Mar 22, 2012 By Robert Wall - aerospace daily and defense report
LONDON — Continued delays in fielding the Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft are linked to clearing the system for use in military and civil airspace, the U.K. Defense Ministry says.
After several delays, the military was hoping to field Watchkeeper in Afghanistan last year, but that milestone was only the latest of several missed for one of the U.K.’s flagship unmanned aircraft efforts. Now, Peter Luff, defense minister for equipment, tells Parliament that obtaining the airworthiness certification to fly in both civil and military environments “is taking longer than anticipated.”
Luff will not provide a new fielding timeline for the Thales-led program, which is essentially a major upgrade of the Elbit Hermes 450. “Work continues and, until this is complete, it would be speculative to provide a forecast as to when Watchkeeper will achieve release to service or its in-service date,” he says in response to a parliamentary question. Earlier this year, the Defense Ministry was still saying the system would deploy to Afghanistan in 2012.
Once Watchkeeper is fielded, it is supposed to allow the Defense Ministry to start reducing the number of Hermes 450 unmanned aircraft being used on a fee-for-service basis in Afghanistan.