Up until now, the unarmed Watchkeeper, has been trialled by industry but approval has now been given for the Army’s own pilots to begin live flying from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.
Gathering crucial information from the battlefield, Watchkeeper will provide UK troops with life-saving surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence. It will also give personnel on the ground much greater situational awareness, helping to reduce threats.
Over the coming weeks, highly skilled 1st Artillery Brigade pilots will be trained to fly Watchkeeper in a restricted airspace over Salisbury Plain training area. The flights, which will take place between 8,000 and 16,000 feet, will be overseen by military air traffic controllers.
Minister for Defence, Equipment Support and Technology, Philip Dunne said: “Watchkeeper will provide real-time information for troops conducting operations on the ground, allowing them to understand better and thereby overcome threats they may face. The Release to Service is a major milestone in this important programme.
“Watchkeeper is the first Unmanned Air System developed and built in the UK to become operational. Watchkeeper will be a significant surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Army for years to come and there is no doubt that it will prove to be a battle-winning technology.”
Since its first UK flight in 2010 by Thales UK, Watchkeeper, which has a wingspan of 35 feet has already completed over 600 flying hours from West Wales Airport.