing existing assets in new roles is something the whole armed forces need to be focusing on these days, commonality will make those budgets stretch a little bit further.
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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I though this was quite a nice image I hadn't seen before.

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by Gabriele »

shark bait wrote:I though this was quite a nice image I hadn't seen before.
Those though are base Hermes 450 of the interim service provided by Thales in Afghanistan, not Watchkeepers.
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by Lugzy »

I found this article in the Guardian newspaper regarding our Watchkeeper drones , it's not very uplifting tbh .

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/o ... estigation

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by RetroSicotte »

Christ, it's like that article was writing by a bloody idiot who knows nothing about the actual systems he's referring to.

Oh wait, it's the Guardian, of course it was.

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by Lugzy »

RetroSicotte wrote:Christ, it's like that article was writing by a bloody idiot who knows nothing about the actual systems he's referring to.

Oh wait, it's the Guardian, of course it was.
Yep it's true the Guardian does have a history of hmmmmm imaginative articles :-) , but reading a little more about Watchkeeper I'm left thinking did we really need so many of them ?

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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

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Gabriele wrote: Those though are base Hermes 450 of the interim service provided by Thales in Afghanistan, not Watchkeepers.
In whichcase that isn't nearly as interesting as I thought...
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by ArmChairCivvy »

I think it is:
- look at those huge tents (LHS of the piccie) that make for (dust & sand proof?) hangars
- a capability that can be relocated at a moment's notice (as long as there is a friendly receiving gvmnt)
+ a little bit of force protection around it
= a huge enabler for a local force that may be fight with AK47s and a few (sponsored) Mi-8s

If you think asymmetric, then think both ways: what are our asymmetric advantages?
1. Air
2. Space
3. ISTAR & remotely based strike

Is this happening anywhere, right now?
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Re: Thales Watchkeeper WK450 (Army)

Post by Lugzy »

Just wondering , considering we're looking at upgrading/remanufacturing our Apaches to the new AH-64E guardian configuration , could Watchkeeper be teamed with them , I remember reports stating that the new software and data links incorporated in the new version of the Apache will allow drones to be controlled by a crew member inside of the Apache , independent of ground control , is this possible with Watchkeeper ? ,

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