Watchkeeper drone delayed?

There has been a dearth of information about the new British/Israeli Watchkeeper drone, (based on the Israeli Hermes 450). Originally planned to be ready by spring 2010, there has been no word of it.

A report in February in Defence News stated:

Meanwhile, Thales UK is on course to supply the first of its Watchkeeper large tactical UAVs to the British Army later this year.

Which suggest that the programme has been delayed.

Another report, in the Telegraph, suggest the reason, that it is taking longer than expected to get permission from civil aviation authorities to fly the drones in civilian airspace.

“The Army will start using the smaller Watchkeeper drone, built in Leicester by French defence company Thales (Paris: FR0000121329news) , later this year. It is understood the Army will start testing Watchkeeper in the next few weeks, at Aberporth in west Wales, Britain’s only licensed site for UAV flights. The Army hopes to get permission to fly them over training grounds in Salisbury Plain and Sennybridge in South Wales.”

But the most likely reason for the delay is fear in the government that the Watchkeeper programme could become a political issue ahead of an election, if Labour supporters became upset with the idea of the UK MOD making a large arms purchase from an Israeli company, after the attacks on Gaza last year.


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