Since 25th September, the Thales Watchkeeper has been cutting its teeth in Afghanistan. From the British Army base in Helmand province, in the south of the country, the tactical UAV has conducted regular monitoring and reconnaissance missions to protect the estimated 10,000 British soldiers stationed there since 2001 as part of the International Security Assistance Force.
Equipped with a camera and its principal sensor, the "I-Master" radar, this aerial platform transmits real-time information to a ground station and acts as a sort of guardian angel to the ground troops.
Pierrick Lerey, Strategy Director - Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Business - Thales: "It’s a drone that is capable of mapping enemy positions. From an altitude of about three thousand metres (over 9,800 ft.), it has the capability of determining whether a person on the ground is armed or not. For the commander of a battalion that is absolutely essential. Since with the combined information of its sensors, he will be able to ascertain with certainty, that there is no one lying in ambush somewhere, and whether or not, there are no other people moving towards him, or surrounding him."
Which is of vital interest, because since 2001, 350 British soldiers have been killed in the Afghanistan theatre of operations. Of the 54 Watchkeeper’s on order, the British Army has already received 30 units together with the 15 related ground stations.
France could be the next to be equipped. At the end of October the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) is to publish precise specifications regarding the acquisition of fifteen tactical UAV’s. The Thales Watchkeeper will probably not be the sole candidate. The Sagem Patroller and a French version of the American Shadow M2 could be in the running. The decision will be known late 2015.