The Taranis was delivered to the Australian Woomera site for flight tests. (BAE Systems)
LONDON — A consortium led by BAE Systems has conducted flight trials of a new British unmanned combat air system (UCAS), the Ministry of Defence has admitted in evidence to the parliamentary defense committee.
In a one-sentence entry in written evidence submitted last month to the committee on British remotely piloted air systems, the MoD said that “Taranis ground tests commenced in 2010 and flight trials took place in 2013.”
Taranis is the program name given to a British effort to build a UCAS concept demonstrator. The contract to develop and fly the machine was awarded in 2005 to an industrial consortium involving BAE, GE Aviation Systems, Rolls-Royce and QinetiQ.
The MoD and BAE both declined to comment on the timing and whereabouts of the trials. The MoD said it would make no further comment until after the flight trials had been completed.
In July, industrial sources said the aircraft had been delivered to the remote Woomera test site in Australia ahead of a first flight scheduled for September. There is a suspicion the first flight may have taken place earlier than that.
The first flight of the 8-ton, Hawk jet trainer-sized UCAS follows a three-year delay to the program and around a £55 million (US $88.4 million) price hike due to technical issues, requirements increases and extended risk mitigation work.
The MoD evidence said the vehicle will demonstrate the integration of off-the-shelf technology involving automation, command and control, and sensor and payload integration, including simulated weapons release, as part of mission representative scenarios.
Reporting the first flight, the Bloomberg news agency also said progress on Taranis coincided with the resumption of flights in the second half of this year of the French-led Neuron UCAS demonstrator.
Dassault, Saab, Finmeccanica and others are involved in the Neuron work. The vehicle flew twice last year before resuming flying in the second half of this year, said the news agency.
EADS has also undertaken flight tests on its Barracuda machine although Germany has no official UCAS program.
News of the Taranis first flight comes as BAE and Dassault finish a joint 18-month preparation phase contract to develop an operational evaluation demonstrator for a new generation of combat aircraft beyond the Typhoon and Rafale fighters in the 2030 time frame. One option being considered is a UCAS.
“The UK must make a strategic capability decision at the 2015 Strategic Defence & Security Review of Future Combat Air Systems and therefore the next phase of the program is important to de-risk critical technologies, this work will underpin SDSR 15 decision making,” said the MoD in its evidence.