back to article Yet more British military drones crash, this time into the Irish Sea

Another two Watchkeeper drones crashed in the last year, taking the number of Watchkeepers destroyed in crashes up to four. The two semi-autonomous aircraft, which mainly operate from West Wales Airport at Aberporth, reportedly crashed at some point during the last year, resulting in the 52-strong Watchkeeper fleet being …

  1. Alan Bourke

    I presume

    they go and recover them?

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: I presume

      To give you an idea of the success of the recovery effort:-

      'What's the difference between a Watchkeeper and a Lobster pot?'

      'I don't know'

      'Neither does the sonar'

  2. Steve K Silver badge

    Pretty please get Lewis Page to comment!!!

  3. SkippyBing

    Worth noting, 47RA don't operate them from Aberporth, that's where the manufacturer does its test flying.

    On the rare occasions the Royal Artillery does actually fly them it's from Boscombe Down or Ascension Island. One being handy for Salisbury Plain training area, one being handy for being remarkably free of things you could damage by crashing into.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Kerashhh!

      One of the Aberporth ones crashed into a car -- the latter fortunately unoccupied.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Kerashhh!

        No it didn't. That was another drone, not a Watchkeeper.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      There is Stonehenge I believe

      1. SkippyBing

        'There is Stonehenge I believe'

        Yes, that's not the location remarkably free of things to crash into. That's the one in the middle of the South Atlantic.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thales’ key claim that the Watchkeepers were all-weather aircraft “is not true

    A supplier making false claims about the capabilities of their product?!?! OMFG! Colour me well-and-truly shocked!

    1. SkippyBing

      What's shocking is the amount of money paid to Thales to take a Hermes 450 UAV, which isn't all-weather, and redesign it as the Watchkeeper, which isn't all-weather.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A supplier making false claims about the capabilities of their product

      Well, at least the number of instances of the untrue claim are declining, as the fleet started out as 54, and is now down to 50.

      Or less, given how slowly these reports of drone crashes emerge. At the current attrition rate, we could surmise that between the last reported losses "earlier this year", we'll have had another breakage.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      All weather claims

      Given its low weight and high aspect ratio wings and tail surfaces, any claim of an all-weather capability, at least with regard to strong winds, is very dubious.

      Its sensors may well allow it to fly ok in limited optical visibility, such as fog, rain or snow*, but I wouldn't reckon much on its chances in strong winds and turbulent conditions.

      * But if my memory serves me correctly, even that seems to have been a factor in one of the earlier crashes)

      1. SkippyBing

        Re: All weather claims

        'Given its low weight and high aspect ratio wings and tail surfaces, any claim of an all-weather capability, at least with regard to strong winds, is very dubious.'

        All weather generally means able to fly in IMC and above the freezing level, all aircraft have a wind limit. A lot of the airframe mods Thales have made from the Hermes 450 were to do with making it able to fly in icing conditions*.

        As for flying in limited visibility, it's a robot, it doesn't need visual conditions to fly and I think one of the payload options doesn't have any optical sensors. The operator tells it where to go, the aircraft decides how to get there, there's no direct control available even for landing. That's fine until you get near the ground where for some reason Thales thought a LASER altimeter would be a god idea...

        * I'm not saying they work, I'm just saying that's what they said they were doing.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "A supplier making false claims about the capabilities of their product?!?! "

      At least this time it's (sarcasm alert) a perfidious French supplier selling substandard products to (Elgar sounds faintly in the background) Our Brave Lads, showing we're right to leave the EU, rather than a US supplier selling substandard products to Our Brave Lads, showing we damn well need to stay in it.

  5. Magani
    Black Helicopters

    A picture is worth at least one word

    It's in the header photo. The word is 'Army'. As anyone in the RAF/RAAF/RCAF/RNZAF (if there still is one)/etc, will tell you:-

    "If God had wanted the Army to fly, He would have painted the sky BROWN".

