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WATCHKEEPER sensor packages announced

07 December 2005

Thales UK, prime contractor on the MoD’s £800m WATCHKEEPER programme, announces that two sensor packages to be carried by the WK450 air vehicle will be the CoMPASS advanced observation system from Elbit Systems subsidiary El-Op and a variant of the Thales UK I-Master radar system.

The WK450 unmanned air vehicle (UAV) developed for the WATCHKEEPER programme will carry two sensor packages. This greatly increases the WATCHKEEPER systems all weather, day/night capability and the flexibility to complete tasks without returning to base to change sensor packages. Having the ability to use both radar and electro-optical sensors also greatly improves operational effectiveness.

Alex Dorrian, CEO Thales UK said: "Since we signed the WATCHKEEPER contract in late July we have made great progress. We have set up U-TacS, our joint venture company with Elbit and placed a £317m contract to supply core UAV sub-systems.

WATCHKEEPER is an ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) system - with the ability to carry both high performance radar and EO/IR on the same tactical UAV it is able to deliver persistent surveillance to the battlefield.

The announcement of the primary payloads is another significant step towards delivering to the MoD the world's most advanced tactical UAV system."

The selection of the sensor packages, in close co-operation with the UK MoD, is a result of the refinement of the Thales UK WATCHKEEPER system solution and also is part of the competition processes of the Prime Contract Management Organisation.

El-Op and Thales UK land and joint systems in Taunton, have been awarded a multimillion pound contract by Unmanned Tactical Systems Ltd (U-TacS) of Leicester for the CoMPASS electo-optic system. This system, containing El-Op's cutting-edge electro-optic sensors, delivers enhanced high quality day and night imagery, laser range finding, target designation and marking. It offers superior stabilisation performance, highly accurate Line of Sight (LOS) positioning capability and precise LOS angular and range data.

A multi-million pound contract for the I-Master radar package has been awarded to Thales UK's aerospace business in Crawley. I-Master is the only lightweight high performance combined Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) in its class. Weighing only 30kg, I-Master provides the perfect balance of capability, cost, weight and power consumption for use onboard unmanned air vehicles (UAV), helicopters and small fixed wing aircraft. High performance imaging radars are now essential in any programme that requires an all weather ISTAR capability. To date, high quality SAR/GMTI radars have been too heavy and costly to be carried as a dual payload in tactical UAVs.

I-MASTER provides an all-weather capability, which dramatically increases tactical UAV mission effectiveness. I-MASTER incorporates both high resolution SAR and a high performance GMTI able to detect both vehicle and infantry movements.

Notes to Editors

* WATCHKEEPER will provide the UK Armed Forces with an essential Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability and will be a key component of the UK's Network Enabled Capability (NEC). It will provide the UK Armed Forces with all weather day and night surveillance in times of war, tension or during peace-keeping operations without the need to deploy troops into sensitive areas or harmful situations. The WATCHKEEPER system can provide continuous 24/7 surveillance when needed, using unmanned air vehicles able to stay airborne for more than 16 hours each.
* The worldwide UAV systems market is estimated to be worth around £3bn over the next 10 years
* The Thales UK WATCHKEEPER solution will create or sustain up to 2100 jobs, all of which will be in the UK. These high technology jobs in systems integration, prime contracting, engineering and manufacturing will be within Thales UK, the Thales WATCHKEEPER team companies and throughout the UK supply chain. Exports are expected to increase this total to 2500.

About Thales UK
Thales UK's defence activities encompass optronics, air defence, sensors, communications and naval systems. The company is the UK's second largest defence systems contractor and has been a supplier to the MoD since before the First World War. Thales employs 10,000 staff in the UK and 60,000 people in 50 countries. In 2004, Thales UK’s revenues were £1.1bn.

High resolution photos can be downloaded from the press images section of

Press contact:
Guy Douglas
Tel: +44(0)1932 824832
Mobile: +44 (0) 7783 903274

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