A British Army Watchkeeper drone has conducted a sortie in support of UK Border Force efforts in the English Channel.

Watchkeeper is an uncrewed aircraft system with a range of intelligence and reconnaissance cameras and sensors, including a state-of-the-art surveillance radar say the Ministry of Defence.

“We remain fully committed to support the UK Home Office as they tackle the increasing number of small boats crossing the English Channel,” said a statement from the British Army.

According to ta Ministry of Defence news release:

“It lets the Army see things up to 200km away and helps keep our troops safe. It gathers information, such as spotting enemy activity, during the day and at night. It is built in the UK, and has been used successfully in Afghanistan, where it played a crucial protective role for British troops. Since the first flight in 2010, Watchkeeper has accumulated over 3,000 flying hours. A divisional level intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) asset, Watchkeeper can collect, process and disseminate high quality imagery intelligence to support the needs of the commander on the ground. Watchkeeper is an autonomous system that always requires a ‘human in the loop’ to authorise all aspect of its operations.

It is built to operate in range of ground and air conditions and is equipped to support a wide range of military and security missions. The system has a range of sensors and infra-red full motion video cameras, able to operate at day and night. Identifying assets on the ground is a primary function of Watchkeeper and it is fitted with radar technology and a ground movement target indicator. Within Watchkeeper’s laser sub-system are a separate target marker, designator, and range finder to assist in identifying different assets. The Watchkeeper system was built in the UK by Thales, with a UK supply chain supporting British manufacturing jobs. The system has undergone rigorous flight testing in west Wales and is certified to operate safely in UK airspace. With Watchkeeper primarily operating in the land environment, it is the Army, rather than the RAF, who are responsible for operating the aircraft.”

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a bit more suitable than using a p8 or a bloody a400 methinks!

Supportive Bloke


George Parker

Can it sink inflatables and strafe illegals in the water.


How dare Britain try and stop the migration of people to their country. People have the right to migrate wherever they want to.
Mexicans and Central Americans.


Daniele Mandelli

This is not stopping them, it’s helping find them.
In 1940 the UK stopped an Army. Today we cannot even stop a dingy.

The issue needs stopping at source, and the criminal gangs, not on the water.

Meirion X

I think a floating barrier is needed to be built!


So, put down a minefield or barbed wire or machine gun them?
The comparison is fatuous.


The Greeks have a floating barrier in the works.


I hope it has razor wire on it.

John Clark

Beutifully put Daniele……


People need to stop electing liberal politicians that turn a blind eye to illegal immigration because they know when they become citizens and have kids they all will vote for the liberal candidate. This is what has happened in America and especially in states like California, NY, ect. Those governors have basically gave the green light to illegal immigration to their states and try and do everything they can to stop the Feds from deporting illegals. CA used to be a great state years ago but is now the laughing stock of America. So sad….


Democracy eh! The same electorate that gave us brexit.

Western civilisation can be distinguished from the rest of the world by it’s humanity and it’s attitude towards life and death. Unfortunately it shows a soft underbelly on things we know only too well. No idea how we’d fix or stop the illegal immigration without France being keen to do it. Buy a few Rafale?


This is a fair point. The bleedin heart liberals live in nice detatched houses, a long way from Folkstone.

Gavin Gordon

If I was trying to cross the Channel, I’d be mighty thankful!

Glass Half Full

One advantage of a platform like this is that it can surveil the French coastline for those attempting to cross, before they even put to sea, enabling Border Force to advise French authorities of precisely where such attempts are being made. It thus prevents a potential loss of life and may also enable the detention of the smugglers, providing of course that French authorities act in a timely fashion on the knowledge.


As if the French don’t already know where they are operating from. The French are fully aware where they are operating from but are more than happy to ship ‘assylim speekers’ out of the country. Its like that green peace boat in the med trying to rescue the people smuggling boats then Co fused that the French, Italian and Spanish navies complete ignore their radio signals for help.

