Britain’s new Watchkeeper drone was extensively tested in Israel. In August 2008 Thales, co-contractor on the Watchkeeper programme noted that the Watchkeeper’s ‘ATOL’ facility was being tested in Israel. (ATOL stands for automated takeoff and landing and appears to be an innovation that takes Watchkeeper beyond the Elbit Systems Hermes 450 on which it is based). The three successful automatic takeoffs and landings, were witnessed by several journalists, according to Thales. The flights took place at the Megiddo Airfield, in Northern Israel.
The Watchkeeper ATOL software was developed at the Thales facility in Crawley, UK.
It’s not the first time that Watchkeeper was flown in Israel. Initial flight testing of Watchkeeper was carried out in Israel, before being moved to the UK.
There is no indication that the Israeli Hermes 450 drone has had ATOL capability previously, though the capabilities of Israeli drones used by the Israeli military are not necessarily known. Given that Watchkeeper now has ATOL capability, it may be that the British taxpayer has paid for research and development costs for an innovation that can be retrofitted to earlier Hermes 450 drone versions. (The high cost of Watchkeeper is mostly due to the development costs of enhanced capabilities to ‘improve’ the Hermes 450s. The basic Hermes 450 could have been purchased or leased for much less cost).
The Elbit Systems Hermes 900 has ATOL capabilities. It isn’t clear whether these capabilities were developed independently from the Thales effort to provide ATOL for Watchkeeper.
Of course, given that Watchkeeper is based on the Hermes 450, MOST of the development and testing of Watchkeeper has happened in Israel, including a great deal of ‘field testing’ attacking Palestinians in Gaza.