Jan 10, 2012 By Robert Wall - AviationWeek.com
LONDON - The U.K.’s flagship unmanned aircraft program, the Thales Watchkeeper, has failed to meet its target for delivering the first air vehicles to troops in Afghanistan.
Watchkeeper is among the ongoing U.K. Defense Ministry procurements with the largest schedule delays, according to the National Audit Office. It was running more than a year behind schedule and also has come under scrutiny at the ministry.
The program only barely escaped being named to the ministry’s “programs of concern” list when it was first issued last year. At the time, the government said another review was expected “around the turn of the year.”
One of the key milestones for the program last year was to begin deliveries to deployed forces in Afghanistan. However, a Defense Ministry official notes that “Watchkeeper has not yet been delivered.” A reason for the delay was not given.
The military was hoping to have sufficient numbers of Watchkeepers fielded to sustain three orbits in April, with the number of orbits to reach six in October. Fifty-four Watchkeepers are being bought under current procurement plans.
The in-service date for the program was initially planned for June 2010.
Once Watchkeeper is fielded, it is supposed to allow the ministry to start drawing down Hermes 450 unmanned aircraft being used on a fee-for-service basis in Afghanistan.