Overdue Watchkeeper Drone Programme to be Examined by Major Projects Review Board

The UK MOD has announced that several programmes facing difficulty will be examined by a new board, the Major Projects Review Board established by the Defence Secretary, Dr. Liam Fox.

The MPRB will review 50 projects with a value of £100 billion.

Among them will be the £635 billion Watchkeeper programme announced with fanfare a few years ago, but which is now long overdue. A joint venture between Elbit Systems of Israel and Thales of France, Watchkeeper was touted as way for the UK to develop an export programe for Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) drones. But the programme is long overdue, and Elbit has continued to sell turnkey drone programmes to other countries, undercutting the possibility of a UK export programme ever developing. The Watchkeeper programme has also been criticised for being very over priced, since similar drones could apparently have been purchased at a much lower price from other vendors.

Countries like Canada have leased their military drone requirements, at a fraction the cost of a national drone manufacturing programme, and are not stuck with dated technology.

Watchkeeper was also touted as providing technology transfer. But there isn’t much public evidence of this transfer, since Elbit Systems appears to retain much of the technology. Drones are generally put together from parts brought together from many suppliers, and the useful technology is in the parts, not so much in the ‘system’.

Watchkeeper provided a major cash infusion to Elbit Systems, which has noted that recently declining revenues from Watchkeeper have had an impact on its bottom line. Among its many products, Elbit provides security technology in Israel, including on the partition wall, and in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

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