Thales UK’s Hermes 450 unmanned air system (UAS) fleet has reached a major milestone, having now flown more than 50,000 operational flying hours in support of UK operations.
After more than 4,000 sorties, the Hermes 450 system continues to deliver crucial battle-winning capability, providing the lion’s share of airborne ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) in Afghanistan.
Thales’s innovative ISTAR service-provision contract began in June 2007 in response to an urgent operational requirement (UOR) issued by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). The ISTAR service is delivered by Thales UK, working closely with the Thales/Elbit joint venture, U-TacS, and the UK MoD operational team, particularly 32 and 47 regiments of the Royal Artillery.
The Hermes 450 system continues to relay real-time electro optical/infrared (EO/IR) imagery to the ground control stations and remote viewing terminals, providing key intelligence for commanders. The operational experience of the Hermes 450 system as a key ISTAR asset within the battlespace has paved the way for the future Watchkeeper system soon to enter service with the UK MoD as the new generation tactical UAS.
Watchkeeper will provide a dual payload, enhanced image and exploitation capability, including EO/IR imaging, and synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) capabilities. Flight and systems trials continue in the UK, at Parc Aberporth in West Wales, with collective training to start at Boscombe Down flying over Salisbury plain.
Colonel Mark Thornhill, Commander of 1st Artillery Brigade, the organisation responsible for providing the people from 32 and 47 Regiments and their equipment to operations, says:
“We have now achieved 50,000 operational hours of Hermes 450, helping to meet the significant number of intelligence requirements that TFH [Task Force Helmand] generates each day.”
“The capability has been absolutely key to many of the TFH operations. The Hermes 450 system is flown from and maintained in Afghanistan. This enables close liaison between flight crews and the end-user that they support.”
He adds: “This major milestone in the life of Hermes 450 has been possible as a result of an unrelenting determination by many personnel, both military and civilian, including from the UAS team in the MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support organisation, contractor Thales UK and the soldiers of 1st Artillery Brigade.”
Victor Chavez, Chief Executive of Thales UK, says: “The Hermes 450 UAS fleet has proved to be a vital ISTAR capability to the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan, undoubtedly saving lives in the course of its missions. Building on lessons learnt on current operations, Watchkeeper will also soon be an invaluable asset for commanders on the ground.”
Thales UK is the prime contractor for the MoD’s two tactical UAS programmes: the Hermes 450 fleet, which Thales UK owns and leases to the MoD under an innovative ‘ISTAR-by-the-hour’ contract; and the more capable Watchkeeper system that will be MoD owned and operated.
Thales is a global technology leader for the defence & security and the aerospace & transport markets. In 2010 the company generated revenues of £11.2 billion (EUR 13.1 billion), with 68,000 employees in 50 countries. Thales UK employs 8,000 staff based at 35 locations. In 2010 Thales UK’s revenues were around £1.5 billion.