The Watchkeeper drone system, based on the Israeli Hermes 450 drone, is primarily built by Thales, using Elbit Systems technology, and Elbit’s aircraft engines. But many other companies, mostly based in the UK, are involved in the project.
It would appear that very few parts are imported from Israel. Indeed it is part of the normal strategy of Israeli arms companies to expand by joint ventures or local manufacturing, which makes it easier for local sales, and minimises the need for parts and technology to cross international frontiers. Both Thales and Elbit (through its El-Op subsidiary will provide ‘payload’ in the form of their (respectively)I-Master synthetic-aperture radar/ground moving target indication (SAR/GMTI) and Compass IV electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) systems!!
The El-Op system can also include a laser rangefinder and target illuminator, so that the drone can be used to attack targets.
The other companies working with Thales UK on the Watchkeeper programme
‘includes Boeing; Cobham, Wimborne (major sub-assemblies and components); Cubic Corporation, Greenford (datalinks); Elbit (air vehicles); LogicaCMG, Leatherhead (digital battlespace integration); Marshall SV, Cambridge (ground station shelters and vehicles); Praxis, Bath (programme safety); QinetiQ (airworthiness consultancy and image data management); UAV Engines Ltd, Lichfield (UAV engine); and Vega (training).’ (source)
Cubic Defense Applications, (CEO Gerald Dinkel) will provide the ‘Tactical Common Data Link’ for the Watchkeeper. The TDCL:
‘will enable WATCHKEEPER to transfer time-critical information from multiple UAVs operating in the same geographical area without mutual interference. The HIDL, developed for command-and-control of multiple UAVs from a single ground station, provides a versatile, programmable back-up link.’ (Source) This appears to have been a $52 million contract from UTacS. (article from cache)
Here is a recent web page describing their collaboration on Watchkeeper.
Dinkel claims that 600 of his 5,000 employees work in the UK, apparently based at Greenford, UK.
Simulation programmes for the British Watchkeeper UAV are provided in part by MAK Technologies, under contract to VEGA Group Plc. Vega is responsible for training for both operators and maintenance crew for the Watchkeeper drone. MAK Technologies is based in Cambridge, MA, USA. Vega Group is based in Welwyn Garden City, Herts, UK, as well as at Bristol and Fareham.
Altan Praxis provides safety engineering. From their press release:
‘Altran Praxis’ team of experts has been instrumental in building the safety case throughout the course of the project, enabling us to secure clearances for the first Watchkeeper unmanned flight in the UK.’
In other words, Altan Praxis has the role among other roles of convincing the CAA that the Watchkeeper drone is safe to fly over the UK.
The Watchkeeper training facility will be based in Larkhill, and the technical field trials at Parc Aberporth. Altan Praxis appears to be based at Bath.
Cobham will produce ‘major sub assemblies’ and components, at their facility in Wimborne, Dorset, UK.
Elbit Systems, Israeli partner of the Watchkeeper joint venture, will produce UAV engines from its manufacturing plant in Lichfield. These are presumably the same or similar engines to those used in the Israeli Hermes 450, used by the Israeli military over the West Bank and Gaza.
Marshall SV will produce ground shelters and other support from its facility in Cambridge, UK.
LogicaCMG, of London, with facilities in Leatherhead, will produce ‘command and battlespace management systems and applicatons.’
QinetiQ will provide airworthiness consultancy and image data management.
Supacat of Honiton, Devon will provide the ground vehicles.
Thales claimed in 2004 that the Watchkeeper Programme would sustain 2100 jobs, 2500 if export sales were counted (all in the UK). It isn’t certain that this level of employment was ever sustained, whether all the jobs were in Britain, or if there will ever be and export market for Watchkeeper drones.