Hopes of a single unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) development programme for Europe took a further blow today after the UK Ministry of Defence announced BAE Systems is to lead a £124 million ($240 million) UCAV technology demonstrator programme.

BAE Systems will be prime contractor on the Tarantis UCAV project (pictured below), which also includes Rolls-Royce, Smiths Aerospace and Qinetiq.

Named after the Celtic god of Thunder, Taranis will "explore and demonstrate how emerging technologies and systems can deliver battle-winning capabilities for the UK armed forces," the MoD says. In addition to the existing industry partners, the project will also engage a significant number of other UK suppliers, BAE says.

Mike Turner, chief executive of BAE Systems, said: “This project supports many of the key drivers outlined in the defence industrial strategy – in particular the way in which we, as a nation, continue to develop a sustainable sovereign capability by supporting UK design and engineering skills. This is an important project in light of the way in which military operations are changing.”

Dassault Aviation has initially hoped its Neuron programme would become the sole UCAV programme in Europe, drawing an international collaboration team from the continent's manufacturers, however national programmes continue in Italy, Germany and Sweden.

Last month Italy's Alenia Aeronautica announced it has started a scoping study into the feasability of launching a full scale UCAV project as a successor to its existing Sky-X programme.

In the USA, Boeing's X-45 and Northrup Grumman's X-47 demonstrators are competing for the US Navy N-UCAS requirement. The European Defence Agency has previously expressed concern that no single European manufacturer can afford the investment required to compete against US efforts, ncessitating a unified response.

The four-year Taranis project, part of the UK government’s Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experimental) Programme (Suave), will result in a UAV with fully integrated autonomous systems and low observable features, the ministry says.

The bat-wing, tail-less Tarantis will be around the size of a BAE Systems Hawk trainer. Ground testing of Taranis is expected to take place in early 2009 with the first flight trials taking place in 2010.

BAE Systems Tarantis

Source: FlightGlobal.com