The maiden flight of the British Taranis has been put back again until 2013. Taranis was originally due to fly in 2011 but was delayed until late this year for technical and other issues. (Tom Fillingham / BAE Systems)
WARTON, England — Britain and France could sign contracts next month at the Farnborough International Airshow kick-starting early work on development of an unmanned combat air system (UCAV) and a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV, according to one of the companies involved in the work.
Together, the contracts are expected to be worth up to 40 million pounds ($62.8 million) to industry partners BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation, the companies leading the unmanned vehicle effort.
The Anglo-French deals are expected to involve a risk-reduction phase for the proposed Telemos MALE system and a demonstration preparation phase for the UCAV, according to Tom Fillingham, the director of future combat air systems at the British company’s Military Air & Information business.
The work on both programs is expected to last 18 months.
The early UCAV phase will allow the two sides to jointly prepare for future combat air system development, said Fillingham.
A large model giving an idea of what the new UCAV demonstrator might look like will be displayed outside the BAE exhibition area at the air show, which takes place July 9-13.
Fillingham said the model would give an indication of the shape and size, but not the actual design.
Britain and a French-led consortium of nations are working on separate UCAV concept demonstrator programs.
The French Neuron vehicle is expected to fly later this year but the maiden flight of the British Taranis has been put back again until 2013. Taranis was originally due to fly in 2011 but was delayed until late this year for technical and other issues. That maiden flight has now been pushed back to early next year.
Part of the reason for the delay is that the U.K. Ministry of Defense has asked for further radar cross-section tests to corroborate what Fillingham described as the “very promising” data now being analyzed by Government scientists.
BAE allowed visiting reporters to view from a distance the now gray-painted Taranis in its hangar at Warton.
This is the first time Taranis has been seen publicly since it was unveiled in 2010. The machine was painted black at that time.
Fillingham said the program was in “good shape for a rejigged first flight in early 2013.”
New UAV and UCAV programs are critical to the sustainment of defense aviation skills and capabilities in Europe beyond the current generation of manned Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon jet fighters.
The BAE executive also told reporters during a briefing at the company’s Warton military aviation headquarters in northwest England that it was restarting its Mantis MALE technology demonstration program and had shelved work on the smaller Herti tactical UAV.
BAE Systems and Dassault have been working for months on progressing the two deals, which emerged as a result of the Anglo-French defense treaty signed by the two governments in 2010.
“We have done everything we can. It’s now up to the two governments to sign,” said Fillingham.
It’s hoped the signing of the early phase program work could take place during the air show, he said.
The risk-reduction work, formally known as a technology maturation phase, is expected to cost 30 million pounds with funding split equally between BAE and Dassault.
The duration of the UCAS demonstration preparation program is set at 18 months. The cost is expected to be between 8 million and 10 million pounds.
The Anglo-French bilateral agreement on unmanned vehicles sparked controversy when it was announced as it left German and Italian industries out in the cold. For the moment, the initial phases of work remain exclusively Anglo-French, but economic, political, defense budget and other issues appear to be pushing the programs toward a wider European alliance, said one industry executive.
The June 14 signing of a letter of intent by France and Germany on procurement cooperation, including looking at opportunities in the MALE sector, signals a willingness by the new socialist government in Paris to continue the policy of the Sarkozy administration to move to a trilateral or even multilateral program, a move the British have reservations about.
French and German defense ministers are scheduled to meet in Berlin on June 22 when cooperation issues are expected to be on the agenda.
Fillingham said the initial conversations on cooperation were U.K.-French only and wider cooperation was a question for the two governments.
The Anglo-French MALE was baselined on the Mantis but the actual vehicle will feature new engines and airframe design.
Fillingham said the company will spend up to 5 million pounds of its own money this year and further sums beyond that to resume the Mantis concept technology demonstrator program, which came to a close at the end of 2009.
The autonomously controlled, twin-turboprop powered Mantis is expected to start taxi trials at the end of this year ahead of resuming test flying in 2013. Some of the technology being tested on Mantis could find its way on to the Telemos program.
Discussions are underway with the U.K. Ministry of Defense about selection of a site to conduct the test flight work.
The BAE executive also revealed the company had closed down its efforts to further develop and sell the Herti tactical UAV it first flew in 2004.
The UAV has failed to find any customers, but some of the technology developed on Herti will be migrated to the Mantis demonstrator.