The Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) being developed by Thales UK for the British Army will proceed towards ground system and flight trials, after succesfully completing its inaugural flight.

Watchkeeper is an advanced aerial system, that will be used to gather intelligence and provide target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities, and will form a key component of the UK’s network-enabled capability (NEC).

During the Watchkeeper demonstration programme in June 2009, the UAV completed its first set of inaugural flights, demonstrating the full air vehicle system, data links, radar controlled automatic take-off and landing system (ATOLS).

The next set of trials are scheduled to start during late 2009 at Parc Aberporth in West Wales.

Thales UK CEO Alex Dorrian said that the company had made good progress and would work closely with the UAS project team and its partners in delivering the next phase of the programme.

During the first set of trials the Watchkeeper also demonstrated electro optic (EO) / infrared (IR) and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) / ground moving target indicator (GMTI) radar payloads, ground control station software and the autonomous flight control and video imagery downlink systems.

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The production work will be carried out at UAV Tactical Systems, a joint company between Thales UK and Elbit Systems. Watchkeeper is scheduled to enter service in late 2010.