Watchkeeper Ownership

Which Corp operate Watchkeeper in service?

  • AAC

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Int Corps

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
I note with interest that the MoD have recently announced that the Watchkeeper programme will be signed shortly based upon the larger WK450 UAV rather than the original concept of a mix of WK180 and 450. I also note that there is considerable momentum regarding the RA having ownership of the UAV.

Now, before I start, although I'm a crustacian, I am a firm believer in the Army having their own UAV capability. Nor do I lose much sleep about inter cap badge rivalry in the Army.

However, it seems very dubious to place Watchkeeper with the RA. I've heard a considerable amount from the RA lately about how they see WK being employed and they often appear extremely ignorant regarding peacetime (airworthiness and CAA air law etc) and wartime (integration with other air assets etc) aspects of UAV employment. I understand that the AAC have now taken responsibility for Army UAV airworthiness issues, but is the RA really the correct Corps to operate WK in service?

Given the operating altitudes and capabilities of WK, I see it's role far more as a Div/Bde ISTAR asset, more akin to a Defender or 'ASTOR lite'. Phoenix experience I doubt will have much relevance to WK. Yes, WK may have auto land and take-off. However, the WK operator will have to integrate with numerous other assets such as BH, CAS, SCAR and AFACs. This will also mean that he'll need to talk with C2 assets such as AWACS and JSTARS and adhere to ATOs and ACMs. Surely then, it makes more sense for WK to be operated by the AAC, with Int Corps IAs alongside them.

Additionally, it strikes me that the WK180 would have been better suited to what the Army requires. Smaller and capable of catapult launch, the 180 also fits in better between Air Component UAVs such as Predator and smaller maritime based systems such as Scan Eagle.

Again, I have no particular axe to grind here. However, the decision to give WK to the RA seems extremely dubious.

Thoughts, comments and abuse...?



It's an intertesting question, MM, although I doubt if our Lords & Masters care enough about it to take note of our opinions. Without trashing your capbadge, I see that Their Airships are desperate to latch onto anything to justify the existence of the junior Service, including AH, and the nuclear deterrent role.

IMHO, the Army will have it, though the decision as to which branch will probably turn into a bit of an MOD bun-fight, which will certainly delay its ISD.
Let's not get into other squabbles here. Each service sees other services' snipers in every bush.

I have yet to hear any Senior RAF officer remark or see any staffwork suggesting that AH should be assumed by the RAF and I have said many times that it's with the correct service. The deterrent argument is only just beginning. Personally, I think that it may make sense to move our so called 'independent' deterrent onto a cheaper sub-strategic system such as TLAM (RN SSN or T45) or Stormshadow/ALCM (RAF) and balance money more effectively with conventional procurement. However, looking at the proliferation of threats, I'd rather see us keep a robust SSBM 'silver bullet'.

Likewise, there's been no attempt by us to grab WK, nor was I suggesting we do. However, we already have a Predator unit working with the USAF and procurement of our own systems is imminent.

Now, can we go back to the original question please!


I note that you are impuning the Gunners' ability to integrate assets effectively. The Gunners are the only people who even try to integrate effects and resources in the manner you allude to - if its done badly, that's a different issue!

I have no issue with giving it to the AAC at all, but I'd rather they were allowed to get on with business of flying, and let the Gunners crack on with the business of co-ordinating effects. UAV is but one tool in the box, and it is best used by the those who are best placed to use the product, as opposed to giving it to the AAC simply because it flies. Are you suggesting that the AAC also operate met balloons as well?


Sorry if you took my remarks the wrong way, MM, I was just expressing an opinion, (that Watchkeeper should go to the AAC) and observations (from various threads on Pprune), and conversations I've recently had with some senior officers not unconnected with your Service, and defence contractors.

Not sniping. Just responding to your original post, which did ask for "Thoughts, comments and abuse...?"

BTW, why pose your question on QM's & MT(logistics)? Surely you could have found a more suitable board, one pertaining to the potential operators?
I'm not questioning the RAs ability to coordinate effects although I would also suggest that other Corps in the Army do likewise (AAC, SF etc). Simlarly such activities are not only done by your own Service.

