The UK Military Aviation Authority (MAA) has awarded a statement of type design assurance (STDA) to Thales UK's WK450 Watchkeeper unmanned air system (UAS), moving the system closer towards acceptance with the national army.
Confirming that both the air vehicle and software have reached an acceptable level for design safety and integrity to address the current developmental stage, the STDA enabled the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to proceed towards the initial release to service (RTS) certification.
The STDA certification has delayed the UAS's scheduled entry into service with the British Army Royal Artillery by three years.
Thales UK intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance vice-president, Eddie Awang, said STDA represents a significant milestone for the Watchkeeper programme, and a first for a UAS programme in the UK.
''It is the result of close collaboration between the MOD and Thales UK, and the culmination of a significant amount of work to build a comprehensive safety case,'' Awang said.
Expected to be awarded by the end of 2013, the RTS approval will enable Watchkeeper to start flights over the Salisbury Plain in support of the Royal Artillery from the Qinetiq-operated Boscombe Down airfield, as reported earlier by Aviation Week.
The UAS had until now been undergoing flight testing at the UAV test range in Aberporth, West Wales, UK.
A total of 54 Watchkeeper UAS have been manufactured by Thales under an £800m contract awarded in July 2005, to provide an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) support to the UK armed forces operations.
Based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV, the next-generation platform is claimed to be the only tactical UAV to address European airworthiness criteria, having completed over 300 flights in the UK to date as part of its trials programme.
Image: The WK450 Watchkeeper UAS is designed to deliver ISTAR capability to the British Army Royal Artillery. Photo: copyright of Richard Seymour.