The Ministry of Defence has announced that the Army’s next generation of Unmanned Air System (UAS) – Watchkeeper – is now fully operational in Afghanistan.
This new capability is providing force protection for British troops as they prepare to draw down from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
Footage released shows Watchkeeper carrying out surveillance tasks and gaining situational awareness via its cutting edge cameras and radar capability, a new asset for the UK’s Armed Forces.
Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, made the announcement on a visit to Kabul alongside Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton – who also visited Camp Bastion where he met the Army personnel and saw Watchkeeper flying operationally.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “Watchkeeper is the first Unmanned Air System developed and built in the UK to become operational and will be a significant surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Army for years to come. There is no doubt that it will prove to be a battle-winning technology.
“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.”
Gathering crucial information from the battlefield, Watchkeeper, built by Thales UK, will provide UK troops with life-saving surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence. It will also give personnel on the ground greater situational awareness, helping to reduce the risk of threats.
Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton said: “I was delighted to see Watchkeeper in operational use earlier this week when I visited British and ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
“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.”
Before reaching this milestone, Watchkeeper, which is unarmed, underwent extensive flight trials at West Wales Airport, Parc Aberporth followed by the Army’s highly skilled pilots completing their training at Boscombe Down airfield. Following the handover of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, the Unmanned Air System will return home to Wiltshire where Royal Artillery troops will continue to train with the system in a restricted airspace over Salisbury Plain.
Watchkeeper pilot and payload operator, Sgt Alex Buchanan, said: “It’s been a real privilege to be the first to fly the Army’s new Watchkeeper Remotely Piloted Air System on operations. It’s an amazing capability and has already provided important information to the troops, enhancing the safety of everyone that lives and works at Bastion.
“The video and images we provide are a bit like what you might have seen during police chases on TV, the main differences are the videos and pictures are a much higher resolution and we fly the aircraft from a control centre on the ground.”