DSEI 2015

‘X-factor’ Watchkeeper gears up for export [DSEI15, D3]

17 September 2015

Yesterday at DSEI, Thales announced the launch of a new flexible approach to market the Watchkeeper unmanned air system (UAS). Known as Watchkeeper X, the offer is based on the UAS developed for the British Army, but adopts an option-based package approach that allows it to be tailored to meet individual customer requirements.

Thales has invested in Watchkeeper X to ‘‘migrate Watchkeeper from a programme into a product’’, according to Pierre-Eric Pommellet, executive VP Defence Mission Systems.

Recognising that the tactical UAV market needs to address a number of missions − such as high-intensity conflict, extended operations, homeland security and maritime − the Watchkeeper X (WK X) offers a variety of options to meet differing operational demands and budgets, as well as to address issues of national sovereignty and industrial participation.

Watchkeeper X takes the high-specification British Army system and reduces it to a core set of capabilities. The air vehicle’s UK civil/military airworthiness certification is seen as a core asset, and one that could be transferable to other authorities, with minor adjustments if required.

To add to the baseline offer, Thales has schemed four options packages, covering mobility, sensors, exploitation and effectors. WK X offers roughstrip capability, and the system can be moved by vehicle to off-road locations for operation in any climate, and is rapidly deployable to any theatre.

In terms of sensors, WK X can carry two payloads based on 15in turrets. Radar options, including the Thales I-Master, offer a range of surveillance capabilities such as maritime and SAR/GMTI. The vehicle can also be a platform for communications electronic support measures (CESM) and communications intelligence (Comint) systems.

In the exploitation package a number of data/imagery analysis and communications functions are catered for, including NATO-standard or customer-specific datalinks, as well as the encryption of data. A variety of weapons can also be integrated: the mock-up on display here has the Thales FFLMM light precision weapon.

Initially, the WK X is being targeted at requirements in France and Poland. A decision by the French Army is expected soon, as is the issue of a firm requirement by Poland. The campaign in the latter nation highlights an important element of the WK X approach, namely the ability to answer national sovereignty requirements through the full or partial transfer of technology, and the establishment of in-country industrial partnerships.

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