The ability to drop bombs on targets a continent away can be a huge tactical advantage (even if it is just sabre-rattling). Doing so at supersonic speeds, nearly automatically, is even better. That's why the UK has spent the better part of a decade developing the Taranis, one of the biggest and fastest UAV in existence. Now it just needs to prove it can actually fly.
The Taranis, named after the badass Celtic God of Thunder, is the result of 10 years of research as the Ministry of Defence's first UCAV (unmanned combat air vehicle) program. Rather than join the multinational nEUROn UCAV program, the UK forged its own path by founding the UK's strategic unmanned air vehicle (experiment) SUAV(E) program -- a £143m consortium headed by BAE Systems as well as GE Aviation, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ. The result: a nearly completely autonomous stealth bomber with supersonic speed, intercontinental range and no on-board pilot.
The Taranis itself, though rarely seen since its 2010 unveiling, measures roughly 11m long, 4m high, with a 10m delta-shaped wingspan, and weighs about seven tonnes. While specifics remain scarce, many in the defence industry have speculated that Rolls-Royce will employ the 8786Nm of thrust Adour 951 engine.
This prototype UCAV is designed to do far more than just bombing runs. For Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, the Taranis can be equipped with a BAE image collection and exploitation (ICE) system that autonomously collects and distributes high res images.
Having successfully completed its ground testing phase, which began in 2010, the Taranis is expected to make its maiden voyage within the next few months, taking off from the Royal Australian Air Force's Woomera testing facility. If you live in Southern Australia and see a UFO streaking across the sky, don't worry. It's not aliens, just the future of warfare. [Airforce Technology, BAE Systems, Forbes]
Picture: BAE Systems