Army’s spy in the sky set to fly over Britain

The Army’s latest “spy in the sky” unmanned aircraft is due to 
begin flying over British skies this week.

Watchkeeper, a reconnaissance and surveillance unmanned air system (UAS), has a wingspan of 35ft and can fly at an altitude of up to 16,000ft.

It has been designed to loiter over areas of interest for “significantly longer” than existing systems, providing clear surveillance pictures to troops on the ground and boasts two sensors – a day and night camera which produces 24-hour high-definition images and a radar sensor, allowing it to see in all conditions.

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These images are relayed in real time to a ground control station that acts as the aircraft’s cockpit – reducing the need to deploy troops to “potentially dangerous” situations.

Watchkeeper, which has 
been tested in West Wales since 2010 and is nearing the end of its trials, is expected to take a “significant role” in future military campaigns.

This week, highly-skilled pilots will fly Watchkeeper in restricted airspace over the Ministry of Defence’s Salisbury Plain Training Area in Wiltshire, overseen by military air traffic controllers.

The Army is due to begin its own training later this year.

Colonel Mark Thornhill, Commander of 1st Artillery Brigade said: “Watchkeeper is a state-of-the-art system coming in to service now. It can fly for longer, it flies off rough strips, it has better sensors.

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“Watchkeeper is designed specifically to support worldwide operations in many different locations.

“Watchkeeper is a fantastic capability because it will allow us to provide real-time imagery back to the ground commander so that he can then take appropriate action depending on what he sees and what he learns from that imagery. Therefore, he will be able to perform in a much better fashion and make much better operational decisions based on the imagery we are providing to him.”

Watchkeeper, which is being developed by Thales UK, is unarmed and does not carry any weapons. It has already clocked up 500 hours of flying time in West Wales.

Matt Moore, head of Thales UK’s UAS business, said: “When it gets to its operating altitude, when it is employed operationally, it is inaudible. You cannot hear it and you visually can’t see it either.”

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