The UK Ministry of Defence’s new Combined Aerial Target Service has commenced operations, following the completion of airworthiness testing by prime contractor Qinetiq.

Awarded in late 2006 under a private finance initiative deal worth up to £308 million ($613 million), CATS will meet the air defence training requirements of the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy for the next two decades, and will initially use four target types.

 Banshee UAV
© Qinetiq

The first two of these – Meggitt Defence Systems’ Banshee subsonic aerial target (pictured above) and a pop-up helicopter target (pictured below) also supplied by the UK company – are now available for use, and will support overseas training in the Falkland Islands this month and in Canada during May, says Qinetiq.

 Pop-up helicopter
© Qinetiq

Meggitt’s high-speed Voodoo target will enter service early next year, while operations of Galileo Avionica Mirach 100/5 aerial targets – already flown from the Aberporth range in Wales under Qinetiq’s 25-year long-term partnering agreement with the MoD – will come under the CATS contract from June 2009.

Approvals to use the Banshee and pop-up helicopter targets were secured in time for Qinetiq to meet its 1 April service delivery milestone on time.