13 Sep 2011 By ANDREW CHUTER DefenseNews
LONDON - The Thales Watchkeeper unmanned air system has broken two local flight records as the British Army prepares to deploy the machine to Afghanistan at the end of this year.
Nick Miller, the program vice president at Thales UK, told reporters at the DSEi exhibition at the Excel Centre here that the Elbit Hermes 450-based platform had achieved a test mission of almost 14 hours and reached a height of 16,000 feet earlier this month.
The Watchkeeper landed with four hours of fuel with the flight only being terminated to meet night flying restrictions.
Thales UK is under contract to deliver 54 unmanned air systems and 13 ground stations to provide the backbone of British Army ISTAR capabilities over the next few years.
Operational field trials are scheduled to get underway next month with the first Watchkeeper set to be delivered to Afghanistan at the end of the year.
The Watchkeeper force in Afghanistan is set to be gradually built up over the coming year to replace the Hermes 450 machines operated by Thales and Elbit in theater in a service provision contract to the British.
Miller said that to date, the Hermes 450 had flown more than 50,000 hours on more than 4,000 missions in the three and a half years since the contract became active.