Both the Dassault-BAE consortium and Thales appear to be playing high pressure, ‘press release’ politics over the Anglo French plan to have a joint drone programme. Earlier in the year the Sarkozy government announced the intention to go with a Dassault BAE programme, leaving the hapless UK Watchkeeper programme in the cold. Thales, the Watchkeeper joint venturer, immediately announced that the Watchkeeper drone would also be studied by the French government. Then, after the election of the Hollande government, the French seemed to back away from the Dassault BAE option. This week, Dassault BAE announced that their proposal was ready to go and simply needed a signature. Whether this means that the French and British are on board, or whether the announcement was simply pressure on both governments by the arms company consortium doesn’t seem clear.
Watchkeeper is a Thales-Elbit Systems joint venture aimed at giving the UK a medium altitude, long endurance drone. Watchkeeper is long overdue, and UK MOD makes excuses for the Franco Israeli effort saying that the delays are because of the need to get certification for civilian air space. But this does not explain why the drone, which is supposed to be far superior to the Hermes 450 drone on which it is based, is not being used in Afghanistan, where civilian certification is not neeeded. Nor does it explain why this supposedly state of the art drone isn’t the hands down favourite for the Anglo French joint drone capability, since its massive development costs are already paid for.
So far it appears that Watchkeeper may have been a billion pound boondoggle that provided a huge cash infusion to the Israeli arms industry at a time when the UK was claiming kudos from not arming the supremicist state after its attack on Gaza in 2009.