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Unmanned Warrior - Coast Watching

4 October 2016
Ashore they call it going on ‘shift’: The business of taking over some part of a job which has to be kept going night and day, or out of hours.

At sea they call it going on watch, and the shift workers are called watchkeepers.  

The term probably stems from all the looking needed to navigate a ship: The lookouts on the bridge, the Operations Room radar plotters, the Ship Control Centre machinery minders noting their dials and indicators and the man or woman holding it all together on behalf of the Captain: the Officer of the Watch.

So the Thales developed Watchkeeper UAS has some navy in the name, although it is operated by our Army colleagues in the Royal Artillery 47th Regiment.

It was developed from the Hermes 450 procured for British Army operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the start these UAVs were very much in the business of looking, developing so called SA or Situational Awareness in preparation for manoeuvres on the ground.

But from West Wales Airport at Aberporth this week (a dedicated UAV flying centre) the opening phases of Unmanned Warrior will see Watchkeeper looking seaward: flying out and spotting the ships passing by and feeding its visual and radar picture back to our demonstration HQ vessel MV Northern River in the Irish Sea.

This is manned by scientists and experienced naval personnel who will interpret the data on board and feed it back to the Maritime Operations Centres set up for the associated Joint Warrior exercise. 

And then the questions will be asked – as they will for all the Unmanned Warrior demonstrations – how much does it help SA at sea? Does it improve what warships can find out for themselves or with their helicopters (electronically as well as visually)? If so, for how long and how accurately? Is it reliable? Is it safe? 

So tomorrow and Thursday the Royal Artillery will be doing some sea duty, without ever going afloat, and making sure they keep a good eye on things - including the Navy.

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