Warplanes: Leasing UAVs By The Hour


October 12,2008:  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.

Meanwhile, 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.

The 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 Lebanon.

The smaller (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.





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