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UK to kick-off FOAS programme

Availability of raft of new aircraft - manned and unmanned - and weapons to coincide with retirement of Tornados in 2017

After a lengthy project delay, the UK Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) is at last poised to receive initial gate approval to proceed with its Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) programme.

Intended to address an identified future critical capability gap by conducting long-range attacks against time-critical targets, the FOAS's availability will coincide with the removal from service of the RAF's Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft from 2017.

Potential elements of the FOAS capability include manned and unmanned combat aircraft, long-range cruise missiles, large non-penetrating aircraft and air-launched unmanned air vehicles, says the DPA. The latter would be used for reconnaissance, target acquisition, decoy, support jamming, threat stimulation and communications relay purposes. The UK has also identified a requirement for a platform capable of conducting deep reconnaissance and battle damage assessment tasks.

The DPA has overseen more than 35 studies into unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV)systems under the auspices of the FOASproject. If selected to play a leading part in the UK's future strike capability, UCAVs will be required to conduct the suppression/destruction of enemy air defences and to attack mobile and time-critical targets.

The studies undertaken to date conclude that while the UK has the industrial know-how to develop an indigenous UCAV, it would be more cost-effective in collaboration with European allies, plus the USA and Australia.

While the UK does not intend to participate in the French-led European UCAV demonstrator programme, it will be able to see many of the results under the European Technology Acquisition Programme mechanism agreed between France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK, says the DPA.

A delayed initial gate decision for the FOAS project is now expected in April/May, having been rescheduled for early last year. A force mix decision on the UK's FOAS is set for 2008-9, to precede a number of subsequent main gate decisions which the DPA says will reflect the project's incremental acquisition strategy.

CRAIG HOYLE / BRISTOL

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