Watchkeeper trials scheduled to commence in the Autumn
A key milestone in the £899m 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, as part of its ongoing £5m support contract – which means the Watchkeeper trials programme can commence here 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 programme 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 programme 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 Programme 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 co-operative effort has resulted in the delivery on schedule of a facility fully capable of meeting the demanding requirements of the Watchkeeper trials programme.”
Thales, the Watchkeeper prime contractor, is now clear to migrate the trials programme to the UK 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.
Other enhancements at the airport have included the runway being extended to over 1200 metres – a planned development that was accelerated to accommodate the Watchkeeper timetable. While undertaking this extension, extensive planning enabled [underground] infrastructure to be factored-in, giving the new Watchkeeper complex ‘plug and play’ capability with all airfield-deployed assets.
Watchkeeper UAVs will access the MOD Aberporth Range Complex in the first instance. Temporary segregated airspace will also be established to enable flying over mid-Wales and on to the Sennybridge Army Training Estate for integrated systems assessments comprising combined operations with deployed units on the ground. The air traffic control unit at MOD Aberporth Range will be tasked with managing all of the flying operations, with all scheduling being undertaken through QinetiQ’s ParcAberporth offices – providing a seamless service delivery.
QinetiQ plays an important role in many of the research, solution development and operational programmes for future unmanned systems across the land, air and sea domains, many of which are now the cornerstones of other pan-industry unmanned systems programmes. In addition to having developed and demonstrated critical aspects of solution autonomy, QinetiQ is now providing managed UAV services, delivering all important safety and release to service programmes, developing and integrating many of the vital sensing and communications solutions plus producing its own unmanned platforms including the Zephyr high altitude long endurance UAV and the Talon family of ground robots.