The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has extended Thales UK's H-450 unmanned air system (UAS) contract that provides vital intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) support to UK forces on current operations.
The contract, which comes into effect in July, will run through to 2011 when the H-450 UAS will be replaced by the newly developed WATCHKEEPER. The H-450 ISTAR service provided by Thales began in July 2007 in response to an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) contract issued by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Since being deployed in mid-2007, the H-450 UAS has flown in excess of 19,000 hours. It has been an invaluable intelligence-gathering asset, delivering high-quality imagery and image intelligence to the Land Component Commander.
The UOR contract is being fulfilled by Thales UK through a highly innovative ‘fly-by-thehour’ agreement originally signed in mid-June 2007. It included the provision of the H450 unmanned air vehicles, the training of the UK MoD staff in the use and maintenance of the system, the provision of contractor logistic support (CLS) and programme management services. This ensures high system availability and contributes to the low whole-life costs.
The WATCHKEEPER system comes into service in 2011, replacing the H-450, and will provide enhanced capability. This includes electro-optic/infra red (EO/IR) imaging and synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) capabilities.
The first production WATCHKEEPER UAV platform undertook it's maiden flight on 16 April 2008. This is the first air vehicle to be designed and built to meet the demanding requirements of the UK MoD. On 23 July last year automated take-off and landing flights of the WATCHKEEPER UAV using Thales’s MAGIC ATOLS were successfully performed and validated.
Last November we announced WATCHKEEPER's first system flight trials, with the autonomous flight taking place under the system guidance of the WATCHKEEPER ground control software and fully integrated within the ground control station (GCS). These trials of the UAS will continue throughout 2009, and will validate the key mission system capability of the WATCHKEEPER system.
Alex Dorrian, CEO Thales UK, says: "Over the last two years the value of UAVs in providing crucial ISTAR capability to the UK Armed Forces has been well and truly confirmed. Building on lessons learnt on current operations, we have developed WATCHKEEPER to be an invaluable force multiplier for commanders on the ground"