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Unmanned Air Vehicles

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence for what reasons the UK is purchasing the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle system from the US; what effect this purchase will have on the acquisition and introduction into service of the Watchkeeper UAV system; and if he will make a statement. (177281)

Three MQ-9 UAVs, known as Reaper, have been purchased under urgent operational requirement arrangements to provide an all-weather, persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance capability over a wide geographical area. Reaper provides a separate and complementary capability to that which Watchkeeper will provide, and will not affect the acquisition or introduction into service of Watchkeeper.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) whether the Watchkeeper Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is designed to allow full alignment and transparency with manned aircraft for all flight rules, including ability to assess in-flight conditions; (177282)

(2) whether the Watchkeeper Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle will comply with visual flight rules and instrument flight rules as they affect manned aircraft flying as operational air traffic;

(3) whether the Watchkeeper Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle pilot-in-command will have the ability to assess in-flight conditions for visual flight rules flight.

For a number of technical and regulatory reasons, Watchkeeper, as with other Unmanned Air Vehicles cannot comply with either Visual Flight Rules or Instrument Flight Rules. In the context of UAVs, the Aircraft Commander’s responsibility for collision avoidance is discharged by operating the UAV within defined airspace, from which other aircraft are excluded.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether the Watchkeeper Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle will be pre-programmed with an appropriate contingency plan in circumstances where the pilot-in-command is no longer in control of the TUAV. (177285)

Yes, in the event that communication with the air vehicle is lost it will join a pre-programmed and cleared route. The Watchkeeper software system has a flight plan validation tool that will ensure that the air vehicle will remain within its assigned airspace, and within glide range of designated emergency recovery points.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether the Watchkeeper Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle pilot-in-command will be provided with an independent means of communication with air traffic control. (177286)

The Watchkeeper system will be equipped with two radios, powered from different supplies, dedicated to air traffic control.