Glass Half Full

Maybe the French ignore them or maybe they aren’t prepared to devote the resources to monitor the coastline for them. Either way it becomes politically more difficult to ignore when provided with detailed real time information of groups assembling on beaches.

The numbers crossing the channel this way are inconsequential, but the principle of fairly managing immigration is important, so those following the rules aren’t disadvantaged by what are economic migrants by the time they get to the Channel, along with countering the criminal gangs enabling this traffic and preserving life.

Daniele Mandelli



In most French cities their own police won’t even go into Muslim areas. They have lost total control over their own country. So sad.


I don’t know how true that is as a generalisation but i saw this 1st hand in Marseilles


I live in France. That is not quite the case. The French are often accused of being too heavy handed. There is a woke element in France that decry anything the police do, so they tiptoe about in some areas. However, the French border is policed very heavily. I live on the border with Italy and its basically militarised. We also have Vigipirate and police patrols that pick up migrants and return them to Italy. There is a permanent police presence at train stations and all trains are searched by teams of police.


Is 1 UAV for that vast area being fully committed? lol


Finding them doesn’t appear to be the problem, this just reduces the cost of it significantly, the boats are actively trying to get caught to speed up the process.


Yeah this is just PR, to show they are doing something. Still it is better than ridiculous using A400 or Poseidon, i mean that could only be done by extreme ignorance of most journalists and the public regarding defence.

IAI Heron Maritime Patrol Drone can get 45 hours continuous in flight and has anti ship radar besides EO


I have wondered previously if Watchkeeper could fly from HMSQNLZ. It comes with its own portable arrester gear. Not sure if the flight deck is of sufficient size to be worth the experiment.

Supportive Bloke

Think Defence quote the Watch Keeper as needing 1200m to take off. So massive as QECs are they are not that massive…..so I think the issue is getting it off the deck…..I agree that a passive arrestor kit is available and I doubt that the anchor points would be the stumbling block. I think we are going to have to wait for some very heavy duty VTOL drones to come to market. That being said on the commercial side drones like Helvetis are on the market and these are specifically marketed as being able to VTOL from moving ships so… Read more »

Glass Half Full

Here you go ref heavy duty VTOL drone development. It can also do CTOL. Perhaps something like this may support STOVL off a ramp in future.

As platforms like this develop it opens up the potential for an unmanned replacement for Merlin based Crowsnest, with perhaps stretch goals for COD and tanker ops, although the former may present a range and payload challenge and the latter a top speed issue.

Supportive Bloke

Thanks GHF – I learned something.

2500kg payload is certainly getting into the kind of region that is needed for overwatch. I suspect the issue is more the power required for the radar, and therefore generator capacity & fuel, and its EW modes rather than processing; as this will be a few high power PC’s with oversized graphics cards. Persistence does seem to be an issue ATM. However, that will only improve as the concept is refined by them and no doubt others.

Glass Half Full

Yes, the solution has to be hybrid power for the foreseeable future for this level of capability including powering radar, flight duration, payload etc. The Safran Ardiden 3, used in the Rhaegal RG-1 I linked to, generates electrical power for the lift/propulsion fans and is a turboshaft light helicopter engine. Its approximately the same power as single one of the Wildcat’s CTS800-4N engines. So a larger, faster version of the Rhaegal RG-1, with greater payload, would presumably require more generated power from a larger engine or the use of two smaller engines. Both BAES and Rolls Royce appear to be… Read more »


The power to weight ratio of current drones does not make that possible. You would need a catapult which implies more G capability which implies a stronger read heavier drone impacting flight profile and economy.




The French are complicit in this. Perhaps they would prefer that we divert our Chinooks in Mali that transport their troops to the goings on in the Channel.

Sgt Major

Pity it was deployed to wake up all the local residents in Lydd during the night.

Why didn’t they use a military airfield??
Pain in the arse, try using dolphins they are much quieter and would make a much better TV show.


Why have the Watchkeepers only logged 3,000 hours in ten years? Anybody know?