Hanging over the Thales stand at the DSEI show in London this week was a life-sized Watchkeeper, the remotely piloted air system (RPAS) the international defence electronics group has produced for the British Army. During the show Thales announced the launch of Watchkeeper X, a core platform with a wide range of options, which was submitted in early September to meet the French requirement for a tactical drone, and which will be submitted in a month or so to meet the Polish Gryf requirement as was announced at Poland’s MSPO exhibition on 1st September.
“Watchkeeper X offers a pick and mix capability,” explains Matt Moore, head of future UAS business. The core of the system consists of the aircraft, data links, the ground control station and the automatic take-off and landing capability. The airborne platform is fully airworthy and certified so does not need to go through the certification procedure again. Able to remain airborne for more than 16 hours, it can operate at ranges in excess of 140km and has a maximum speed of 95 knots (175 kph). The system can be transported in boxes and once on theatre it can be flying within two hours, able to take-off from a field or a road, whether the temperatrue is at -36°C or +50°C… or anything in between and even if visibility is zero.
For potential customers, buying a Watchkeeper X will be much like buying a car and opting for the air conditioning but not the heated seats, choosing the built-in sat-nav or using their own portable one, choosing an automatic transmission or manual, etc.
Four packages of options are offered with the Watchkeeper X: mobility, sensors, exploitation, and effectors. Customers will choose their options based on what they are trying to achieve. Those wanting to deploy it for homeland security will not want the same options as those for whom survivability is the principal concern or for those who want it for maritime surveillance.
Mobility options include de-icing, a rapid deployment kit, a rough strip airfield kit and transportability.
Sensor options include cameras, radar, communication intelligence and communications electronic support measures. As the gimble design and onboard power management are standardised these sensors are interchangeable and can be provided by Thales or by another manufacturer. As Pierrick Lerey, ISR marketing and strategy director, says “many customers today want local industrial content, such as their own radar system or their own day/night cameras, and with Watchkeeper X this is completely possible.” To meet the Polish Gryf requirement, for example, Thales has teamed up with WB Electronics, Poland’s largest private producer and supplier of military electronics.
Exploitation allows the data collected by the sensors to become information disseminated to the right person at the right time. So data encryption, post flight analysis, remote terminals, and recorders are another package of options.
Effectors could include a laser designator and/or target marker, STANAG weapons control, onboard weapons such as Thales’ FreeFall Lightweight Multi-role Missile (FFLMM) and C4I target authorisation.