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: A picture is worth at least one word

      On that logic, based on English weather God is German.

  6. Seajay#
    Pint

    From a glass-half-full perspective. Score 1 for drones. When they have trials / training accidents, no-one dies.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      The engineering perspective is that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Korev Silver badge

      When [drones] have trials / training accidents, no-one dies.

      That depends what the debris lands on.

  7. Roger Varley

    Reliability

    I'd bet that if they put one of those on permanent station above the home of the Thales CEO, the reliability issues would be resolved fairly quickly.

  8. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    Minister to Rear Admiral

    To lose one drone may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

    With thanks to Oscar Wilde.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Minister to Rear Admiral

      According to Ian Fleming via Auric Goldfinger, "the third time it's enemy action." I wonder what the fourth time is?

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Minister to Rear Admiral

        "I wonder what the fourth time is?"

        Business as usual for the MoD?

  9. Pete 2 Silver badge

    3 services in one

    A Royal Artillery drone flies into the sea.

    Is this a case of all three: army, air-force and navy pilots (drivers, game-players, supervisers, operators) trying to wrest the controls off each other?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 3 services in one

      Must be Combined Services.

    2. Jonathan Schwatrz

      Re: 3 services in one

      It's the Artillery - they don't think it was a successful firing unless there's a bang at the end of the flight!

  10. Martin 66
    FAIL

    droning on

    Ok, so I have built a fixed-wing fully autonomous drone with a range of about 40km and a ceiling of about 1000m. It can beam video and telemetry back too. Mine cost a total of £450 quid compared to the 15.4M original per drone cost of the watchkeeper. Mine isn't all-weather either.

    I appreciate a watchkeeper can operate 150km from its ground station (wish I had access to military tech!!!), fly for longer (16hrs vs the 3-4hrs I can get) but is there really £15,999,550.00 worth of difference in capability per drone ?

    As there are many open source autopilot software and hardware projects around (and mine never thinks its landed when its 300ft up), I think a complete rethink is needed here.

    This plane was around from 1999 in its initial form and technology has moved on apace in this time - in fact there has been an enormous shift from specialist/military only in 1999 to UAVs becoming consumer in recent years, meaning anything costing £15.4m should be, well amazing.

    Maybe we should consider churning out drones that cost a few hundred grand each, which are reusable but no the end of the world if we lost one, but using the latest tech. I reckon a pretty amazing uav could be built for 100-200k that would outperform a watchkeeper and could probably fly when its a bit breezy too.

    1. Chrissy

      Re: droning on

      For £15million, most hobbyists could have designed built and flown a FLEET of craft to the moon and back, rather than 4 craft into the sea.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: droning on

        Military drones have large amounts of additional complexity added. People using the civilian drones in the Crimea found that the Russians were doing radio location and then dropping artillery strikes on the operator.

        When they then moved to flying fixed waypoints, they waited until somebody went to pick the (landed) drone up and then killed them.

        Not entirely convinced that civilian grade drones are readily suited to operate in a military context against a functioning organised military.

    2. SkippyBing

      Re: droning on

      'but is there really £15,999,550.00 worth of difference in capability per drone'

      Does yours have a moving target imaging radar as one of the optional payloads? Or a multi-spectrum imaging system? I suspect a lot of the difference in cost, other than making the control unit squaddie proof, is the systems it's carrying rather than the airframe itself which is pretty basic.

      1. Martin 66

        Re: droning on

        @SkippyBing and Peter2 - Totally agree there is much more complexity, but 15.9m quids worth that's my point? I'm not buying it. Don't forget the fat profit margins that defence companies make. Plus - who said the cost included optional payloads :-) I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't.

        but again 15.9m REALLY

        1. Chrissy

          Re: droning on

          I'd want to make sure the basics of a flying drone - does it a: fly and b: can it land non-destructively - worked before piling on the gadgetry.

