Earlier this year, BAE Systems started assembling the prototype Taranis UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) at their facilities in Warton, UK (see photo). Named after the Celtic thunder god, this big, stealthy, bat-winged air vehicle is part of the UK MoD’s SUAV[E] programme (Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle [Experimental]).
The purpose of SUAV[E] is to investigate and direct the work required to establish the potential for unmanned air vehicles. To this end there are several projects within SUAV[E], one of which is Project Taranis. Certainly, an overall objective of this programme’s combined research is to plot the future for combat fighter aircraft as it’s widely believed that the upcoming F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be the last of its type to carry a human pilot.
The four-year Taranis project is led by the Autonomous Systems and Future Capabilities Division of BAE Systems with major partners Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation (formerly Smiths Aerospace) and QinetiQ. Taranis will be powered by a Rolls-Royce Adour engine and its electrical system will be developed by GE Aviation. QinetiQ is supplying, among other things, the high-level reasoning software and that’s where JACK comes in.
Back in 2006-07, QinetiQ extensively flight tested their JACK-based autonomous flight control system on a BAC 1-11 surrogate UAV and a Tornado fighter jet (see links below). These tests were a great success and this software is now part of the new software load that will provide Taranis with its autonomous, decision-making capabilities.
The current programme schedule has Taranis ground tests beginning next year and flight testing to start in 2010 at Woomera, South Australia.
Links to QinetiQ press releases: