May 8, 2010: Four years after deciding to build their own UAVs, Britain got its Watchkeeper into the air for the first time. Britain is introducing two new models of UAV, 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 this year, maybe.
The Watchkeeper 450 is a 450 kg (992 pound) aircraft with a payload of 150 kg. It is also being equipped to carry Hellfire missiles for support of troops in Afghanistan. This UAV is already designed to carry two extra fuel tanks under its wings. Each of these fuel tanks weighs more than the 50 kg (110 pound) Hellfire missile. The Watchkeeper 450 is 6.5 meters (20 feet long) and has a 11.3 meter (35 foot) wingspan. It can stay in the air for up to 20 hours per sortie, and fly as high as 6,500 meters (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 Lebanon.
The smaller (4.5 meters/14 feet long, 6.5 meter/20 foot wingspan) Watchkeeper 180 weighs 196 kg (430 pounds), has a maximum payload of 35 kg (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 pay a lot more for their 54 UAVs, over $22 million each, than equivalent American aircraft.