The same contractor (Thales) that
is providing Israeli Hermes 450 UAVs for British forces in Afghanistan, has
offered to provide similar services for French troops there. While Britain is
developing its own UAV, based on the Hermes 450, technical problems have
delayed these from reaching the troops until 2010. But the British wanted some
UAV support right away. So they made a deal with Thales, which would lease the
British Army four Hermes 450s, along with contractor personnel to maintain and
help operate the UAVs. This has worked out very well, as the 14 months that the
Thales Hermes 450s have been in Afghanistan, they have provided about 500 UAV
hours in air per month. The British have been quite pleased with this,
especially since Thales is paid by the hour (a UAV is in the air). Thus the
contractors have an incentive to keep them flying. Thales is using all this success
to interest the French in a similar deal.
Britain is working away on two new models of UAVs; the Watchkeeper 180 and the
Watchkeeper 450. Both UAVs are based on Israeli designs (the Hermes 180 and
450). The two Watchkeepers were supposed to be ready for service in 2005, but
various problems delayed that, and now these aircraft are not expected to enter
service until 2010.
Watchkeeper 450, a 992 pound aircraft, is also being equipped to carry Hellfire
missiles for support of troops in Afghanistan. This UAV was originally designed
to carry two extra fuel tanks under its wings. Each of these fuel tanks weighs
more than the 110 pound Hellfire. The Watchkeeper 450 is 20 feet long 450 has a
35 foot wingspan. It can stay in the air for up to 20 hours per sortie, and fly
as high as 20,000 feet. The Hermes 450 is the primary UAV for the Israeli armed
forces, and twenty or more were in action each day during the 2006 war in
(14 feet long, 20 foot wingspan) Watchkeeper 180 weighs 430 pounds, has a
maximum payload of 77 pounds and can stay in the air for ten hours at a time.
Both UAVs have day/night cameras and can supply ground troops with live video.
British troops have already been using other UAVs, and are convinced of the
benefits of live video in support of combat operations. Britain will be
spending over $1.5 billion on the Watchkeeper UAVs.