The UK Ministry of Defence has finally lifted the veil on the test program of the Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator, more than two and a half years since its rollout.
Little has been heard of the £185 million ($300 million) program since the project went black shortly after its unveiling.
But now, with the first phase of trials completed with flights of up to an hour of duration, industry and defense officials say the aircraft, claimed to be the most advanced to be produced in the UK, has surpassed all expectations.
First flight of the Taranis was a 15-minute hop that took place on August 10, 2013, at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia, although officials won’t confirm the location, instead describing it as undisclosed. A second flight followed a week later, and since then the aircraft has flown sorties, up to an hour in length, at various speeds and altitudes, although the details on the number of sorties remain classified.
The UK MoD will now use the Taranis program to inform on its Future Combat Air System program, which is looking at the platforms that will likely replace the Eurofighter Typhoon and work alongside the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter beyond 2030. Taranis experience will also feed into a joint-French UCAV feasibility study announced by British prime minister David Cameron and French president François Hollande during a UK-France summit at RAF Brize Norton, UK, on January 31.
Both nations have agreed to pledge £120 million to the two-year study, which will see BAE Systems and Dassault as well as other aerospace companies working together, and will decide whether to collaborate on a demonstration and manufacturing phase. An MoU on the study is due to be signed by the 2014 Farnborough Airshow.
About the size of a BAE Systems Hawk aircraft, and powered by a Rolls-Royce Adour 951 engine from the same aircraft, Taranis has been designed and built by BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, the systems division of GE Aviation and QinetiQ, working alongside defense ministry military staff and scientists.