Taranis to thunder into the skies

Defence Minister Lord Drayson has awarded a £124m contract to an industry team led by BAE Systems to develop stealth Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology.

Defence Minister Lord Drayson has awarded a £124m contract to an industry team led by BAE Systems to develop stealth Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology. Other industry collaborators on Project Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, are Rolls-Royce, Qinetiq, and Smiths Aerospace.

A key deliverable of the Defence Industrial Strategy, the programme will explore how advanced technology can be used to deliver a new front line UAV. Taranis will be one of the world’s largest UAVs, about the size of a Hawk jet at around eight tonnes, and will integrate stealth technology around an intelligent, autonomous system. It will also test the potential to carry ground attack weapons.

The programme will see military staff and scientists working alongside industry in a new type of partnership to deliver better transparency and information sharing.

Lord Drayson said: ‘This project represents the best of British innovation. It is an opportunity for businesses really prepared to take risks to reap the benefit.

‘This unarmed aerial combat vehicle will be one of the world’s largest. We aim to establish the viability of a pilotless system to deliver weaponry to another continent – there is potential to entirely review the way we conduct aerial combat. Taranis is as significant as the Harrier jump jet or the attack helicopter.

‘Taranis is part of a future of mixed manned and unmanned vehicles which will sustain jobs and skills in the UK to supply the next generation of aircraft.’

The vehicle will be fitted with Rolls-Royce FastJet engine designed into the UAV’s other stealthy features to minimise detection.

The prototype will take two years to develop with flight trials scheduled for the fourth year.

Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal Chris Moran, said: ‘This project is comparable in significance to the Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter. UAVs used to be known for the 3Ds – missions which are dirty, dangerous or dull. We now want to add deep, for the deep battle suite it will form part of.’

Mike Turner from BAE Systems said: ‘We intend to use rapid development skills gained from our previous experience with UAVs. Taranis will be developed entirely in the UK with 75 per cent MoD funding and 25 per cent from industry.’

Flight trials scheduled to be conducted at a BAE Systems range located in Woomera, Australia, are provisionally planned later this decade.