What I do question is why an airborne asset such as WK is being given to your Corps. Phoenix is little more than a remote control aircraft, the capabilities of which limit it geographically and vertically to a typical Land BG/Div area. I saw it used in Kosovo and TELIC and it requires minimal coord with other assets.

WK however will be very different and my argument is 2 pronged: operational and product based. WK will be able to fly up to medium altitudes and considerably beyond BG/Div areas for extended periods. This will demand that it is fully integrated with Air C2, ATOs, ACMs, BH and fixed wing. AAC aircrew are fully conversant with such activities. To my knowledge, the RA is not. Indeed, I understand that the airworthiness clearance aspects specifically had to be handed to the AAC for this very reason. Additionally, there are specific legal requirements for UAV operators laid down by the CAA. Although there is still some way to go before UAVs are allowed to operate routinely in non-segregated airspace, the current WK manning concepts will not enable you to operate WK during peacetime outside of very small NOTAMED danger areas.

Secondly, it seems that the role of WK will be far more than coord of effects and will require very specific IA skills due to the SAR/EO (as opposed to just EO on PX) payload. Will the RA be the main customer for WK product? Or will it feed more widely into a joint picture employed at JFLCC/JFACC/Corps/Div/Bde in the same way as ASTOR (well maybe one day!), Nimrod, Predator or RAPTOR (well maybe one day as well!) will be able to.

To my mind, the ability of WK to integrate into Joint ops and Joint fires as well as ensuring that no further balls are dropped regarding legal airworthiness or op requirements will be best served by the following manning/ownership:

1. WK owned and operated in a formed AAC sqn by pilots conversant in peacetime and wartime control procedures (Radar Control, RAS, RIS, ATO/ACO compliance, AWACS etc).

2. Sensor ops from a combination of Int Corps and RA with maybe a few others thrown in for good measure (as has been done with the ASTOR ground segment).

Apologies if I growled, I just didn't want to get dragged down a rabbit warren! I wouldn't take much notice of most of the posters on PPRUNE; 99% whingers/wannabes with 1% informed debate. I've also heard contractors banging on about AH ownership but I genuinely don't think there is any desire within the RAF to follow the Dutch or Israeli models and give ownership of AH to us. An exchange post would be nice, but nothing more!

The reason I placed this topic here was that I'd hoped it would get a more evenly balanced hearing than on the Aviation or Gunner forums!

At the Crab in and and shoot...!

Mushy , I spent many a year as a ground air defence bod, I was wondering what the RAF is using now as ground AD radar , I was lucky (!) enough to serve on the ill fated Plessey/seimans T93 ( TGRI5001 ISTR ) rubbish


MM, yours has to be one of the most eloquently-put debates that I've seen in here, and deserves a much wider audience. I just hope it doesn't descend into more willy-waving, a-la Pprune.
The ground based UK AD radars are still the T91 and 93s but now also augmented by an increasing amount of feeds from military and civil ATC radars. Despite 9/11, securing funding for AD of the UK is obviously hard to come by. However, on the plus side 1 ACC has the excellent T101, and the UK CRCs have recently been upgraded with a superb (and very cheap) Window 2000 based C2 system. Trouble is, every time they want to intercept a suspect airliner, they get an annoying paperclip appear on the screen saying...

'Looks like you're about to be attacked by suicide nutters. Microsoft can help you engage the you wish to intercept with your default aircraft?'

However, fear not! The mighty AWACS is always available!!!

Many thanks!! I've been called many things by ARRSE members but never eloquent!!!

Interesting debate - thanks for that, MM. We are (very) slowly recognising that some capabilities span all the components of a Jt Force, and must be operated to benefit all. The Army has not been good at this and, even now, generally resists initiatives which threaten to take some of its toys away. (The RAF, I suggest, is also sometimes susceptible to parochialism and, from my army perspective, still seems inclined to focus on extreme depth at the expense of the closer battle). But given recent changes, first to hels, then to NBC, now to GBAD and, increasingly, to CIS, I think we are getting better. A recognition that WK requires control and coordination at the operational level, rather than below component level, must be on the cards during the gestation of the programme which, lets face it, is unlikely to be quick. Given tasking from that level and the resulting visibility of the extent to which the operators meet the requirement, I don't think it really matters what specific capbadge (or, indeed, which service) operates the capability. If the Gunners haven't got the skills needed (and I suspect your analysis is correct), then they'll either have to develop them, to buy them in, or to give the capability up to others. In any event, there's a long way to go yet.

I'd go one further and assign UK UAVs to a joint services unit. UAVs are potentially a genuinely transformational unit and need input and support from all three services to achieve their potential. I'd split it into two main areas:

1. Operations

If Watchkeeper (or anything else) is to share the skies with others then it needs to be operated by aviators. And it will have to share to operate at the necessary altitudes and transit from the launch runway to the AO. I'd plump for mostly AAC (to get that operating outside a 4 star hotel ethos) with a healthy input from the RAF Nimrod and Sentry fleets, and the odd FAA bod for maritime ops. Much as they may protest, gunners are not and will never be credible aviators. The changes that WK will bring in mean that Phoenix experience is largely irrelevant. I know that the gunner mafia (both in uniform and in the DPA) are trying ever so hard to deny reality but saying something doesn't make it so. Sorry if that offends but I've seen them up close and while they're the people I'd want to drop shells on the opposition they're not aviators. Hell, Phoenix was explicitly and expensively designed so that they would never need to be.

2. Sensors

WK will carry a variety of sensors, and thus needs a variety of operators. SAR requires trained IAs to interpret (been there, got the T-shirt) so I'd have a mix thet reflected the expected target set - mostly green, some light and dark blue. Visual/IR ops should mostly be IAs as well, it's far easier to interpret something if you're the one driving the sensor. I'd go for mostly green IAs here as Army IAs are all OP MI and that training will greatly aid working out what on earth is going on. The current op as "stick monkey" attitude is a waste of capability.

Moreover the sensor op should talk directly to the customer. Bin the current crop of keen but clueless Tac Parties who clutter up HQs talking b*llocks, get the op with the camera talking directly to the customer. So you'll also need some Gunners trained up to call for fire (and teach the others to do it) and some Inf/Cav etc operators to talk to units on the ground and tell them what's over the next hill.

To sum up then, JOINT. Anyone who tries to play dog in the manger with this kit needs to realise that it's more important to get the job done right than assemble your own private empire. But you don't get to be OC with that attitude do you ...
Just a question MM, might be in your field - might not.

Is it the truth that the Typhoon is NT4 driven and is no more than a pre-programmed missile with a bloke on?

heard this and was not too impressed . All those milllions for a big UAV with a man in the front seat.?
One of the Strange,
A man after my own heart!! A Joint UAV unit (encompassing Predator, WK and whatever the RN gets but excluding the smaller stuff at coy and below level) would be an exceptional idea and would greatly improve inter-service coop ref UAVs and avoid 'Stovepiped' tasking, procurement and tactical development.

Old bloke,
No. From my limited knowledge of the Typhoon systems architecture, it is not NT. Certainly the aircraft is far more than a 'missile with a man in it'. The US are only just starting to test fly UCAVs such as the X-45 and X-47. These may be able to be employed in the simpler 'dull, dangerous and dirty' operational tasks (eg recce, SEAD/DEAD and ECM) from around 2015 (a stated date for a USAF and USN UCAV limited capability). However, we're still a long way off from being able to remove the human element in most air-air and air-surface roles. What the systems on Typhoon are designed for is to allow sensor fusion (of on board radar, IFF, IRST, EO pod, DAS and off board data link information) and a degree of automation to ease pilot decision making, weaponeering and systems management.

Inter-service cooperation would be greatly improved if the RAF was subsumed into the army....less empire building and more work done.
BTW before AAC in its present form, the RA had spotter pilots who were of the highest ability.
First, please let's not degenerate into off topic bickering about the RAF.

