UK military industry exhibitors at the show were digesting the news yesterday that the UK Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) has disbanded the programme office looking at successors to the Royal Air Force's fleet of Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft.
The Future Offensive Air Systems (FOAS) office has been replaced by the Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicles (Experiment) (SUAVE) integrated project team, which will focus more closely on the burgeoning UAV sector.
"It better suited our requirement to have a single unit looking at this new and developing field of technology," says a DPA spokesman. Non-UAV FOAS activities are being relocated in other DPA project teams. The moves follow a re-scoping exercise of FOAS last year.
FOAS had been looking at a range of options - manned, unmanned and a combination of both - for the post-Tornado era. The GR4 fleet is due to leave service in 2017.
It is understood that the Tornado fleet may now be run on to 2025 and the Harrier GR9 beyond 2020 to cover delays in a replacement for the GR4. That potentially could mean substantial life-extension programmes for existing types.
A statement from the DPA said that SUAVE "is responsible for directing the work required to establish the potential of UAVs in a variety of roles in the deep, so that the UK can make informed decisions on procurement options by 2009-10. The IPT's work will cover the technologies, utility, cost-effectiveness and interoperability of these UAVs."
SUAVE will manage the recently-announced co-operation with the US Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) to determine the military benefit of combat UAVs for future coalition operations.
SUAVE team leader, Air Cdre Andy Sweetman, says: "We expect to fight alongside US forces operating advanced UAVs, so we must understand these systems even if we do not buy them ourselves."
"Our aim is to combine the results of our work with J-UCAS, our own technology development and several Ministry of Defence outputs into a cohesive body of knowledge.
However, the DPA says that establishment of the new project team will not necessarily result in greater emphasis being placed on UAVs in the RAF's future plans.