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700m Watchkeeper contract completed

11 August 2005

Thales UK has signed a contract with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the full Development, Manufacture and Initial Support (DMIS) phases of the Watchkeeper programme.

Following defence secretary Dr John Reid's announcement that the public go-ahead had been given to the Watchkeeper UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) programme, the contract, worth around £700 million, has been officially completed. The manufacturing contract is expected to create or sustain up to 2,100 high-quality manufacturing jobs in the UK, and the UAV is now scheduled to enter service in 2010.

Speaking after its completion, CEO of Thales UK, Alex Dorrian, commented on the importance of the contract for Thales UK's development: ""As the largest single contract for Thales UK to date this is an important moment for us and one we have all worked toward for a long time. We will continue to work closely with the MoD in order to deliver an excellent operational capability on time, on budget and to requirement. Based on this endorsement of our solution, we expect to secure export sales of at least £400 million over the next ten years.""

Watchkeeper will provide the UK's armed forces with a globally deployable Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability to deliver Image Intelligence (IMINT), as a core element of the MoD's Network-Enabled Capability strategy.

Thales will manufacture sub-systems for both Watchkeeper and the rapidly growing worldwide UAV market, estimated to be worth around $3 billion over the next ten years.

Commenting on the global importance of the contract for Thales, Chairman and CEO, Denis Ranque, said: ""I am delighted with this decision, which firmly establishes Thales in the global UAV systems market and reinforces our position as a major British defence company and trusted prime contractor. It also demonstrates our strong ISTAR and NEC capabilities that are so key to the future strategy of Thales UK and the British armed forces. Thales intends to leverage these capabilities to offer similar systems in Europe and abroad.""

Dr Reid highlighted the key role that Watchkeeper will play in battlefield surveillance in the future saying that UAVs ""are a key part of the future vision for our armed forces"", providing high-quality battlefield imagery that can be accessed quickly by commanders. The new UAVs will be able to stay in the air for much longer than conventional aircraft, and will provide all-weather coverage by day and by night.""