          Maybe the MOD need to pay their contractors like builders... stage payments once each parameter - flying > landing (properly) > flying in rain > flying in rain and landing > flying in rain with a gadget and landing - have been met instead of just dropping their drawers with the entire 15m.

        2. SkippyBing

          Re: droning on

          'Totally agree there is much more complexity, but 15.9m quids worth that's my point?'

          That £15M is the programme cost divided by the number of airframes, so it won't cost £15M for an air vehicle as the programme also includes, ground control stations, recovery equipment (arrestor wires and a radio aid from memory), communications systems (to the aircraft, to ATC, to the ground recovery point etc.), the aircraft payloads, the storage system, any specialist tooling to service the aircraft, ground stations etc., manuals, training courses, etc. etc.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: droning on

        Depends on the target - is it easier to defend against 1 single £15M drone vs 100,000 x £150 drones coming at you at knee height with 1lb of unpleasantness underneath

        1. SkippyBing

          Re: droning on

          'Depends on the target - is it easier to defend against 1 single £15M drone vs 100,000 x £150 drones coming at you at knee height with 1lb of unpleasantness underneath

          It's an unarmed drone for over watch of ground forces, if you can make a £150 drone that can do that for 14+ hours crack on, but I don't think having 100,000 of them would be particularly useful.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: droning on

            So you are watching an empty bit of desert for 14hours and occasionally drop a $1M bonb on a camel.

            Meanwhile 100,000 phosphorus/thermite/shaped charge bearing drones descend on your camp/HQ/tank army

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: droning on

          "knee height with 1lb of unpleasantness underneath"

          You been on the curry again?

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: droning on

            Meanwhile 100,000 phosphorus/thermite/shaped charge bearing drones descend on your camp/HQ/tank army

            And these drones require say, one person to 4 drones to fly, attack, recover, rearm? I think that's optimistic, but assuming that you did manage one person to 4 drones then you "only" require 25,000 people. Plus transport, plus basic catering (food, water etc) additional munitions, charging stations, refuelling their vehicles etc. The logistics operation there probably added another 5k people, so your "cheap" drone army now requires at least 30,000 people to deploy.

            For comparison the (entire) British Army has an authorised strength of 82,000. This includes infrantry, IFV's, Tanks, Recon, the Royal Artillery, the Army Air Corps with attack helicopters, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Logistics corps etc.

            Not convinced, that your 30k people are on a winner, honestly.

            This is what happens within about 2 minutes of locating your 30,000 people to within about half a mile.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZE-UoigCiM

            This is likely to cause some effect on the sortie rate, as is attack helicopters turning up overhead, and tanks arriving which hadn't been noticed because all of the drone operators were busy digging deep holes to hide in.

            1. Jonathan Schwatrz

              Re: droning on

              ".....attack helicopters....." Whilst mentioning attack choppers, I can't help wondering if the Admiral was so happy to mention Watchkeepers crashing because he wants more money for helicopters rather than drones.....

  11. Mad Mike

    Accident reasons

    I do love the reasons given for the accidents!!

    Turned off the anti-crash and guess what happened......it crashed.

    Also, what use is a facility that allows the drone to think it's landed, but is still at 300 feet? I guess during initial landing testing during development, there might be reason for it, but production?

    Both reasons seem pretty lame to me.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Accident reasons

      I believe it was because of this meteorological phenomenon called "Rain". It confused the poor "all weather" drone.

      1. The First Dave

        Re: Accident reasons

        Typical mis-understanding of the requirements:

        Req: A drone that can fly in all weathers.

        Result: A drone that can _fly_ in all weathers, but prefers nice conditions when you want to stop flying.

    2. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Accident reasons

      Also, what use is a facility that allows the drone to think it's landed, but is still at 300 feet?

      I'm not sure it was a feature, more a bug...

      As I recall from the accident report, the drones were originally fitted with a weight-on-wheels inhibitor which confirmed that the drone was actually landed before power could be shut down, however, for some obscure reason the manufacturers removed this.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Accident reasons

        IIRC the original anti-crash function refused to go anywhere near the ground if it didn't have good height data on approach. It used a laser altimeter which didn't work in the rain. This made landing in Wales tricky.

