back to article Qinetiq wins Watchkeeper drone test contract

The UK's ongoing effort to develop a domestic flying-robot business - and, incidentally, to supply a small number of such robots to the British forces - has handed out some more nourishment to the arms-tech biz. It was announced on Friday that ground and flight testing for Project Watchkeeper will be handled by Qinetiq, the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    As much the government's fault as the industry's...

    Government programmes are fraught with indecision and plain, simple, bad management. It works so much better when they just let the clever guys get on with developing the technology and buy it off the shelf when it's ready.

    Case in point: Watchkeeper's a govt project that's been dragging on for years already, with no sign of any of them actually going to work in Afghanistan or Iraq. BAE's Taranis/Raven/Corvus* kit has been mostly developed off BAE's own back and is flying in Afghanistan right now - and from what I've heard it's actually doing quite well..

    FRES is another programme that's destined for failure. How much longer is it going to take the government to pick a name out of the hat for the first vehicle? Considering that one of the designs is already in service with the septics and doing rather well at its job, you would have thought it would be an easy choice.

    *whichever name the PR people pull out of the stack when it comes to writing a press release.

  2. Tawakalna


    ..Britain's disastrous and chaotic military R&D continues to pour taxpayers' money down the drain or up in smoke, as it has been since the '50s and '60s. I'm tempted to say that it's not even news anymore, as the list of f*cked-up contracts must be about as long as the 'phone book now. For every success like the Canberra or Hawk, there's a TSR2 or Nimrod AEW. I wonder what the ratio of success to failure is?

    Oops, sorry, we aren't allowed to say that projects are a failure, are we? That's "negative" and undermines "confidence" in British military R&D.

  3. Slaine


    £17 million for an unarmed military device?

    £17 million for a remote controlled toy?

    The local shops sell 'em for less than £100, you could stick a camera in it for a fraction more...

    $17 million - EACH???????????

    ... why not just be done with it and drown children with glacier meltwater, freeze pensioners, starve the unemployed and tax the sh1t out of anyone in work...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dodgy Photograph

    Isn't the photo a doctored picture of a Hermes 450 see the road in the background is suspiciously the same.

    Seems to me old wine in new bottles.

  5. amanfromMars Silver badge

    An In[ter]dependent Honesty Broker keeping Watch?

    A Dedicated Lover for Galileo Drive? Hard[ened] Core Surveillance for National and InterNetional Assets?

    Beam me up Scotty territory ......for the next Generation of Control Systems/Money Pits.

    Now that would be a Paradigm Shift/Quantum Leap which signals Progressive Action rather than the Status Quo Reactive Lethargy which wallows in the fat cat pork barrels.

    [Ok, I know it should be ..Beam me up Taffy territory but let's not be pedantic. And just imagine the skies full of these bots doing their thing and one may then conclude that there is a definite madness pushing the Agenda.....and for what? ....for whose benefit?]

  6. Starace

    Re:Dodgy Photograph and the article itself...

    The reason for the 'dodgy photograph', and why the statement 'smaller off-the-shelf Hermes 450s from Israel' isn't exactly accurate is that Watchkeeper is actually based on a reworking of the Elbit Hermes 450 platform (the WK450).

    Hence the quick Photoshop job. And why getting a couple of 450's early is good training.

    I suspect the whole Welsh testing thing doesn't really involve much money, it's more likely about the suitability of the location for testing UAVS (e.g. the terrain) rather than anything else. I doubt much actual work will happen there, or many local jobs are involved.

    Certainly it's better to site the testing in Wales than doing the flight testing around Crawley (the design and integration site), or around Leicester (where the things will be built). Both of which are privately owned, and have enough work from various defence contracts from different countries that Watchkeeper is a 'nice to have' program rather than keeping lots of people in otherwise non-existent jobs.

    I think we've already had the Watchkeeper cost argument in another comments section. In this case it's definitely the avionics that are taking the cash - the platform is f*ck all. And given it's the avionics that actually provide the capability, and you couldn't fit them in a Predator, it sort of forces the decision. Plus you assume the Predator is actually worth having - I suspect some research would show it's actually too big, too expensive to maintain, and the real capabilities are nowhere near the hype: nothing unusual for most US sourced kit....

