LONDON — A concept demonstrator aimed at putting Britain on the road to developing an unmanned air combat vehicle capability has been delivered to a flight test site in Australia and is scheduled to make its maiden flight within weeks, according to sources familiar with the program.
The concept demonstrator, known as Taranis, is sitting at the remote Woomera test center in South Australia in preparation for a first flight scheduled for September, said the sources, who asked not to be named.
The first flight follows a three-year delay and more than 55 million pounds (US $83.1 million) in additional costs caused by technical issues, an increase in the list of requirements and extended risk mitigation work on Taranis.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the additional risk mitigation work was behind an increase in program costs to “around 180 million (pounds).”
The original budget when the program was launched in 2005 was 124 million pounds. By 2011, the delays and requirement changes had driven Taranis costs up to 142 million pounds.
The spokesman declined to confirm either the site of the maiden flight test or the date.
“Progress continues with Taranis and its initial trials program and we expect the first flight trials to take place in 2013,” he said.
Named after a Celtic god of thunder, Taranis is a BAE Systems-led program aimed at exploring some of the technologies and capabilities that could be incorporated into the Royal Air Force’s first generation of unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV).
The emergence of the planned first flight of the British UCAV comes just days after the US Navy’s X-47B UCAV demonstrator successfully completed the world’s first autonomous arrested landing on an aircraft carrier cruising off the US east coast.
About the size of a Hawk jet trainer, the 8-ton Taranis will demonstrate autonomous controls, stealth and other technologies for possible inclusion in an operational aircraft.
Government and an industry team comprising BAE, GE Aviation Systems, QinetiQ and Rolls-Royce launched the jointly funded effort to design and fly Britain’s largest unmanned air vehicle in December 2005 with a plan to have the aircraft airborne during 2010.
A September first flight would almost coincide with plans by BAE and partner Dassault Aviation to lodge proposals with the British and French governments to launch a possible follow-on program involving a UCAV operational demonstrator.
Dassault is lead contractor in a six-European-nation effort that saw their Neuron UCAV demonstrator fly for the first time in December 2012.
BAE and Dassault signed a deal with the British and French governments in mid-2012 to propose a joint plan to mature and demonstrate critical technology and operational aspects of a future UCAV.
A spokesman for the British-based company said, “We are working with Dassault as industrial partners to deliver a joint study to our respective governments looking at the critical technology and operational aspects of a future combat air system, with particular focus on unmanned.”
The UCAV tie-up was prompted by an Anglo-French defense treaty signed in November 2010.
BAE and Dassault also agreed to work together on a possible medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle, but that work, if not on ice yet, is certainly heading toward the freezer.
The UCAV cooperation, though, could lead to the launch of a joint demonstration and operational evaluation program.
Engine makers Rolls-Royce and Snecma have also been collaborating with the two platform providers to explore future UCAV propulsion system options.
Neuron and Taranis are both powered by versions of the Adour jet engine.