Your argument that the RA had AOP pilots 50 years ago is self-defeating. The skills required to fly a simple light aircraft such as the Auster AOP9 operationally were a factor in the adoption of a professional aircrew cadre in the Army. Therefore, it could be argued that the more complex demands of the WK mission (medium level ops integrated into other components, weaponeering, accurate flying to optimize multi-sensor payloads, ATO/ACO compliance, threat avoidance etc) more than justify AAC primacy.

WK will be a high value and expensive asset that cannot be considered as expendible as PX. Surely it's interests are best served by an air minded Corps supported by the sensor manipulators and customers?

You never know, maybe the AAC will be able to stop more of your feared RAF empire building!


MM, glad to see the level of debate on the issue continues, don't let it be dragged down by small-minded individuals looking for entertainment.

Since the UAV will almost certainly be regarded as an aircraft then by extension it will be required (by CAA, at least) to be 'flown' by a pilot, therefore a QSP from ANY service could be employed. The systems op could be RA/Int/Martime depending on role. As for the question of who owns/operates the package, I'm quite happy to see a 'Joint' organisation running the show, with input from all interested parties, but given the airspace likely to be occupied, and the fact that ground units will be the majority of those forces supported, the prime mover should be AAC.

From my experience, the RA have always tried pulling the history card on the AAC - hence the red stripes on SNCO Mess Dress Trousers and the outdated and dangerous over-emphasis on AOP training (FFS, do you honestly expect me to sit for an age in a hover in an unarmoured vehicle with the radar cross-section and heat signature of a burning 747, while you bring your guns to bear?).
The only reason i had a dig was you sound so bloody superior and i got the impression you think the RA is too thick to utilise complicated systems.
Signing off.....out
Concur with all you say. The Army should definitely have primacy on WK. Although I doubt that the RA will be the primary customer for it's product, the wider Land Component will. I purposely refer to the 'Land Component' rather than 'Army' as I rekon that WK has potential to fly off a CVS/CVF or Ocean in support of the RM or any other amphib op for that matter. Imagine what a useful package a WK and Sea King ASaC7 would be to you chaps storming ashore!! I suspect the only stopper for this would be cross wind limits off the deck.

Likewise, I suspect that the RAF will have either Predator A or Predator Bs of it's own (partly as a Canberra PR9 replacement) in the very near future. The tasking for Pred will often be deeper and very similar to how the good old PR9 and Nimrod MR2 (in the overland role) are used today. Therefore, manning should be primarily light blue.

If we did go Joint (Joint Force Airfix?!!), maybe the best way to go would be to have an RAF Pred, an AAC WK, and a FAA whatever sqns. However, each would have appropriate experyise from the other services embedded to improve awareness and understanding.

A Joint UAV Force with RAF Pred Bs employed as a deep, persistant ISTAR/attack asset, AAC WKs overlapping as an armed ISTAR platform at Div/Bde level, and a maritime capability (I think they need something bigger than Sea Scan. Perhaps a marinised WK180, Firescout or that tilt rotor thingy the USCG are buying?) offering similar capabilities in the event that land basing wasn't an option would offer superb advantages to HM Forces.

Right, I'm off to bed!!!

Exile, our posts crossed...
Apologies, I genuinely do not wish to sound superior. My opinion is only as good as the next guy's.

Likewise, I have every confidence in gunners operating advanced systems. However, why train your personnel in the skills required to operate WK in Joint airspace when the AAC already know how to do it? I'm not suggesting that your Corps doesn't retain a significant part of WK manning. However, I do firmly believe that WK should be AAC owned with it's sensor operators primarily coming from the Int Corps (for IA reasons) and the RA (for effects) as well as a sprinkling of others.

Most significant however is the legal issues for peacetime trg. The CAA (and most other civil aviation agencies) have the ultimate say over who operates what in non-segregated airspace and how. Do not underestimate their powers. The stop me using JTIDS on my AWACS to anything like it's full potential because there is a tiny theoretical and unproven chance that it could interfere with some civil navigation systems. Likewise, when the RN changed how they train their AEW Sea King controllers, the CAA instantly slapped HUGE retsrictions on how and where they could control aircraft. Be in no doubt: the CAA simply will NOT let you operate WK outside of a Danger Area unless it's being flown by a certified pilot.

Now I really am off to bed!!!


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