THE Army has been called to patrol Britain’s shores for the first time since World War Two.
A £27million Watchkeeper drone, which belongs to the Royal Artillery, is due to scour English Channel looking for migrant boats on Monday.
It is the first time troops have been used to observe the Dover Strait since Tommies sat in pill boxes to repel a possible Nazi invasion.
The unarmed surveillance drone – which first saw action in Afghanistan in 2014 – can fly for up to 14 hours and spot targets up to 200km away with state-of-the art radars and infrared video cameras.
It was due to take off at 2am on a planned seven hour flight.
It will be tasked to spot and track migrant dinghies and relay real-time data to Border Force patrol boats.
It is the first time the drone – which has crashed five times since 2010 – has flown operationally in the UK.
Two of its crashes were over water, in Cardigan Bay, in 2017.
The drone, which has an 11 metre wingspan, will relieve an R1 Shadow spy plane and a £300 million P8A Poseidon sub-hunting plane, which were operated by the Royal Air Force.
The MoD said: “The deployment of Watchkeeper provides further Defence support to the Home Office in tackling the increasing number of small boats crossing the English Channel.”
The £1.2billion drone programme has been dogged by technical problems.
More than half the fleet of 45 Watchkeepers has been grounded for more than 12 months.
“It will provide a leading surveillance and reconnaissance capability, feeding information back to the Border Force and allowing them to take appropriate action where necessary,” the MoD added
The planned flight comes days after the Royal Navy said its boats had been training in the Solent “to evaluate how they might be used” to tackle Channel crossings.
So far the Navy has resisted calls to send its boats into the fray, as it did in 2019 when it sent HMS Mersey, an offshore fishery patrol vessel, to support the Border Force.
The drone was due to launch at 2am this morning from Lydd Airfield in Kent, with a crew from 47th Regiment Royal Artillery.
The Army has helped the border force by providing sniffer dogs in the past.
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