Unmanned Warrior First Over Welsh Coast

Wales will play an important role in a major Royal Navy exercise in October, when an unmanned air vehicle developed in Wales interacts with military vessels in the water for the first time.

On October 5 and 6, the surveillance vehicle “Watchkeeper”, an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) developed by global technology leader Thales in Aberporth will be showcased to an international audience in a simulated maritime operation exercise in Cardigan Bay.

Watchkeeper will collect data, using its camera and radar sensor, which will be streamed remotely to the Navy vessels below in this first of its kind trial.  The simulation will also include Royal Navy craft landing on the beach at Aberporth, demonstrating innovative technology vital to the likes of the RNLI.

This test and evaluation of the equipment, one of Watchkeeper’s regular exercises, is only possible thanks to west Wales’ airspace. This dedicated area, spanning over 1,500km² of land, and a further 7,100km² over sea, is the only airspace permanently segregated for unmanned flights in the UK.

Eddie Awang, VP Defence Mission Systems Thales in the UK said: “This is the first time we will be able to test Watchkeeper’s capability of interacting in a littoral environment. This trial will show how the technology can benefit the Coastguard, search and rescue operations, the police and local government, and keep our shores safe. The unique nature of Welsh airspace is allowing us to undertake this trial and test this new surveillance technology. The Royal Navy will be using this trial to explore how it can assist with providing enhanced situational awareness and intelligence.

“For us as a business, operating in Wales means we can be innovative and confident in using a secure airspace, and we welcome the support and commitment Welsh Government provide in helping us showcase to a global audience the technology we are developing here in Wales.

“The trial is designed to aid understanding of how unmanned systems could offer innovative surveillance capabilities in a military maritime environment. Representatives from industry and the military will attend the technology demonstration in Aberporth, after which further trials will continue in Scotland with a range of autonomous systems.”

Watchkeeper is the first operationally proven Unmanned Aircraft System developed and built in the UK, providing real-time, enhanced situational awareness for troops on the ground, making significant contributions to reducing risk and loss of life.

Thales is a global technology leader for the Aerospace, Transport, Defence and Security markets, with 62,000 employees in 56 countries. In addition to Thales, Wales is also home to major aerospace and defence names like Airbus, General Dynamics and Raytheon.