We’ve previously discussed the Thales Watchkeeper WK450, a rotary-engine Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) UAV for use by the British Army. Four years ago marked the Watchkeeper’s UK maiden flight, and it recently became operational in Afghanistan.
See: Engineering Update Episode 49: The UK’s newest UAV
Given the UK’s recent mobilization to various hotspots (and pending withdrawal from Afghanistan), the Watchkeeper will provide troops with sorely-needed situational awareness and intel support.
To start, the Watchkeeper comes equipped with an electro-optical/infrared sensor and a synthetic aperture radar, allowing for wide-area surveillance in all weather conditions. And though the WK450 isn’t armed, it can use its onboard sensors and laser subsystem to market targets for ground forces and even direct munitions. And plans are already in place to weaponize the Watchkeeper at some future date.
According to General Houghton, the head of the UK armed forces, “The enhanced real-time situational awareness Watchkeeper provides means that our local understanding is greater, our tactical decisions better informed and that, ultimately, personnel on the ground are safer.”
It can take off and land autonomously (from varied terrain, including rough airstrips) and provide HD images and video equivalent to “what you see during police chases on TV” but at much higher resolution.
But the UAV’s greatest asset — as seen in the below video — is its ease of assembly. The WK450 can be shipped by air, land, and sea in a protected international standard container (ISO) and assembled and disassembled relatively quickly.
And while the Watchkeeper’s mission in Afghanistan is entirely contingent upon a troop presence, it should be a great boon for any sort of asymmetrical warfare where ISTAR is invaluable (which is to say, nearly any armed conflict).
The British Army currently has 30 completed Watchkeepers, with 24 to come.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense