The £124m Taranis Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) technology demonstrator programme, with BAE Systems as the industry lead and prime contractor, and other industry partners comprising QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce and Smiths Aerospace, has reached a major milestone with the design of the autonomous systems now finalised.
Taranis will be the largest UAV yet built in the UK, and as part of the UK MOD’s Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experiment) (SUAV(E)) programme will explore and demonstrate how emerging technologies and systems can deliver battle-winning capabilities for the UK armed forces.
“This milestone was reached ahead of schedule, and a team effort had gone into achieving it,” said Chris Allam, BAE Systems’ Taranis project director. “For this part of the programme, we were working together with QinetiQ and the MOD, and we created a genuine team ethos. We have drawn on QinetiQ’s background in areas such as reasoning algorithms, while we had expertise in areas such as system architecture, and we were able to combine those skills and experience under our overall control.”
“The brains of Taranis are now designed and coherent. What we have designed is a system that can autonomously control the aircraft to taxi, take off, and navigate its way to a search area while reacting to any threats or other events. It will then route its way around the search area in whichever way it wants to, locate the target, and then use its sensor system to transmit a series of images and views back to the operator to confirm it is the target to be attacked. Then, once it has been authorised to do so, it autonomously attacks that target, routes its way back home, lands and taxies back.
“We have brought together all the core elements of the autonomy system, and now all the key pieces are available to code and test. We have proved that the overall process is working, our plan is working, we’re on target, the team’s working well together and we’ve got a tangible output.”
Allam said Taranis represents a significant step forward in capability, with its focus being targeting and attack rather than the surveillance and reconnaissance roles previous UAV programmes had been designed for. “To do that we have moved forward in terms of doing much more with the system, to ensure it is capable of high-level decision making to support ‘deep’ operations.”
Cutting metal for Taranis is due to begin in November with assembly starting before the end of the year, he said. Ground testing is expected to take place in early 2009 with the first flight trials taking place in 2010.