October 25, 2013
Credit: BAE Systems
The U.K.’s unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator Taranis has made its first test flights, according to documentation given to a government inquiry committee regarding the use of remotely piloted vehicles.
In the public evidence, being heard by the Commons Select Committee and supplied by the U.K. Defense Ministry, ground tests of the UCAV commenced in 2010 and “flight trials took place in 2013.” No further detail is given about when or where the test flights may have taken place.
Despite delivering this evidence to the inquiry, a defense ministry press statement would neither confirm nor deny that the flights have taken place, saying: “Progress continues with Taranis and its initial trials program; it would be inappropriate to comment further until trials have completed.”
The £180 million ($290 million) Taranis, which is named after a Celtic god of thunder, is planned to be a one-off technology demonstration vehicle. The documents say the aircraft will demonstrate the “successful integration of off-the-shelf technologies, including automation, command and control, sensor integration, and payload integration.”
The aircraft has been the subject of a media blackout since its unveiling at BAE Systems’ plant at Warton, Lancashire in 2010. Only a handful of images have been released of the aircraft and none of the contractors involved are able to talk about the program publicly. However, it is understood that if the flight trials have taken place, they would have been conducted at the remote Woomera Test Range in South Australia, where BAE has conducted a number of UAV trials.
The inquiry, announced in July, is studying current and future use of UAVs by the U.K. armed forces and plans to make recommendations about the use of the technology to inform the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review. The documents say the Taranis program also will feed into the U.K.’s Future Combat Aircraft Systems program, which it says will offer “more advanced capabilities compared to the current generation of aircraft.”