    I will admit I got a bit lost towards the end of the article, it seemed to degenerate into a general rant about subsidising jobs and 'why not buy American?', and then about BAE. Which sort of diluted the whole point.

    Oh, and BTW Lewis, I know you're a Navy bod but it's worth noting that A400M and C-17, while both transport aircraft, have very different roles and can't really be compared. The propellers vs. turbofans are a bit of a clue...

    Disclosure: I have nothing whatsoever to do with any of the programs or companies involved in the above. I just know how to do some background research and not randomly rant about pork-barrels and the UK defence industry.

  7. TeeCee Gold badge


    AFAIR, TSR2 was a roaring success right up until the Government of the day canned it amidst howls of complaint from everyone involved. The problems experienced in development were no worse than many other aircraft developments.

    The big problem was that it had its size 12s firmly on the corns of the F-111, Phantom, Jaguar and the political "must have" Panavia MRCA (Tornado) project. It had to go.

    That's not a failure, that's a victim of short-sighted political stupidity.

  8. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Price of votes is truly shocking!

    I'm very much in two minds to this as I do see the value in developing and keeping the technical knowledge onshore, but the worldwide arms market is big enough for subsidies to be minimal. It is the considerable and extreme meddling of politicians that delays, kills or warps many military projects, it would seem long overdue that the military should be given an independent and impartial body to oversee defence purchases.

    Tawakalna, please do some reading - the TSR2 would have given us better than F-111K capability earlier (in fact, we never got the "cheaper" F-111Ks, we had to make do with Buccaneers and Phantoms), but was killed by stupid politicians dazzled by the technobabble of the missile salesmen (in Duncan Sandy's case) and General Dynamics shysters (in the Labour government's case). The TSR2 was a case of the politicians going out of their way to kill an almost complete project on the excuse of some vague and unproven promise of some cost-savings. If a finger has to be pointed at a lead culprit then it has to be Lord Mountbatten, the then Chief of the Defence Staff, who was so determined to shaft the RAF in favour of the RN that he ended selling the F-111 to Labour. So in effect, the tax payers got royally shafted!

  9. Anonymous Coward


    You're quite right, Lewis would much rather we bought cheap American tat rather than develop our own cheap tat, and he obviously got a major boner for BAE. Which annoys me, because every once in a while he writes a good article, and then he spoils it with dribble like this.

    RE: Dodgy Photo. It's blatantly the same vehicle from a different angle that's undergone a spot of air-brushing.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Erm ...

    WK450 airframe = Hermes 450 airframe. The difference between the two lies in the sensors, electronics and ground elements - ie all the expensive bits.

    Hence a huge bill for development of UK alternatives to perfectly serviceable Israeli systems, insertion of more advanced technology, technology transfer, UK certification, paperwork, establishing a UK source for spare parts etc. This then drives the cost per airframe way up. Is it worth it ? Good question. Depends on how you weigh independent source of supply, the technology upgrades and initial cost in your decision making.

    The real reason Watchkeeper won't be very useful is that no-one in any Air Force will allow a UAV flown by a bunch of gun bunnies anywhere near their platforms, manned or unmanned.

  11. lglethal Silver badge

    @ Starace

    Couldnt agree more. Being an aerospace engineer who has worked in the UK aerospace industry (and who worked on the A400M for a year) i can tell you that its not the UK industry thats the problem - it comes down to the politics.

    The A400M could have been completed well ahead of schedule except Airbus continually changed the requirements! As a major airframe component supplier my company was forced to go through 30+ iterations of design component, stress component, build component, Airbus change component requirements, repeat. It was still going when i left!

    The reason Airbus kept changing the components? Because they were trying to accommodate all the demands of the various purchasing governments.

    CONCLUSION: Governments should keep there bloody noses out of military design!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    It is Quinetiq, waddaya want?

    Quinetiq is a product of the government procurement process. While it produces some stuff itself it is also a middleman which "shields" our "poor and vulnerable" government from dealing with small suppliers who actually have the revolutionary product. In the process it inflates the bill of materials by up to 500% and collects a tidy profit.

    If HMG puts a decent purchase process in place that does not discriminate versus small companies its prices will come right down where they belong in less than a year.

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