• Thales talking to several Middle Eastern countries about buying Watchkeeper unmanned aerial system
  • Drones were designed specifically for the UK
  • Watchkeeper is only non-US UAS certified to operate in civilian airspace

France’s Thales is talking to several Middle Eastern countries about buying its Watchkeeper unmanned aerial system (UAS).

The firm says it is seeing a lot of interest from the Middle East and Asia-Pacific after its successful first deal with the British Army.

The drones were designed specifically for the UK under a £1bn ($1.5bn) programme. It has 54 on order, with more than 30 already delivered.

The Watchkeeper is the only non-US UAS certified to operate in civilian airspace. It is characterised by its wide-area surveillance radar and its light weight, at just 500 kilograms.

The UK first deployed the Watchkeeper in September 2014 to assist in the UK/US withdrawal from Afghanistan, sending five planes to the Helmand province.

Thales is also working on proposals to supply the Watchkeeper to France and Poland for their tactical unmanned requirements, including reportedly a weaponised version.

The Watchkeeper carries a twin payload comprising an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor and a Thales-produced synthetic aperture radar.

In March 2014, Thales signed a memorandum of understanding with the Qatar Armed Forces to assist in developing an optionally piloted vehicle, a hybrid between a conventional aircraft and a UAS.

Defence spending in the region has been maintained this year, despite the fall in oil prices. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are expected to spend significantly on defence despite the drop in oil and gas prices affecting government revenues, according to a new study by US-based consultancy IHS.

Saudi Arabia is forecast to increase defence-specific spending to about $60bn a year by 2020, from its present $49bn, to give it the fifth-largest defence budget in the world.

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