Army personnel operating the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial system [Picture: Crown copyright]
Watchkeeper, the Army's next-generation unmanned aerial system, has been cleared to begin military flight training with the Royal Artillery.
Approval has been given for the Army’s own pilots to begin live-flying the unarmed Watchkeeper from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire; up until now it has been only been trialled by industry.
Gathering crucial information from the battlefield, Watchkeeper will provide UK troops with life-saving surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence. It will also give personnel on the ground much greater situational awareness, helping to reduce threats.
Over the coming weeks, highly skilled 1st Artillery Brigade pilots will be trained to fly Watchkeeper in a restricted airspace over the Salisbury Plain Training Area. The flights, which will take place between 8,000 and 16,000 feet, will be overseen by military air traffic controllers.
Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Philip Dunne said:
Watchkeeper will provide real-time information for troops conducting operations on the ground, allowing them to understand better and thereby overcome threats they may face. The ‘release to service’ is a major milestone in this important programme.
Watchkeeper is the first unmanned aerial system developed and built in the UK to become operational. Watchkeeper will be a significant surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Army for years to come and there is no doubt that it will prove to be a battle-winning technology.
Since its first UK flight in 2010 by Thales UK, Watchkeeper, which has a wingspan of 35 feet, has already completed over 600 flying hours from West Wales Airport.