News from Wales suggests that Watchkeeper drones are still being tested at Parc Aberporth. And there are rumours that the testing will continue for a couple of months more. The noisy machines are readily noticed when they are operating at the small airport in Wales which has tried to bill itself as a drones testing centre, but will be pretty much vacant if the Watchkeeper project is ever completed.
The Watchkeeper programme has been an embarassment for the government, but one that has luckily (for them) been under the radar of most Brits. Recently the billion pound programme was singled out by an audit office as being of special concern. It appeared brought back on track when the government dropped certain criteria from the project. It was dropped from the list of project of special concern. But even after that ‘bailout’ the project has failed to meet delivery expectations. MP Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, has recently had the job of making excuses for the project, claiming that the project was taking time to meet certification standards for BOTH military and civilian air worthiness. What he didn’t explain is why Watchkeeper has not been released to fly in Afghanistan where military standards apply which are much easier to meet.
Or why, if Watchkeeper is such a big improvement in drone technology, it isn’t been rushed to troops in Afghanistan. Could it be that the Watchkeeper, which is based on the same Hermes 450 currently being rented from Elbit Systems for use in Afghanistan, isn’t enough of an improvement to warrant hurrying the project along? Is it possible that the Watchkeeper has been a billion pound white elephant that is largely obsolete by the time it is introduced? Is it possible that the government could have met its surveillance needs by renting a few drones from existing drone suppliers, at vastly reduced costs, and then returned them to the supplier when not needed, as Canada and Australia did?