Army Watchkeeper Drone pic 1 280820 CREDIT British Army.jpg

Army Drone To Fly Over Channel To Monitor Migrant Crossings

The Watchkeeper drone was previously used to support British Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

Army Watchkeeper Drone pic 1 280820 CREDIT British Army.jpg

An Army drone is to fly over the English Channel to monitor migrant boats as the crisis continues.

The Watchkeeper drone will be used to help track the dangerous crossings, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

It is the first time the eye-in-the-sky war technology which was previously used in Afghanistan will fly in the UK operationally.

It comes as migrants continue to risk the dangerous seas in the Dover Strait, though bad weather has limited crossings recently.

"The deployment of Watchkeeper provides further defence support to the Home Office in tackling the increasing number of small boats crossing the English Channel," an MOD spokesperson said.

"It will provide a leading surveillance and reconnaissance capability, feeding information back to the Border Force and allowing them to take appropriate action where necessary."

The unmanned air system (UAS) was used to support British Armed Forces in Afghanistan and was hailed as a "battle-winning technology" by then Defence Secretary Michael Fallon in 2014.

It is now scheduled to fly from Lydd Airport and will be operated by 47th Regiment Royal Artillery.

The MOD says the drone hosts a range of sensors including Electro-Optic and Infra-red full motion video day and night camera, Synthetic Aperture Radar and a Moving Target Indicator radar.

Other Armed Forces aircraft, including Atlas A-400M, Shadow R1 and P-8 Poseidon have also been authorised to help monitor Channel crossings.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy is considering deploying small patrol boats to the Channel to assist the Border Force.

More than 5,000 migrants have crossed to the UK in small boats so far in 2020, analysis by the PA news agency shows.

Army Watchkeeper Drone pic 2 280820 CREDIT British Army
The drone was previously used by the Armed Forces in Afghanistan (Picture: British Army).

What is Watchkeeper?

Watchkeeper is an uncrewed aircraft system.

The drone has a range of intelligence and reconnaissance cameras and sensors that allow the British Army to identify things from a distance of up to 200km.

It is able to conduct reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering during both day and night.

The first Watchkeeper flight was in 2010. Since then, Watchkeeper has accumulated over 3,000 flying hours.

Figures released in 2017 showed the programme has cost the United Kingdom more than £1 billion.

The drones have been beset by issues in recent years as four of them crashed - two in 2017 and other two in 2015 and 2014.

Cover image: Watchkeeper drone (Picture: British Army).