LONDON — A third and possibly final series of flight tests planned for Britain's Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator is planned for later this year, according to the Ministry of Defence.

An industry team led by BAE Systems completed two phases of trial flights at Woomera, Australia, between August 2013 and January 2014, and a third series of test flights is "now planned for the end of this year," an MoD spokesman has confirmed.

Martin Taylor, the managing director at BAE's Military Aircraft business, said the company is in talks with the MoD about further flight test trials.

The first two phases of flights, investigating basic concepts and survivability, had gone went "exceptionally well. The government [believes]is minded we can do more with the test vehicle in support and in parallel with the work we are doing on the Anglo-French future combat air system [FCAS] program," Taylor said.

The British and French governments signed a £120 million (US $183.4 million) FCAS study last year to investigate the feasibility of jointly building an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). Each nation additionally injected a further £40 million into national UCAV technology programs.

Neither the government nor BAE would comment on the content of the next phase of flight tests.

The MoD spokesman said culmination of the third phase of flights would see spending on the Taranis program rise to "£202.3 million, about a third of which has been contributed by British industry."

The spokesman said there are no current plans for any further Taranis test flights beyond those expected at the end of the year.

Britain launched the Taranis program with the signing of a jointly funded £124 million deal with industry to develop a technical demonstrator based on earlier programs led by BAE such as Nightjar and Raven.

BAE, GE Aviation, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce and Selex are among the companies behind development of the 8-ton vehicle, which is similar in size to the Hawk trainer jet.

Delays, capability growth and additional test flight phases drove are behind the rise in costs of the program, which was originally intended to only run until 2010.

A consortium of European nations and companies led by Dassault is are conducting flying trials on their own demonstrator UCAV known as Neuron.

Taylor said the companies involved in the Anglo-French FCAS study have been are developing working on agreed and common methods of working together while as well as evolving toward a technical solution to present to the governments next year.

"We have to make sure the program we propose is realistic, credible and capable of surviving any strategic defense and security review [SDSR] or French equivalent. We are working not only on a capability but also a way of bringing it to life, which is credible and practical," Taylor said.

BAE, Dassault Aviation, Rolls-Royce, Safran, Selex and Thales are involved in the two-year Anglo-French study.

Defense executives here expect the SDSR now being conducted by the British government to considers its options on unmanned vehicles, including the Anglo-French combat vehicle.


Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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