The UK and France have moved a step forward in demonstrating their commitment to defence cooperation under the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty with the announcement that France will undertake operational assessments and trials of the Thales Watchkeeper unmanned air system (UAS) in 2012 and 2013, with a view to cooperating with the UK on Europe’s most advanced tactical UAS system.
The announcement was made after a bilateral meeting in London between UK Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Victor Chavez, Chief Executive of Thales UK, said “The battlewinning operational edge that UAVs bring to operations is well understood and these systems are rightly a central pillar of UKFrench defence collaboration. The announcement today that France will undertake trials of Watchkeeper demonstrates both nations commitment to cooperation on the battlefield and in the development of this strategically important sector.”
Pierre Eric Pommellet, SVP of Thales Defence Mission Systems added “Collaboration offers perspectives for widespread benefit for both nations—shared support costs, joint development of enhancements to what is already one of the world’s most advanced tactical UAV systems, the ability to harness the capabilities and innovation of both British and French industry, and most importantly the provision of world leading intelligence capabilities for British and French Armed Forces. Joint technological, industrial and interoperability advances were at the heart of the Anglo-French Treaty, and today’s announcement demonstrates concrete progress towards those aims.”
“The treaty has also already delivered much more than cooperation on systems—the twinning of the British Royal Artillery 32nd Regiment and the French Artillery’s 61st Regiment, whose relationship will only be deepened by joint operation of Watchkeeper, are the embodiment of the human links which are being formed across the Channel.”
Watchkeeper is Europe’s largest tactical unmanned air system (UAS) procurement programme. The delivery of Watchkeeper equipment to the British Army is on track and over 200 hours of flying trials have taken place.
Watchkeeper will replace the Hermes 450 UAS, a Thales tactical UAV service provided as an urgent operational requirement, which has already flown more than 65,000 hours in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing life-saving intelligence and reconnaissance.