Monday, July 14, 2008

Watchkeeper 450 progress

Derived from the Elbit Hermes 450 and developed by Thales, the British Army's future UAV the Watchkeeper WK450 made it's first flight a few weeks ago and has made a good impression already. The WK450 was said to be a robust and stable aircraft. It differs from the Hermes 450 in having an automated take-off and landing system (as yet not tested), a de-icing system for it's new wing, and a better engine from a UK supplier.

Payload (caution acronym overload!)

For it's ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) role WK450 will be fitted with a Thales I-Master SAR (synthetic aperture radar) / GMTI (ground moving target indication) sensor and a Elop Compass IV EO (electro-optical) / IR (infrared sensor) with laser target designator. I-Master is said to already give very good resolution with the SAR said to be world-leading but there is still some fine tuning that can be done. Development is being carried out by these systems on other manned and unmanned test aircraft.

Thales are looking into providing WK450 with the ability to process imagary and only sending back revelent imagery via the datalink to reduce the work load on ground controller and image analysts. There are also attempts to fuse the SAR/GMTI and EO/IR data.

Production WK450 airframes will be built in the UK by Lola with production expected to begin in 2009. Elbit will produce their own version called the Hermes 450B. Future growth could see a twin-engined version in the future.

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