LONDON – Poland approached Britain, Israel and the US to seek cooperation in acquiring a tactical UAV, and a positive response from the UK led WB Electronics to partner with Thales to compete in an expected tender, said Adam Bartosiewicz, vice president of WB Electronics, part of the WB Group.
"Teaming with Polish industry was absolutely key for us in order to be credible for this campaign because Poland is very keen in involving its industry," said Pierre-Eric Pommelet, Thales executive vice president told journalists.
The Watchkeeper will be offered with the capacity to be armed, he said.
A life size model of a Watchkeeper carrying under each wing two mock-ups of a a smart bomb dubbed freefall light missile, hung in display at the Thales stand at the show.
A parliamentary election is due to be held in Poland in November so the UAV competition is likely to be launched late in 2016, Bartosiewicz said. The Polish authorities will only allow companies which can "demonstrate the capability to deliver UAVs with their partners", so three or four companies will probably compete in the tender, he said.
"There is strong emphasis on technology transfer and sovereignty," he said.
Poland and France are two potential markets for the Watchkeeper, based on the Elbit Hermes 450 and certified for use by the British Army.
Thales aims to sell the Watchkeeper in export markets drawing on a new approach named Watchkeeper X.
The UAV "is not a product but a program," Pommelet said. The program aspect lies in the possibility to plug in two mission modules and a high degree of mobility to transport the drone to the field. Operators will have a choice of sensors including day and night cameras, synthetic aperture radars, and communications interception. The UAV allows prompt analysis and sharing of data in a network, and can carry weapons and share targeting data. An open architecture allows users to adapt the UAV for further missions, he said.
Thales has lined up more than 30 companies as potential suppliers if France and other prospective clients were pick Watchkeeper, he said. "France is in the process of deciding, hopefully in the next months their solution for their tactical UAV requirements."
Those potential partners include many small and medium-sized firms, including specialists in cryptography and datalink frequencies, which are among key French requirements, he said. Vitec, a specialist in video technology, is one of those prospective partners.
Danielson, a French diesel engine maker, seeks a partnership with WB in the Polish tender, an industry executive said.
Thales is competing in the French tender with the Patroller from Safran's Sagem.
The French requirement excludes arming the UAV, Pommelet said.
Interest has risen in UAVs in the last few months, he said. There is close attention to surveillance in Southeast Asia, and demand in the Middle East, South America and Europe. The UN is also interested.