QinetiQ’s support for the development of the Welsh Assembly Government initiative at ParcAberporth in West Wales as a “Centre of Excellence” for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operations has been recognised by the UK Ministry of Defence by it awarding QinetiQ a contract worth up to £5m to deliver a critical part of the UK Watchkeeper UAV programme from this location.
The work package will include carrying out a variety of airborne test and evaluation elements at ParcAberporth over the next 18 months and the ajoining MOD Aberporth air range. Various ground based work will also be conducted using QinetiQ operated facilities at MOD Boscombe Down to enable a range of pre-flight activity including environmental and electromagnetic compatibility testing. This work supports and augments the wider UAV development programmes currently being investigated by QinetiQ and other Industry players along with the MOD. The contract will be administered through the West Wales UAV Centre, the teaming between QinetiQ and West Wales Airport, established a year ago to deliver UAV support services for both civil and military customers.
"Selecting a commercial airport as the ‘home’ of the programme means we can deliver and extend our UAV knowledge and further develop both our and Industry’s understanding of concurrent manned and unmanned aircraft operations – a topic crucial to the future development of UAV’s in the world today," explained Peter Tanner, MD for QinetiQ’s Systems Evaluation Services business. "The West Wales UAV Centre already provides a focal point for the development of UAV systems and UAV operations in the UK and draws on QinetiQ’s extensive experience of safe UAV operations in the region. A host of UAV services are already available to industry and the centre continues to develop its services to meet the future needs of this important market."
The £800million Watchkeeper project is designed to provide the UK armed forces with a specialised surveillance and reconnaissance capability and will be evaluated within the unique environment that exists in West Wales. The announcement follows 15 months of promotion and planning by a team comprising QinetiQ, West Wales Airport and the Welsh Assembly Government, and culminated in detailed negotiations with the MOD’s Tactical UAV Integrated Project Team (TUAV IPT).
"In awarding this contract to QinetiQ we were looking to achieve real value for money, maximise efficiencies of existing MOD contracts for test and evaluation services on the ranges and obtain access to some of the best possible capabilities," explained Geoff Price, Watchkeeper Trials Manager for the MOD’s Tactical UAV Integrated Project Team. "QinetiQ has a good track record and ParcAberporth has quickly established a great reputation for professionalism and safety thanks to the industry experts that have located there and the facilities are excellent. Watchkeeper is a challenging UAV programme but we’re confident that our ongoing requirements for the programme will be met."
"MOD's decision to site Watchkeeper test and evaluation in Wales reinforces the role of ParcAberporth as a site of worldwide importance for unmanned system development," stated Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government. "This is a major coup for Wales, and follows five years of planning, investment and development as part of our long term strategy to create the ParcAberporth centre for unmanned systems. Watchkeeper is a major milestone in putting this strategy into action, and will provide a significant beneficial impact to the regional economy through the local support services needed for the contract. It is believed that this programme will act as a springboard for attracting other UAV and aerospace technology businesses to the area and we look forward to working with such businesses and welcoming them to Wales."