The BBC reported on 20th July that the MoD’s Watchkeeper programme, which aims to provide the Army with a surveillance drone, designed to provide “vital intelligence gathering and surveillance for the British Army”, has faced a series of major setbacks and delays.
As part of an £847m deal, contracts were awarded in 2005 to buy 54 UAVs to be in service by 2010, but many have remained in storage and there is a shortage of flight crews.
At least four Watchkeeper army drones being tested in Cardigan Bay have been damaged beyond repair, with each one costing almost £6m each. The MoD said it is “too early” to say whether a fifth drone, which crashed near a school in Ceredigion last month, is salvageable. If all five are beyond repair, it brings total losses to almost £30m. Four of the drones have crashed in Aberporth so far, either on land or in the sea.
One of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was badly damaged and broken into pieces when it crashed in a field near Penparc School on 13 June.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake has called for the Watchkeeper’s flight path to be diverted away from the school. “There have been significant concerns,” he said. “A lot of people have raised them with me, a lot of parents in particular. “They are concerned because they are aware of a number of accidents now with these drones and are asking how safe are they, if they’re flying close to the school.”
Meanwhile costs escalate: Watchkeeper is now expected to cost at least £1.1bn, against an initial estimate of £800m.