Exactly 10 years ago it became apparent among a broad swathe of people who orbit the defense technology nebula that an armed unmanned aircraft was possible.
The logic went if you build it large enough, together with programmed artificial intelligence, then surely this type of weapon will open an exciting new frontier in aerospace.
So here comes Taranis. After years of prototyping the Taranis was first tested outdoors and made known to the public in July 2010. It finally took to the skies in October 2013 and again in February 2015. Owing to the budget constraints of the UK’s military, it’s unsure if the Taranis will ever enter service soon.
This is why it’s identified as a technology demonstrator rather than the first model for a series of new aircraft. The Taranis’ flight testing entered its third phase in late 2015 at Woomera, Australia. The results will determine if the Taranis should enter its fourth testing phase that would finalize its capabilities.
But its manufacturer, BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest defense contractors, is proud of it. There’s even an informative webpage embedded on its website about the Taranis. According to BAE System’s own accounting, R&D for the Taranis reached $316 million, with components and fabrication supplied by 250 different companies involved in the project.
At 36 feet long with a wingspan of 32 feet, its dimensions match those of some trainer aircraft.
Like the Predator C Avenger, the Taranis was conceived and designed for ISR and targeting enemies. With little information about its airspeed and payload, however, it might be a while until its real capability is revealed.
The Taranis is the sum of many different parts, including a Rolls-Royce turbofan jet engine, with additional inputs from General Electric, QinetiQ, and the UK’s own Ministry of Defense (MoD).
BAE Systems is the UK’s leading defense contractor and a publicly listed firm. Like its peers across the pond–i.e. General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, etc.–it provides an enormous range of weapons and systems for militaries around the world, especially key US allies like Saudi Arabia and Australia. New ventures in cybersecurity and electronics led to BAE Systems dividing its activities into five segments.
Originally a staid British aerospace firm with a long history, a 1999 merger with Italian conglomerate GEC Marconi led to its current form.
BAE Systems’ high-profile product line includes aircraft carriers like the upcoming Queen Elizabeth, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the US Army’s Bradley fighting vehicle. BAE Systems is a partner in the development of the expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Earnings listed on Bloomberg’s database reveal a healthy balance sheet, with stocks trading high and a track record of consistent growth. In 2013, BAE Systems’ profits totaled $31.1 billion.