        The result was that the drone sat there sulking 300ft up until it ran out of fuel and crashed - so the avoid the ground feature was regularly turned off.

  12. h4rm0ny
    Trollface

    West Wales...

    Did they check to see if either of the crashed drones left a note?

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: West Wales...

      The drones thought they were landing in Cantref y Gwaelod...

  13. Chris G Silver badge

    I'm flying backwards for the aaarmy

    Across the Irish Sea

    I'm flying backwards for the aaarmee

    It's the only thing for m....splat gurgle.....

    With thanks to Spike Milligan.

    1. Woza

      I've tried flying sideways, and flying to the front,

      But people just look at me,

      And say "it's a publicity stunt!"

      Upvoted for Spike Milligan

  14. Dapprman
    Joke

    Perhaps the drone was asked to wash it's stored data ...

    ... and saw a very big pot of water to do it in ....

  15. JJKing
    Joke

    Submarines are safer than drones.

    I base this on the fact that there are more drones that have crashed into the sea than there are submarines that have crashed into the sky.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Submarines are safer than drones.

      > I base this on the fact that there are more drones that have crashed into the sea than there are submarines that have crashed into the sky.

      Sez you...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ack Ack

    or Hack Hack ?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is good news...

    They will be buying 4 more.

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: This is good news...

      Unlikely, they've got more they haven't used yet than have.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can see the problem...

    ...with this drone straight away - it uses a wankel engine. These type of engines have two well documented issues.

    Firstly tip seal wear, this has been a problem for these engines since day one and has never been completely overcome - hence these engines have never been in mainstream use (I know Mazda tried). Bad cases of failure can cause the engine to loose power or even completely stop.

    Secondly, these engines are inherently fuel-inefficient, it's consequence of their design and there in nothing that can be done about it.

    The good thing about these engines is they are compact and relatively low vibration - but so are gas turbines.

  19. handleoclast

    West Wales White Elephant

    Ah, West Wales Airport at Aberporth. ICAO designation EGFA.

    Except it's not really at Aberporth, it's at Blaenannerch.

    But it's used by Qinetiq for drone flights, and Qinetiq are at what used to be (and still partially is) MoD Aberporth.

    Except MoD Aberporth isn't at Aberporth, it's at Parcllyn (if you're English, you probably don't know how to pronounce that Welsh double-l).

    Anyway, West Wales White Elephant used to be an MoD airstrip. A very short one. But like much MoD stuff, it was sold off by Thatcher.

    So the new owner/operator of WWA/WWWE/EGFA conceived of a scheme to suck vast quantities of grants from the EU teat.

    Part of that scheme required extending the runway (which happened).

    Extending the runway involved diverting a chunk of A487 (that happened) and rerouting the minor road from the A487 to the "airport" (which happened).

    That minor road passed right by the end of the existing short runway so had a warning sign and traffic lights "Give way to low flying aircraft." Gone, but not forgotten.

    And the justification for all this sucking at the EU teat was that the increased air traffic would justify building a big hotel nearby (with a large injection of EU money), to deal with all the visitors coming to the new prestigious "airport." Which didn't happen. No new hotel, several years on.

    Not many additional flights, either. Just drones. But at least they have a long runway now. And if the hotel ever gets build, they'll be able to park the drones in it, because there will be bugger-all humans staying in it.

  20. BeakUpBottom

    however, for some obscure reason the manufacturers removed this.

    "Can we have an extra 0.5 bill for feature x? it's really cool!"

    "We're a billion over budget already, and we haven't even recarpeted the Colonel's office for at least 6 months"

    "OK, switch that one off, we'll make it back in replacing lost aircraft."

  21. toffer99

    And the airlines want us to fly in pilotless planes. Think I'll walk or stay at home.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021