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Thales's TUAV ISTAR programmes support current & future UK operations

15 July 2008

WATCHKEEPER will provide real-time imagery and situational awareness enabling com­man­ders on the ground to gain a detailed picture of the battlespace and to make timely decisions accordingly.

The flight test programme is firmly underway, with a series of test flights from Megido airfield in Israel beginning on 16 April 2008 with a successful 12-minute flight controlled by a pilot on the ground.

Following the first flight, programme manager Dennis Cox of the Ministry of Defence Defence (MoD) Equipment & Support's (DE&S) Tactical UAV Integrated Project Team (IPT) said: "We are very pleased with the success of this flight. This is a key milestone for the programme and we are making good progress." Trials are continuing to further prove the performance of the air vehicle and demonstrate the integration of the sensors.

The WATCHKEEPER system, developed with Elbit Systems, is being produced at UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (U-TacS), the Thales UK/Elbit Systems joint company site in Leicester. The system will include the following features:

* Dual-payload configuration of advanced SAR/GMTI radar and EO/IR/LTD*
* Ground control stations with advanced imagery exploitation and networked distribution
* Flexible, all-weather operation with de-icing capability
* Fully autonomous flight capability, including automatic takeoff and landing

Commenting on this major programme milestone, Thales UK CEO Alex Dorrian says: "Thales UK's WATCHKEEPER programme has been steadily moving forward since June 2007 when the company unveiled its final configuration following a Critical Design Review undertaken by the MoD."

Looking forward to the next stages of the programme he adds: "The coming months are critical for the programme, seeing the testing and integration of the EO/IR/LTD payloads, Automatic Take-Off and Landing System and the I-Master Radar. The SAR imagery seen in initial trials of I-Master is outstanding and testing of the GMTI functionality is well underway. The combination of the radar and EO/IR sensors operating from a tactical plat­­­form will provide a trans­formational step in ISTAR capability for the UK armed forces."

Meanwhile, the H-450 UAVs delivered by Thales UK under an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) contract have now flown more than 10,000 hours in support of oper­a­tions, providing persistent intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and recon­nais­sance (ISTAR) capabilities to UK Armed Forces in both theatres, delivering very high-quality visual and IR imagery, day and night.

This support to current operations is being fulfilled by Thales UK through a highly innovative service provision contract and is delivering high-quality imagery and image intelligence to commanders and soldiers in Southern Iraq and Afghanistan.

The H-450 is now providing almost continuous ISTAR support to theatre troops over a large area. Steve Morris, Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle IPT Leader, says: "Our experience with the successful H-450 UOR has shown that UAV ISTAR capability is hugely valuable operationally. The UAV system is proving invaluable."

According to a senior officer in theatre: "The H-450 ISTAR capability allows immediate and rapid reaction to a threat, with unmatched flexibility and minimum maintenance to support UK forces in adverse conditions. It's made a considerable difference to our capability."

The two-year contract includes the provision of the H-450 systems, training of the UK MoD staff in the use and maintenance of the system, and the provision of contractor logistic support (CLS) and programme management services.

*Notes to editors

SAR - Synthetic Aperture Radar
GMTI - Ground Moving Target Indicator
EO - Electro Optical
IR - Infra-red
LTD - Laser Target Designator
ATOL - automatic take-off and landing

About Thales and Thales UK

Thales is a leading international electronics and systems group, addressing defence, aerospace and security markets worldwide. Thales' leading-edge technology is supported by 22,000 R&D engineers who offer a capability unmatched in Europe to develop and deploy field-proven mission-critical information systems. To this end, the group's civil and military businesses develop in parallel and share a common base of technologies to serve a single objective: the security of people, property and nations. The group builds its growth on its unique multi-domestic strategy based on trusted partnerships with national customers and market players, while leveraging its global expertise to support local technology and industrial development. Thales employs 68,000 people in 50 countries with 2007 revenues in excess of £8.3 bn.

Thales UK employs 9,000 staff based at more than 50 locations. In 2007 Thales UK's revenues were over £1.2 bn.

Press contact:

Thales UK
Kathryn Bell
Mob: +44 7813 903274

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