BAE Systems confirmed that work has started on the physical build of the Taranis airframe - a £124m ($251 million) unmanned combat aerial vehicle demonstrator aimed at helping the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence determine the future balance of assets within the Armed Forces. Named after the Celtic God of Thunder, Taranis will help inform the U.K. MOD’s approach to the future capabilities needed for deep target attack and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR). About the size of a BAE Systems Hawk, it will have low observable features and autonomous systems which will allow it to think for itself for much of its mission.
Ground testing of Taranis is scheduled to begin in early 2009, with the first flight trials due to take place in 2010. The programme brings together a number of technologies, capabilities and systems to produce a UCAV technology demonstrator based around a fully autonomous intelligent system.
The "first metal cut" on the new airframe took place at BAE Systems’ manufacturing facility in Samlesbury, Lancashire this month. Taranis is part of the U.K. government’s Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experiment), or SUAV(E). The U.K. MOD’s team leader for the programme, Jonathan Barrett, joined the managing director of Autonomous Systems and Future Capability for BAE Systems, Mark Kane, in the Lancashire facility to commission the start of the machining process.
He said, "This program is not just about positioning U.K. industry and putting the U.K. on the map with cutting edge technology; it is also about informing the basis of the potential future Royal Air Force and our future potential capability."
BAE Systems is the industry lead on the Taranis technology demonstration program, working together with Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ and the Systems division of GE Aviation (formerly Smiths Aerospace) as well as a range of U.K.-based suppliers.
Mark Kane said, "We have a big team around us and we are going to do this together. Taranis is one of the most important defense projects currently underway and will help maintain U.K. capability over the next 20 years. It makes use of at least 10 years of research into low observables, systems integration, control infrastructure and full autonomy. It builds on a number of successes with risk reduction programs and it harnesses a range of new skills acquired around rapid engineering."
The initial concept for Taranis was built on the BAE Systems-funded Raven program and many other technology de-risking activities undertaken under both industry and MOD funding. Raven demonstrated, in flight, an autonomous system using a configuration similar to the one proposed for Taranis. BAE Systems was appointed industry lead and prime contractor for the Taranis technology demonstration program under a contract awarded by the U.K. MOD in December 2006.
Source: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)
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