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MoD says no to testing Watchkeeper over West Bank, but yes to West Wales

Elbit Systems, the  Israeli  maker of the Hermes 450 UAV which is being used by the British Ministry of Defence for its “Watchkeeper” programme has been told by the MoD to cancel a series of trials it was planning to carry out  on an airfield in the Golan Heights in the occupied West Bank. Elbit is instead to carry out the trials at an airport in the northern Israeli city of Rosh Pina.

Haaretz Newspaper reports that residents in Rosh Pina said this is the first time UAV test flights have been carried out from the area. They fear they could be hazardous to residents and the environment and that the drones’ noise level is higher than permitted. They also warned of the insurance problems that could arise in the case of an aerial accident or crash in a civilian, populated area.

Meanwhile in West Wales, plans are going ahead to test the MoD’s Watchkeeper UAVs at ParcAberporth using the existing MoD testing range around Aberporth and out to sea. The Welsh Assembly Government is trying to extend the UAV testing zone by 500 sq miles inland by applying to the Civil Aviation Authority to re-designate the air space for joint civil and unmanned aircraft use.

Watchkeeper  is described by Elbit Systems as:

“Providing continuous 24/7 all-weather surveillance, incorporating day/night sensors and laser target designator connected by a data link to a network of containerized ground control stations. High resolution optical and radar imagery will be exploited and disseminated to provide valuable intelligence for operational commanders.”

It was revealed earlier this month that Watchkeeper could be armed with Starstreak precision-guided rockets weighing around 13kg (28lb), including a 3kg warhead.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly Government told the the Tivyside newspaper recently that

“It is anticipated that between 75 and 150 people will be working on the MoD Watchkeeper programme at ParcAberporth on a daily basis over the next few years…Starting within the next few months there will be a steady increase in the number of people working on the site”

The Prime contractor for Watchkeeper is Thales UK, which awarded a contract for a large part of the program to U-TacS, 51% owned by Elbit Systems.(The other 49% of UTacS is owned by Thales). U-TacS is more formally known as UAV Tactical Systems Ltd., of Scudamore Road, Leicester, UK.

Recently the Norwegian Government Pension Fund withdrew its investments in Elbit Systems because of that company’s role in building the Israeli security wall.