The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is considering a high-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle (UAV) technology-demonstrator programme (TDP), which could be led by the Defence Evaluation Research Agency.

In attempting to address its UAV requirements, the MoD has set up a tri-service steering group led by its Air Systems branch. One option in looking at long-endurance UAVs would be to acquire a handful of air vehicles off-the-shelf.

Wing Cdr John Plumb, MoD Operational Requirements, says:"The UK needs experience. A UAVTDP will be explored in the next few months- It is important we gain experience of high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs."

Plumb, speaking at a Royal Air Force Air Warfare Centre/Air Systems Operational Requirements UAV symposium, says that UK interest in UAVs has been "stimulated" by the success of the US General Atomics Predator, as well as the potential of such systems as the Lockheed Martin/Boeing Darkstar and the Teledyne Ryan Aeronautics Global Hawk.

After delays, the British Army's GEC-Marconi Phoenix battlefield UAV is effectively ready to enter service. Problems with this project were viewed in some quarters as acting to slow the pace of interest in UAVs within the MoD.

Although neither the RAF nor the Royal Navy have any endorsed requirements for a UAV programme, there is growing interest in both services at using such systems for several roles including reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.

The RN is part of NATO Project Group 35, a ten-nation group working toward a staff target for a maritime UAV.

Lt Cdr David Roberts, from the RN Maritime Warfare Centre, says that the Navy is beginning to consider the use of UAVs in several roles, including reconnaissance, over-the-horizon targeting, as well as airborne early warning.

A UAV platform is likely to be considered as part of the Navy's future organic airborne early-warning requirement.

Combat UAVs, also known as uninhabited combat air vehicles, will also be studied as an option for the RAF's Future Offensive Air System, which is intended to replace the Panavia Tornado GR4 in the strike role.

Source: Flight International