RAF fighter pilot controls four strike aircraft in trial of possible future force package

One of the UK Ministry of Defence's key future strike concepts has undergone a successful series of flight trials using two platforms intended to mimic the performance of an unmanned combat air vehicle working in combination with a single-seat fighter.

Conducted late last month from Qinetiq's Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire, the flights involved a BAC One-Eleven acting as a surrogate UCAV and a Panavia Tornado F2 fighter equipped with a modified cockpit that enabled its pilot to manage operations of the former airliner and a further three simulated UCAVs.

© Craig Hoyle / Flight International   
The Tornado's cockpit was modified to allow the pilot to manage the One-Eleven, which mimicked a UCAV

The Tornado pilot instructed the autonomous UCAV swarm to enter an area of interest and perform a co-ordinated search and attack mission against simulated moving ground targets. Using agent-based software developed at Qinetiq's Bedford site in Bedfordshire, the unmanned systems were able to self-organise and execute their mission, while relaying imagery to the fighter via an HF datalink.

Royal Air Force test pilot Sqn Ldr Andy Blythe prioritised the targets before authorising the unmanned platforms to co-ordinate and perform successful bombing missions. Managing the UCAV swarm from the Tornado was "no more difficult a demand than operating a sensor like a targeting pod. We have proved the system from the most difficult platform type," he says.

The trial results will help to inform a decision on the manned/unmanned mix of the MoD's future deep target attack fleet, a decision on which is expected from 2011. They will also support the UK's more than £120 million ($235 million) Taranis UCAV demonstrator project, being led by BAE Systems.

Source: Flight International