The Watchkeeper drone, meant to be used by British forces in Afghanistan, is almost two and a half years late. As Thales, the primary contractor, tries to adapt Watchkeeper to fly in civilian airspace the time they are spending at Parc Aberporth has been extended, with no announcement when the drones will finally be introduced. Originally citing Watchkeeper as essential for the Afghanistan war, the UK MOD has recently purchased five Predator drones to add to those they already have. Predators are equipped for assassination, which Watchkeeper presently is not, leaving one to ask the question whether the MOD has any use at all for the excessively expensive Watchkeeper drone, intended only for surveillance. And the fact that the Predators won’t be available for several months suggests that Watchkeeper will be delayed for many more months.
A Welsh peace group, Bro Emlyn for Peace and Justice, has been monitoring the Watchkeeper programme at the airfield Parc Aberporth. They learned recently that the restricted flying zone around Parc Aberporth has been expanded. These ‘Danger Areas’ are meant to warn pilots that they may encounter unpiloted drone aircraft.
The Watchkeeper drones (see video) are based on the notoriously noisy Israeli Hermes 450 drones. The latter are used to monitor residents of occupied West Bank and Gaza, and the high pitched whining sound of the British made ‘Wankel’ engine is meant to intimidate those below. (The presence of a drone may signal a missile attack, or a visit from security forces). In Wales they are simply annoying.
BEPJ also reported recently that trainee drone pilots are frustrated by the poor flying conditions at Parc Aberporth, which severely restricts the days of flying.