MoD looks at chain of command for unmanned attack procedures, while BAE awaits new demonstrator contract

The UK's proposed unmanned combat air vehicle demonstration programme is looking increasingly likely to be based on a manned-unmanned teaming concept. The approach would see the UCAV controlled during strike missions by an operator on an escorting aircraft, possibly a manual fighter.

Negotiations between the UK Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems, its designated prime contractor for the project, have been under way for more than a year, and while a deal could be struck by mid-December, MoD officials say further decisions may remain outstanding. The technology demonstration effort will leverage previous UCAV development work conducted by BAE, and will also link with autonomous flight control and co-ordination technologies being developed by Qinetiq.

Speaking at IQPC'S UCAV conference in London on 28 November, the MoD's director of air staff - unmanned air vehicle operations, Royal Air Force Wg Cdr Andrew Jeffrey, said: "As yet, there has been no formal MoD statement to confirm whether we are going to go ahead with that programme." But media reports last week suggested it is poised to award BAE a contract worth up to £200 million ($385 million) for the work.

While not confirming a manned-unmanned teaming system has been decided, Jeffrey said man-in-the-loop involvement during UCAV strikes has emerged as a key factor in UK thinking about future system requirements. While noting this will not require a pilot to fly the UCAV, he said: "If we are going to prosecute an attack there will be a man in the loop who authorises that. But do we put him in the MoD, the air operations centre in theatre, an AWACS or a fast jet?"

If the fast-jet option is selected, Jeffrey said this would reduce the communications demands of the system by enabling the manned platform to keep contact with a UCAV through the use of a line-of-sight datalink.

Source: Flight International