Douglas Barrie Andrew Doyle/LONDON

THE UK MINISTRY of Defence (MoD) has launched a highly sensitive programme to develop a third-generation stealth strike aircraft, under the High Agility Low Observable (HALO) project, which should produce a full-scale flying demonstrator by 2000.

The HALO project is already under way with "some hardware" relating to the programme in existence. It is being used to examine balanced stealth technologies for the Future Offensive Aircraft (FOA) programme to replace the Royal Air Force's Tornado GR4 strike aircraft from 2013.

The MoD officially refuses to confirm the existence of the HALO project, even though it has been inadvertently referred to in an unclassified document, and says: "Stealth remains a highly classified subject, and it is something we are really not discussing."

The HALO project is believed to be being carried out by British Aerospace as a precursor to what is dubbed Experimental Aircraft Project (EAP) II, following on from the original EAP full-scale demonstrator programme for the Eurofighter 2000.

British Aerospace has invested heavily in radar cross section and infra-red ranges at its Warton site in the north of England aimed at providing the technology support required for the FOA programme. These have subsequently been christened BAe's "Skunk Works."

Both the MoD and BAe admit that a generic FOA technology demonstrator will be needed, although neither will give time scales.

The RAF's preference remains for a twin-engine aircraft with internal carriage of stand off weapons. Thrust vectoring may be included to improve take-off run, reduce drag, improve range and also allow a reduction in the area of control surfaces and thus in radar cross-section.

The UK will also examine whether the conventional derivative of the USA's Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) - now dubbed Joint Strike Fighter - programme could meet its FOA requirement. The JAST, however, is a single-engine design, and the RAF remains to be convinced that it can meet its range/performance requirements.

The UK will carry out several technology demonstrator programmes in 1995-2000 in collaboration with France in support of common FOA requirements.

Source: Flight International