The deployment could begin next year, replicating the MoD's Project Morrigan, which saw BAE's Herti UAV operate in Afghanistan to prove safe autonomous operations alongside manned strike aircraft in non-segregated airspace.
Mantis has a wingspan of about 22m (72ft) and uses Rolls-Royce RB250B-17 engines, while the production variant could have a maximum operating altitude of about 55,000ft. A goal of the Mantis project is to prove out the accelerated platform development processes that the MoD and BAE wants and as Morrigan is seen as a success by the MoD, replicating it for the new technology demonstrator is viewed as a logical step. Mantis's phase two also has a weapons release capability focus.
"We want to pull through capability rapidly. We can bring some of those lessons [from Morrigan/Herti] into [Mantis]. Deployment to Afghanistan is a challenge with a larger vehicle [like Mantis], while support for Herti [in theatre] is in comparison quite straightforward," says Air Vice Marshal Simon Bollom. A senior BAE source confirms the MoD and prime contractor discussions about a Project Morrigan-style second phase exercise and describes the deployment as a "possibility".
Managed by the MoD's strategic UAV integrated project team, the Mantis budget is not being disclosed. Its first phase, which is funded 50% by industry and 50% by the MoD, started in the fourth quarter of 2007 and included windtunnel tests. Phase one, which has an ISTAR focus, will end with a planned Mantis first flight early in 2009.
A third phase is a possibility and another feature of phase two will be sensor development. BAE's partners for Mantis include GE Aviation, Qinetiq, Meggitt, Rolls-Royce and Selex Galileo.
Mantis will address 24h endurance and a payload capability equivalent to 12 MBDA Brimstone missiles or six Raytheon Paveway bombs. The use of a triplex flight-control system and two engines is to enable a future Mantis variant to be developed for civil applications.