Currently in service with the British Army, Watchkeeper will fly in a littoral naval environment operating alongside Type 23 Frigates as part of Exercise Unmanned Warrior.
It is understood that Watchkeeper will be integrated into a series of exercises, from persistent wide area surveillance support up to 150km offshore, to supporting landing forces and directing naval gunfire support.
Data collected by Watchkeeper will be streamed to the vessels.
The Watchkeeper WK450 is a Remotely Piloted Air System for all weather, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance use by the British Army, provided under an £800 million contract awarded in July 2005 to U-TacS partnership between Elbit and Thales UK.
The aircraft is based on Elbit’s Hermes 450.
The British Army has 37 of the aircraft but as of the start of 2016, only six pilots with two of them civilians.
Although the Watchkeeper briefly deployed to Afghanistan for two months in late 2014, pilot shortages will prevent another operational deployment until late 2016.
The Watchkeeper is built in the UK by a joint venture company, UAV Tactical Systems (U-TacS), set up by the Israeli company Elbit Systems (51% ownership) and the Thales group.
UAV Engines Ltd, who build the rotary engine in the UK, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems. The majority Israeli ownership has reportedly caused some unexpected problems obtaining US export authorisation for anti-icing components.
A prime difference between the Hermes 450 and Watchkeeper is that the 450 is fitted only with an electro-optical/infrared sensor, while the WK450 has a dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication that allow it to see through weather conditions such as dust storms that the Hermes aircraft can not.