BAE Systems and the UK's Defence Science & Technology Laboratory are to work together on technology requirements for a future class of unmanned combat air systems, under the terms of a new research effort funded by the nation's Ministry of Defence.
Worth £40 million ($61.8 million), the Future Combat Air System initiative will "ensure that we develop and maintain the UK's formidable strengths in this specialist field", said minister for defence equipment and support Peter Luff.
A "significant amount" of the funding total will be passed on to support work performed by small and medium-sized enterprises, the MoD said, with the move intended to widen its domestic supplier base.
To run over a four-year period, the research activity also "will inform the MoD's unmanned air system strategy over the coming decades to ensure that the best use is made of these new technologies", BAE said. The initiative is being performed separately to a process intended to explore potential cooperation in the unmanned systems sector with France.
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BAE is already involved in a £140 million programme with industry partners including Qinetiq and Rolls-Royce to fly an unmanned combat air system demonstrator. Unveiled at the company's Warton production site in Lancashire in mid-2010, the stealthy Taranis is due to make its debut flight later this year.