Monday, January 3, 2011

Uni Europe Produce Predator-B armed, Sperwer-B, Sky-X, Baracuda, Taranis and Corax UAV Combat Aircraft

Currently, there are no UCAVs (including armed UAVs) either in service or in production in EU countries26. However, there is an interest to acquire armed UAVs rather soon. The UK has shown interest in the US Predator-B armed UAV, which is currently operating in Iraq and Afghanistan (reportedly with some UK personnel involved). The only EU-developed armed UAV currently under consideration is a French feasibility study ordered from Sagem for an armed version of the Sperwer-B UAV. Plans for acquisitions of real

UCAVs are still very vague. EU armed forces are not yet clear if and how such real UCAVs fit into their national doctrines. However, several EU governments are sponsoring technology demonstrator programmes to develop the UCAV concept into a working system. All current UCAV programmes are technology demonstrator programmes aimed at testing  rather than producing - an operational UCAV. Different from UAV programmes, the more complex and expensive UCAV programmes are dependent on financing by governments.

There are now several separate ongoing UCAV R&D programmes. France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Greece, (Belgium may join) and non-EU Switzerland are working on the Neuron project: a mainly a French initiative that includes a mix of government and industry funding. The French company Dassault leads the project, but non-French expertise has been sought from the start. The French government has budgeted €300m for the programme. Finmeccanica’s subsidiary Alenia is the largest non-French industrial partner and Memoranda of Understanding were signed at the end of 2005 with Sweden (for €75m, including €15m from Saab) and Spain (€35.5 million) for the period 2007-2012. The Neuron is a technology demonstrator and should fly around 2010. Its aim is to test concept and technologies for operational UCAVs that may replace the current generation of manned combat aircraft by around 2025-2030.

The UK has launched two programmes, Taranis and Corax (Raven). BAe Systems, which has financed UAV/UCAV development for the past decade, has been appointed to lead a UK industrial team for the UK-government funded £124m (€185m) Taranis development in 2006. Taranis is a long range UCAV, the size of a small combat aircraft, powered by a full size turbofan and will have intercontinental range. Taranis builds on the experiences of the BAe-developed Kestrel and Corax UAVs. Currently, Taranis is designated a demonstrator programme, meant to develop a working UCAV, but not necessarily an operational system. Corax is basically a high-end UAV development, using stealth technologies, under development since 2003 and unveiled in 2006. The aircraft is large enough to function as a UCAV. A third programme in which UK with industry involvement is the X-48B, a reduced-size prototype has been built by Cranfield Aerospace for the US company Boeing.

Germany cooperates with Spain in the development of the Barracuda, another UAV programme with possibilities to grow into a UCAV. About the same size as the Taranis, the Barracuda flew first in 2006 and is also meant as a technology demonstrator. Originally envisaged to develop technologies for a long-range reconnaissance UAV - intended to replace the manned Tornado aircraft in reconnaissance tasks - it is now also intended to demonstrate armed combat capabilities. EADS leads the development programme, which is funded by the German and Spanish governments. In Italy, Finmeccanica’s Alenia has been working on a technology demonstrator called Sky-X, which first flew in 2005 as the first European UAV with a weight of over 1,000 kg.

It is clear that UCAVs will not replace manned aircraft in all or even many tasks, not even for some of the most hazardous missions where the loss of aircraft and pilots is likely35. However, in some instances UCAVs will be able to offer unmanned alternatives for dangerous missions; often in conjunction with manned aircraft. As yet the roles for the UCAV in Europe are undefined, but are likely to be the basis of future SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) forces attacking enemy radar and air-defence systems, currently one of the most risky tasks for manned combat aircraft.


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