The UK military lost another Thales WK 450 Watchkeeper to an accident on 13 June, when one of the British Army’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) crashed near West Wales Airport at Aberporth.
The UAV came down close to the airfield from which it was operating, bringing to five the number of Watchkeepers that have now been lost. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed the incident but declined to divulge details, except to say that an investigation has been launched.
Developed from the Israeli-developed Elbit Hermes 450, the Watchkeeper is operated by the British Army as an unarmed intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) platform.
With 54 air vehicles having been acquired, the army is now down to 49 as a result of its losses. A senior service official previously told Jane’s that expected attrition losses were built into the original number of Watchkeepers procured, though it was noted that this was to enable the platform to be used in less permissive environments rather than to cover for expected accidents.
Of the five Watchkeepers that have crashed to date, three have been lost in the last 12 months. This latest incident comes some nine months after a fleet-wide grounding order that was imposed after two of these losses was lifted in September 2017.
The Watchkeeper UAV and 47 Regiment Royal Artillery that operates it were due to achieve full operating capability (FOC) earlier in 2018, but this milestone was postponed after the platform failed to obtain a key flight safety certificate in November 2017. “Watchkeeper has flown thousands of hours, supported British troops in Afghanistan, and could be sent on operations now if required,” an MoD spokesman told Jane’s at the time that the failure was disclosed in March, adding, “The release to service safety certificate is expected later this year.”
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