The Watchkeeper drone programme will soon be three years late. Watchkeeper was originally intended to provide surveillance services for UK troops in Afghanistan and advanced ‘ISTAR’ for UK forces into the future. But despite Watchkeeper being based on a highly successful lethal Israeli drone (Hermes 450), Watchkeeper has apparently failed to produce any useful services after many years of development.
The only reason provided for the delays seems somewhat implausible. The UK Military Aviation Authority is conducting certification trials for civilian airspace, and failure to meet standards has been cited as the reason for Watchkeeper delays. But Watchkeeper is based on a Israeli prototype that works all too well in the field, and most of the projected role for Watchkeeper is in remote areas, like Afghanistan. While it may very well be difficult to certify Watchkeeper to fly in civilian airspace, this would be a very small part of Watchkeeper’s role.
So is there another reason for Watchkeeper delays?
In 2011 Iran apparently captured several American and Israeli drones which had penetrated Iranian airspace on covert missions. This demonstrated how the control mechanisms of these drones may been compromised, sharply curtailing the value of these drones for certain purposes. Is it possible that the failure to introduce Watchkeeper on schedule is a result of the need for the control mechanisms on the drone to be reengineered to be secure from takeover or tampering?
To me this seems more plausible than claims relating to civilian air certification.