QinetiQ (Farnborough, U.K.) reports that a key milestone in the £899 million U.K. Ministry of Defence (MOD) project to develop the Watchkeeper unmanned air system has been reached on schedule. QinetiQ, working closely with other stakeholders, has delivered the necessary infrastructure and facilities at ParcAberporth, Ceredigion, South Wales, U.K. as part of its ongoing £5 million support contract – which means the Watchkeeper trials program can commence in the autumn.
QinetiQ has established secure office accommodation plus enhanced other aspects of technical support and facilities at the existing UAV Centre of Excellence, originally created by the then Welsh Development Agency on the site of the former RAF Aberporth. Other key stakeholders in the Watchkeeper program include the MOD’s Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) Unmanned Air Systems Project Team, the Welsh Assembly Government, West Wales Airport and Thales, as the prime contractor.
“This program is expected to bring unique trials, development and test flight and certification capabilities to West Wales, which can be used by the MOD and a range of unmanned air systems manufacturers, suppliers and customers,” explained QinetiQ’s project manager Robert Walter. “Their operation will lead to additional job opportunities as ParcAberporth becomes a centre of excellence for all future unmanned air vehicles.”
Dennis Cox, the DE&S program manager, added, “The Watchkeeper project team have been working closely with the other stakeholders to put in place the infrastructure required to fly unmanned air systems. This cooperative effort has resulted in the delivery on schedule of a facility fully capable of meeting the demanding requirements of the Watchkeeper trials program.”
Thales, the Watchkeeper prime contractor, is now clear to migrate the trials program to the U.K. by October 2009. Initial live flying elements of the operator training are expected to commence in March 2010 contributing to systems acceptance and deployment in October 2010.