Personnel have been training on the system since May 2011, and although Watchkeeper does not have its RTS, Army pilots have been able to train through a Military Flight Test Permit (MFTP) in conjunction with Thales test pilots.
It is unclear whether certification will mean the Watchkeeper system is immediately deployed to Afghanistan. Currently the British army is using the Hermes 450 UAV for intelligence gathering operations from Camp Bastion in Helmand Province through the Lydian program, acquired as an urgent operational requirement. The Lydian system is providing some 80% of the surveillance requested by U.K. ground forces in that theater.
The creation of the MAA following the Haddon-Cave review of aviation safety in the U.K. military has had an effect on several major U.K. defense ministry programs as safety cases for new aircraft types are reviewed. The creation of the MAA came after the Watchkeeper contract was signed back in 2005.
The delays have not harmed potential export deals, however. The French army has a keen interest in the program and is considering a purchase of 20-30 systems. French army personnel have trained on Watchkeeper and the platform flew a series of demonstration flights at Istres air base near Marseille earlier this year.