Only 13 of 45 Watchkeeper drones have flown in the last 12 months.
The Watchkeeper WK450 is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV and is built in the UK by a joint venture between the Israeli company Elbit Systems and Thales.
This information comes to light after Baroness Stern asked the following via a written question in the House of Lords:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many Watchkeeper airframes are currently in-service; and how many have (1) undertaken flights in the past 12 months, and (2) been in storage for longer than 12 months.”
Baroness Goldie, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, rsponded:
“45 Watchkeeper airframes were in service as at 23 July 2020. 13 have flown in the past 12 months and 23 have been in storage for longer than 12 months. Of those flying, 10 have been operated by the Army from Akrotiri in Cyprus and Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, three have been used for test and evaluation. The airframes in storage are held at specific, graduated, levels of readiness. This is commensurate with practices used on other Defence capabilities and assets.”
It’s not as bad as it seems, however.
They are flying in the UK and Cyprus at the moment. Theres no other ops that require them either and they have an attrition reserve.
— The Brit (@TheBrit96) August 4, 2020
The troubled aircraft was originally intended to enter service in June 2010 but years of delays, technical issues, hardware modifications, difficulties in training sufficient pilots and incidents means that it was not expected to be fully operational until late 2018.
Two Watchkeepers crashed on flight trials over Cardigan Bay in 2017 and in 2018 a Watchkeeper crashed near the trials base at West Wales Airport, increasing the number of Watchkeepers lost in crashes over the years to five.
Watchkeeper was declared fully operational capability in November 2018 however this was without achieving formal release to service certification. You can read more about the issues facing the project in a report by Gareth Corfield at the Register here.