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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Volume 506: debated on Monday 22 February 2010

In addition to procuring a number of unmanned aerial vehicles and related systems for Afghanistan, we are making several longer term investments in research in this area and supporting two technology demonstrators—Taranis, an unmanned combat air system project, and Mantis, an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance asset. Both contracts have been placed with BAE Systems.

That is excellent news as UAVs have proved very successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. Will the Minister continue to support research, development and production in this country? Will he also consider deployment of UAVs in the Falkland Islands, which would send a strong message to the Kirchners and the Government of Argentina that we are determined that while the Falkland islanders wish the Falkland Islands to remain under British sovereignty, they will so remain, come what may?

In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s first point, we remain committed to continuing to ensure that this country remains at the cutting edge of these important technologies for the future. The second question is an operational issue, rather than an issue of equipment for me, but I am certain that commanders in that theatre or any other will call on whatever assets are most appropriate for the tasks in hand.

Please will the Minister update us on the Watchkeeper UAV programme that is based at Boscombe Down in my constituency?

This is a very important programme that will succeed the Hermes 450, which has been doing sterling work in Afghanistan. The Watchkeeper programme has a number of significant advantages over the Hermes 450, although I will not go into those in public. We are procuring 54 of those vehicles for the foreseeable future, and I am assured that delivery will take place before the end of this year.

Given that Britain and France both have a requirement for a medium altitude long endurance UAV, and in the light of the recent improved attitude by the French towards joint procurement, will the Minister consider the possibilities of joint procurement with the French and possibly even the Italians? Might not we all benefit from establishing a European platform in UAVs?

That is certainly a pertinent and well informed question, and I discussed precisely those matters with my French counterpart, the head of the DGA, last week in Paris. I have also discussed them with my Italian opposite number. However, I am not in a position to make any concrete announcement today on the subject.