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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

05 Feb 14. There is much that one might like to say about the most sophisticated and advanced unmanned air combat system that Britain has so far developed but even if I had been able to comprehend what I suspect are highly complicated technical specifications I would be prevented from telling you about these because much of the detail about ‘Taranis’ remains classified information. So it should too as far from being a leap into the dark and unknown world of Remotely Powered Air System (RPAS) or if you prefer, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) Taranis is not only an absolute winner for Britain but one that we must ensure we retain all the long term benefits.

Looking rather more like a USAF B-2 Stealth Bomber than one of the more traditional Remotely Piloted Air System or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV’s) currently in operation with NATO forces ‘Taranis’ is first and foremost a completely British designed and built UAV. Operated remotely by a human operator who could be hundreds or even thousands of miles away, Taranis is able to fly through a system of direct commands through its on-board computers that allow the vehicle to perform various manoeuvres and tasks such as intelligence gathering, identifying targets and if necessary and authorised, attacking enemy targets with great precision.

The number of UAV’s now in service with UK armed forces continues to grow. The Reaper and Predator UAV systems have been in service now for several years and very soon the Thales built Watchkeeper system which has also been specifically developed for the UK military will enter service. UAV’s won’t replace fast jet military aircraft capability in the foreseeable future but in the role that they undertake they can and do greatly enhance military battlefield capability. Certainly they are changing the way that military aircraft are used in combat missions and in terms of force mix their use can only but increase in the years ahead.

Designed for ‘stealth’ and ‘low observance’ Britain’s Taranis development has been funded through a partnership between the MOD and UK industry. As an engineering and technology partnership the ‘Taranis’ development programme brought some of the best UK defence and aerospace industry excellence together to create a huge step forward in unmanned aerial vehicle technology. With BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ, GE together with MOD procurement operation DE&S as partners and the government owned science and technology laboratory DSTL having close involvement Taranis is designed to be able to undertake sustained surveillance activity over a long period, to gather intelligence, mark targets, deter adversaries and if and when required, strike with absolute precision well into hostile territory.

My specific interest in Taranis is not only the military based UAV technology capability that it brings but also the science, technology and industrial benefits that it potentially brings to the UK. Taranis is certainly the most highly sophisticated unmanned aerial combat vehicle to have been designed, built and flown in the UK and yet the £185 million MOD/Industry funded project could hardly be regarded as expensive.

Importantly Taranis is confirmation that that industry and Government can and are working well together. As a technology based military project Taranis has achieved the objective required to develop a UK designed and built stealth based UAV to help the military. In the process of development the Taranis project has brought together some of the best available science, aerospace and engineering skills and brains that the UK possesses. The greatest significance of Taranis to me is that the project is living proof that Britain remains at the forefront of aerospace and defence technology. In addition it proves the value and importance of the skills retention argument and it shows jus

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