LONDON Feb 5 Britain's defence industry is
pinning its hopes for long-term growth on a new unmanned
aircraft after the government and BAE Systems announced
on Wednesday that their Taranis project had surpassed
expectations in trials last year.
Taranis is a 185 million pound ($301.45 million) programme
that was unveiled in 2010 and is jointly funded by the
government, BAE and other engineering partners including
Rolls-Royce and QinetiQ.
Though Britain claims to be the second-largest exporter of
defence equipment and services behind the United States, with
the sector employing 100,000 people in the UK, the outlook for
the industry is tough amid shrinking government budgets and
Investors have been worrying about BAE's growth prospects
since December, when the United Arab Emirates pulled out of
talks to buy 60 Typhoon jets, dealing a blow to the company and
the British government, which had pushed hard to land the $9.8
Taranis, however, represents a new generation of combat
aircraft that could help to underpin business beyond the current
fighter jet offerings, such as the F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon,
and into the 2030s.
"It is an extension of our life," Chris Boardman, managing
director of BAE Systems' military air and information business,
told Reuters on the sidelines of an event on Wednesday.
"We produce combat systems. We're part of the F-35, we're
part of the Typhoon programme, so it is the next phase. We need
to be at the cutting edge of the next combat system and that's
what Taranis will allow us into."
About the length of a bus but difficult to detect, Taranis
is controlled from the ground by a human operator and can be
used for surveillance as well as carrying out strikes. Test
flights took place in Australia last August.
The partners say that Taranis, named after the Celtic god of
thunder, is the most advanced aircraft ever built by British
"It will help safeguard British interests well into the
future and it will help British industry retain its competitive
edge," Philip Dunne, Britain's Minister for defence equipment,
support and technology, said on Wednesday.
In 2012 Britain and France agreed to work together on
unmanned aircraft and the pair announced plans for a 120 million
pound two-year study into the technology at a summit last month.
"It wouldn't be surprising if, in due course, there are
opportunities for other countries to get involved. Initially,
this is an Anglo-French project," Dunne said.
EU leaders pledged in December to launch projects to develop
a European drone between 2020 and 2025.