Migrant Crossings: Army Watchkeeper Drone Monitors Channel

The drone was previously used in Afghanistan, but this is the first time it has been flown operationally in the UK.

A British Army Watchkeeper drone has carried out its first reconnaissance sortie of the English Channel.

The drone, which took off from Lydd Airport in Kent, is being used to monitor migrant boats as the crisis continues.

Analysis by the PA news agency shows more than 5,600 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats so far in 2020.

At least 409 people reached British shores in a rush of small boats on Wednesday, a new single-day record.

It is the first time the eye-in-the-sky war technology, which was previously used in Afghanistan, has flown operationally in the UK.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said on Twitter it remains "fully committed" to supporting the Home Office "as they tackle the increasing number of small boats crossing the English Channel".

The Watchkeeper drone took off from Lydd Airport, Kent, and will be used to monitor Channel crossings (Picture: MOD).

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

A Royal Air Force Atlas supported Border Force operations in the English Channel last month.

The Royal Navy is also considering deploying small patrol boats to the Channel to assist Border Force teams.

What is Watchkeeper?

Watchkeeper is an uncrewed aircraft system.

The drone has a range of intelligence and reconnaissance cameras and sensors that allow the army to identify things from a distance of up to 200km both day and night.

The first Watchkeeper flight was in 2010, and has since accumulated more than 3,000 flying hours.

While the unmanned air system (UAS) is autonomous, it always requires a 'human in the loop' to function.

Its primary objective is to identify assets on the ground, and is fitted with radar technology and a ground movement indicator.

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

Cover image: A soldier from 47 Regiment, Royal Artillery, removes safety warnings and covers from a Watchkeeper Unmanned Arial Vehicle at Lydd Airport, Kent (Picture: MOD).