The UK's newly launched South Coast Partnership hopes to be building and testing a prototype unmanned air vehicle-based surveillance architecture for the English Channel as soon as 2010.

The partnership, launched on 7 November, is initially focusing on monitoring shipping, but would progressively evolve to missions such as protection critical infrastructure and environmental monitoring. Services would start from 2012 under the plan.

David Kershaw, future capability business development director for BAE Systems, says that the architecture is expected to be able to support multiple sensor inputs provided by a mix of manned and unmanned assets. BAE Systems is pushing its Herti system as the core UAV within the architecture, performing both wide and focal area tasks during missions.

Speaking on 14 November at the Royal Aeronautical Society "UAV systems - unlocking the marketplace" conference in London, Kershaw said that architecture design will be carried out in 2008. Final design and initial construction of an architecture prototype would be carried out in 2009 and testing would start in 2010. In parallel wider roll-out of the architecture would begin. By 2011 the architecture would start full system testing aiming at locking down all necessary certifications.

Potential infrastructure protection roles could include monitoring of the approaches to the English Channel rail tunnel Kershaw told the conference, as well as supporting search and rescue operations.

BAE Systems heads the partnership, which includes the Kent, Essex and Merseyside Police, the UK Border and Immigration Agency and the UK Customs and Revenue office.

The 2012 target for launch of services is predicated on UK authorities having approved and introduced a standardised airspace integration environment for UAVs by that date. The UK's Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment (ASTRAEA) programme, comprising both government and industry participants, is based on that same target year.

Kershaw says that ASTRAEA will next year start flight testing of a prototype non-cooperative avoidance system for UAVs aboard a manned aircraft. Flight test of the same system aboard a UAV is now planned for 2009, and is intended for use by both military and civil unmanned aircraft.

Multiple different types of collision avoidance algorithms are already being tested by running them in a simulation that plugs directly into the existing UK air traffic control system, he says. Some 6,000h of tests have been conducted so far.

The algorithms have also been tested in collision scenarios based on a UAV and a Eurofighter Typhoon: "Fortunately the algorithms are robust enough that they keep missing".