A BAE Systems-led team will fly an 8t unmanned combat air vehicle technology demonstrator in 2010 under a £124 million ($243 million) contract signed with the UK Ministry of Defence last week.
Intended to inform decisions on the UK's future mix of manned and unmanned combat aircraft, Project Taranis will draw on experience gained during BAE's previous Replica and Nightjar technology demonstration efforts and by its development and flight testing of the Raven UCAV demonstrator (Flight International, 20 December 2005-2 January).
Also to include participation by Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce and Smiths Aerospace, the UK-only effort, which will support the Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experimental) programme, will "integrate stealth technology around an intelligent, autonomous system", says the MoD.
BAE will provide low observable technologies, command and control infrastructure and systems integration services under the four-year deal, which will be funded by a mix of MoD and industry investments worth 76% and 24%, respectively. BAE and Qinetiq will deliver the UCAV's autonomous capabilities, with R-R to work on a next-generation propulsion system for the platform.
Depictions of Taranis draw heavily on the design of BAE's Raven
Ground testing of the Taranis air vehicle will begin in early 2009 before flight trials at Australia's Woomera test range the following year. The MoD says the programme will also investigate the potential for the UCAV to carry ground-attack weapons. Although their deployment will not be demonstrated during flight testing, it says: "An emulated weapon release will be incorporated into the trial programme as part of a mission representative scenario."
Announcing the award on 7 December, UK defence procurement minister Lord Drayson said: "This contract will test cutting-edge technology for a new generation of equipment for our front-line forces." Increased research into unmanned air systems emerged as a key element of the UK's Defence Industrial Strategy and Defence Technology Strategy documents, published within the last year.
Artists' impressions of Taranis depict a platform drawing heavily on the design of BAE's fully autonomous Raven, two of which had test flights at Woomera in 2003-4.