The Military Army Blog

UK looks again at Watchkeeper UAV force structure

British Army chiefs are looking again at the future organisation of its Thales WK450 Watchkeeper tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) units after they have moved to accelerate getting the troubled system into frontline service by opening a new site for pilot training in the South Atlantic.

UK Looks Again At Watchkeeper UAV Force StructureThe British Army is looking again at its force structure for operating the Watchkeeper UAV. (Thales)

It has emerged that the British Army only has firm plans to form one battery-sized unit to operate the Watchkeeper. Ambitions to convert up to four batteries have yet to be confirmed, pending the completion of a wide-ranging review of the army’s force structure.

“The future structure of the Watchkeeper force and its speed of development is on-going in line with wider work on refining Army 2020 structures,” a British Army spokesman told IHS Jane’s on 28 July. “The future Watchkeeper force structure is being optimised to meet the wide spectrum of demands from Divisional Warfighting to smaller-scale commitments. Once this work is complete the full fielding of capability will be confirmed.”

The Watchkeeper system was first selected 12 years ago by the then defence secretary Geoff Hoon with the intention of it entering service by 2010. Its introduction to service has since been dogged by technical delays and problems securing airworthiness approvals. The bulk of the Watchkeeper hardware has been delivered to the Royal Artillery, including 54 aircraft, 15 ground control stations, and 21 tactical group vehicles with video imagery download facilities. It had originally been intended to form a single regiment, with four batteries, but more recently the Royal Artillery has envisaged the systems being divided between 32 and 47 Regiments RA, as well as reservists from 104 Regiment RA providing additional personnel to the two regular units.

The spokesman said the first Watchkeeper sub-unit, 43 Battery of 47 Regiment RA, is currently undergoing training on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic prior to what is termed Full Operating Capability 1 being achieved in April 2017.

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