July 28, 2005 The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will be a new addition to the future battlespace reardless of whether the US is in the fight or not. Military UAV programs are being approved the world over with the latest being a UK 700 million pounds programme frrom the Uk department of Defence. Britain has finally given the green light to its Watchkeeper UAV Programme, the UK Armed Forces' new 'spy in the sky'. British Defence Secretary John Reid said in making the announcement,"Watchkeeper is the key to battlefield surveillance of the future. The new UAVs will be able to stay in the air for much longer than conventional aircraft, and will provide all-weather coverage by day and by night.” "UAVs are a key part of the future vision for our Armed Forces. They allow high-quality imagery of the battlefield to be passed to commanders quickly, enabling them to deliver more precise and decisive effect with greater accuracy. In addition, they improve operational effectiveness through their contribution to Network Enabled Capability.”
"The contract with Thales UK will be worth around £700 million and is expected to create or sustain up to 2000 high-quality manufacturing jobs in the UK. With export success this could rise further. The aim is to bring Watchkeeper into service from 2010."
Lt Col Nick Fitzgerald of the company that will operate Watchkeeper, 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery, said, "Watchkeeper will be a remarkable system and an exciting prospect for 32 Regt Royal Artillery, the Army's UAV Regiment. The system dramatically increases the utility of UAVs for intelligence gathering and targeting, allowing us to operate longer, at greater distances, and to a much higher degree of accuracy than ever before. The synergy of this outstanding system and the Regiment's operational experience over the last 7 years will bring a step change in our contribution to defence capability."
The introduction into service of Watchkeeper is expected to offer a significant new capability to Land manoeuvre commanders. The requirement is for greater levels of capability beyond that currently provided by the Phoenix UAV system. The Single Statement of User Requirement says: WATCHKEEPER will provide accurate, timely and high quality imagery and IMINT, collected, collated, exploited and disseminated to satisfy land manoeuvre commanders' critical information and intelligence requirements, within the context of joint operations, throughout a range of environments and across the spectrum of conflict.
Currently, Phoenix is the only UAV in service with the UK’s Armed Forces. It is anticipated that the role currently fulfilled by Phoenix will be subsumed by Watchkeeper and it remains a possibility that elements of Phoenix may continue in service as part of the overall capability transition.
Watchkeeper will allow commanders to detect and track targets without the need to deploy troops into potentially sensitive or dangerous areas, and will also have the ability to loiter whilst a target is engaged.
The platform numbers have not been released for operational reasons. Watchkeeper capability has a planned In-Service-Date of 2010.