The name"Watchkeeper", perhaps does not mean anything to you at the moment, although it has been exhibited for several years at the major air shows, as shown here at Farnborough in the UK in 2012. This six metre long drone with its ten metre wingspan developed by Thales is now operational.
After 9 years of development, the British Ministry of Defence ( M.O.D. ) together with the Military Aviation Authority ( M.A.A. ), which, although part of the M.A.A., is an independent and autonomous organization, have just authorized the commissioning of the Watchkeeper within English airspace, in just the same way as commercial aircraft - a first on the Old World continent. The British Army will therefore, from next month, be able to use this unarmed AND unmanned aerial vehicle ( U.A.V. ), whose role is to be both the guardian of, and scout for, troops on the ground thanks an embedded high-tech radar...
Thierry Calmon - Thales Deputy Director : 'Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance'
"This is what we call a broad sweep sensor, i.e. it covers a large area, and not only be able to produce images, day or night, whatever the weather, but can also detect mobile threats, since movement alerts it; from that information we then direct the camera and zoom-in to where the threat was detected."
With 16 hours of in-flight autonomy, its sensors, integrated communications network, and system of automatic take-off and landing, the Watchkeeper, can carry out surveillance missions, and detect potential threats up to 200 km ( 125 miles ) away from its ground station, thus helping it to avoid enemy ambushes. The British Army has ordered 54 units. Contract Cost : € 1 billion, training and maintenance included. This new aerial spy-eye could also prove of some interest to certain Gulf countries and NATO members such as France.