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UK Watchkeeper TUAV mid-life extension to come on line in 2026

The Watchkeeper MLE initial operating capability is planned for 2026 and full operating capability for 2027. (Thales)

The British Army aims to have the first enhancements to its Watchkeeper tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (TUAV) system ready by 2026. The project to rejuvenate the service's sole TUAV was revealed in the March Defence Command Paper.

A senior British Army source told Janes on 26 October that the Watchkeeper mid-life extension (MLE) project passed initial approvals in August. “The full business case is due to be assessed by the Army Investment Committee in early 2023,” said the source, who added that the initial operating capability was planned for 2026 and full operating capability for 2027.

Although the DCP confirmed that the British Army would “retain and upgrade Watchkeeper”, it now appears that the focus of the project is replacing obsolete components rather than adding new capabilities such as new sensors or weapons.

“The primary work for the system will be on the ground control station,” said the source. “The MLE looks to modularise the critical items to enable future upgrades and create a more robust system when deployed. There will be improvements to the capability through an up-to-date operating system, including wider systems integration.”

The MLE project is overseen by the British Army's Land Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting, Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Programme Office. A Ministry of Defence spokesman declined on 26 October to comment on the proposed budget for the project or any potential contenders to bid for the work, citing this as “commercially sensitive information”.

An army spokesperson told Janes

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