UK’s Watchkeeper Drones Deemed a “Disaster” Compared to Israel’s Hermes 450

The UK's fleet of Watchkeeper drones, based on 's successful Hermes 450, has been deemed an “unmitigated disaster” by critics due to extensive modifications, crashes, and inability to operate in poor weather conditions. Despite costing £1.4 billion for 54 drones, none are currently on operational deployments, reports The Times

Hermes 450: The “Best Drone in the World”

Chris Lincoln-Jones, a former British Army major, studied the Hermes 450 drone in Israel and described it as the “best drone in the world.”

The Hermes 450, operated by the Israeli Air Force's Squadron 161, is capable of:

  • Spying on targets for up to 17 hours
  • Flying at 18,000 feet, making it difficult to hear and nearly impossible to see
  • Carrying various types of munitions for precision strikes
  • Operating over Gaza and carrying out attacks inside Lebanon

Watchkeeper: A Costly Failure

The UK's Watchkeeper drone, based on the Hermes 450, has faced numerous issues:

  • Extensive modifications (265 user requirements and 1,910 additional system requirements) made the drones too heavy
  • Several crashes due to the added weight
  • Restricted operation in certain weather conditions
  • Entered service years late and considered “effectively already obsolescent”
  • None currently on operational deployments, only involved in training exercises

Conservative MP Mark Francois called the project “an unmitigated disaster, arriving years late and effectively already obsolescent,” encapsulating the problems with MoD procurement.

Israel's Use of the Hermes 450 in Gaza

Lincoln-Jones analyzed interviews from Gaza and recognized the sound of the Hermes 450 drone. He questioned the high number of casualties in Gaza, with the territory's health ministry reporting over 32,000 killed, many of them women and children.

“They [Israel] claim to operate to the same standards as Nato but they don't. The destruction of infrastructure in Gaza has more in common with the siege of Aleppo,” Lincoln-Jones said, comparing Israel's actions to those of President Assad of Syria and President Putin.

Elbit Systems: Benefiting from the Conflict

Elbit Systems, the Israeli defense electronics company that produced the Hermes 450, expects sales to rise this year due to higher ammunition sales to Israel for its war. The company prioritized supplying the Israeli military while asking international customers for flexibility on delivery schedules.

The UK's Watchkeeper drone programme, based on Israel's successful Hermes 450, has been deemed a costly failure due to extensive modifications, crashes, and limited operational capabilities. Meanwhile, the Hermes 450 continues to play a crucial role in Israel's counterterrorism operations, despite the high number of casualties reported in Gaza.

As the UK's Ministry of Defence seeks to reform its procurement system, the Watchkeeper debacle serves as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of over-specification and delays in military technology acquisition.

Photo credit Ministry of Defence / Wikipedia

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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