Thales Watchkeeper Brochure

The Thales Watchkeeper, in brochure form

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Chris Werb
Chris Werb
September 21, 2014 8:23 pm

What I didn’t see in that brochure was a laser rangefinder. Without one I can’t see how the Watchkeeper could generate accurate target locations for GPS guided ordnance. This would be particularly problematic in featureless terrain. The software on board may generate that information based on the known position of the platform and where the line of sight would intersect terrain as referenced from an onboard map, but that seems a bit of a complex and flakey way of doing it compared to just having an intergrated LRF.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
September 21, 2014 8:55 pm

I found this parlimentary reply interesting:

Will the UK allow autonomous release of weapons?

136. The MoD ruled out autonomous release of weapons from remotely piloted air systems:

Current UK policy is that the operation of weapon systems will always be under human control and that no planned offensive systems are to have the capability to prosecute targets without involving a human. By retaining highly-trained and qualified aircrew at the heart of the decision making process, the UK ensures that the legal requirements governing the use of force during armed conflicts are observed. There are no plans to replace military pilots with fully autonomous systems.[89]

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmdfence/772/77206.htm

Whilst this has no relevance to Watchkeeper, I can’t help but think there would be times when a fully autonomous UCAV capability would be useful where collateral damage was not a consideration – for example in attacking an enemy surface action group at sea, or submerged submarines – both of which could be reliably classified as enemy.

The Other Chris
September 21, 2014 9:31 pm

Laser Sub System is mentioned under the Sensor section.

Obsvr
Obsvr
September 22, 2014 8:30 am

IIRC its predecessor Phoenix had one, I’d be very surprised if Wkpr didn’t, unless they’re making use of the radar in some precise way.

Tom
Tom
September 22, 2014 9:15 am

Chris Werb – I think its safe to say that we aren’t at the level of reliability where we UAV could be trusted to fire a weapon by itself safely, even against Subs and Ships.

Part of the issue is that the UAVs simply don’t have the on board computing power to accurately process the data they collect – so they don’t actually know what they are looking at. We’re only just getting to the stage where they can fly themselves reliably.

Beyond that there are bigger ethical, political and operational issues.

If you launch a UAV with weapons that it can fire itself, does the whole UAV become a weapon? What differentiates between a autonomous UAV with weapons and a cruise missile?

Not a lot IMO.

This severely limits their usage, perhaps to the point of being economically useless in any situation but all out war.