Unmanned combat aircraft making strides
Two of Europe’s manned combat air vehicle programs have taken significant strides in recent times. The Neuron UCAV technical demonstrator is being built by a Dassault-led team with partners in Sweden, Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Spain. From official notification in February 2006, the team has established an efficient structure for industrial cooperation, leading to a satisfactory interim review in September. A series of wind-tunnel tests undertaken in Switzerland, France and Sweden means that the final shape of the aircraft is almost fixed. The definition stage began last week, and the program remains on track for a 2011 first flight.
Yesterday three of the Neuron partners–Alenia, Dassault and Saab–announced that they had signed a letter of intent to expand their cooperation in the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) field. Alenia will lead the program, which will employ technology cascaded from Neuron UCAV work. Dassault had earlier announced a separate collaboration with Thales for a MALE UAV using the Heron TP as a basis.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, BAE Systems is progressing its own Taranis UCAV demonstrator program. It announced this week that the design of the autonomous control systems had been finalized.
According to BAE Systems’ project director Chris Allam, “The brains of Taranis are now designed and coherent. We have brought together all the core elements of the autonomy system, and now all the key pieces are available to code and test.”
In achieving this important milestone ahead of schedule, Allam acknowledged the input from QinetiQ.
“We have drawn on QinetiQ’s background in areas such as reasoning algorithms, while we had expertise in systems architecture,” he said. “We were able to combine those skills and experience under our overall control.” BAE is due to begin cutting metal in November, with assembly starting before the end of the year. Ground testing is scheduled for early 2009, with the first flight in 2010.