MoD spy drones costing £1.4 billion ‘can’t fly in poor weather’ – ‘unmitigated disaster’ | Politics | News

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MoD spy drones costing £1.4 billion ‘can’t fly in poor weather’ – ‘unmitigated disaster’ | Politics | News

Britain’s £1.4 billion flight of drones struggles to operate in poor weather – and none are out on operations despite costing around £5 million each.

The Watchkeeper spy drone has been so extensively modified it became too heavy, leading to the programme being branded an « unmitigated disaster » by one MP.

Eight of the drones have been written off, costing the public purse almost £40 million.

Meanwhile, Israel‘s Hermes 450 drone, which Watchkeeper is based on, has played a key role in the nation’s counterterrorism operations.

Retired Army major Chris Lincoln-Jones observed the Hermes 450 in action after being asked to analyse its effectiveness and copy it for his customer, the Ministry of Defence in London.

His research, largely conducted in Israel, led to the development of the Watchkeeper as well as one of the Ministry of Defence’s largest unmanned vehicle projects, costing £1.4 billion, with 54 bought for the army, reports The Times.

Lincoln-Jones called the Hermes 450 the « best drone in the world. » It can spy on targets for as long as 17 hours at an altitude of around 18,000 ft.

While Hermes is thought to be used in Gaza and carry out attacks in Lebanon, the British version is seen as less successful. Several are said to have crashed because they have been weighed down by add-ons.

As such, the drone is now being restricted to operating in certain weather conditions.

Mark Francois, a Conservative member of the committee and a former armed forces minister, told the Times the process showed everything wrong with MoD precurement.

He said the project had been an « unmitigated disaster, arriving years late and effectively already obsolescent ».

None of the Watchkeeper drones are believed to be on deployments.

With the UK drone programme faltering, the Hermes 450s working in Gaza have had various updates. It is now described by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) as a « primary platform » for counterterrorism.

The UK is now changign its procurement process to focus on cheaper, less complex products. A spokesman said: « Watchkeeper is a highly sophisticated drone which has accumulated more than 4,000 hours of flying, providing vital information for soldiers on the ground.

It has been successfully deployed across the world, including Afghanistan, where it played a crucial protective role for British troops. »

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