Telemos UAV

BAE-Mantis

BAe and Dassault Aviation have today announced the name of the long-planned joint UK-French Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAS.

In Greek mythology, Telemos was the prophetic son of Eurymos, known for having the vision and foresight to warn Polyphemus about an attack by Odysseus.

The two companies will jointly present the capabilities that underpin the Telemos programme at the Paris Air Show from June 20th – 26th.

Following the signing of an exclusive Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two companies earlier this year, the Telemos programme will ensure that the considerable end-to-end systems capabilities of both BAE Systems and Dassault are successfully brought together to deliver a joint proposal to the UK and French Ministries of Defence for the design, development, production and support of a MALE UAS that will help safeguard the sovereign capability of the UK and France in the future.

Eric Trappier, Executive Vice President International at Dassault Aviation commented:

“We believe that Dassault Aviation and BAE Systems are the only companies with the experience, skills and capabilities to meet the requirements of our two Governments and the strong Telemos team will ensure that we provide the capability they are looking for, whilst assisting the sustainment of sovereign industrial capabilities which both governments have invested in developing. The key thing we need now is the political decision to transform this process into the first firm activity under the franco-british treaty on defense co-operation.”

Peter Richardson, Strategy and Technology Director for BAE Systems Military Air and Information said:

“Since the signing of the MOU earlier this year we have continued to work together to ensure that, as soon as the two governments formally launch their requirement, we are well placed to develop the future frontline capability they require. We have already set up a joint team and will look to strengthen this with other leading industry players to ensure that the Telemos programme will develop a cost-effective autonomous system in the required timescales.”

After steadfastly refusing to see the benefits of UAV’s the RAF has joined the party late with the UOR purchase of a small number of General Atomics Reaper’s, operated by 39 Squadron. These have proven to be very useful and numbers have been recently increased, or at least ordered. Reaper is a high-performance system with a similar type of sensor fit (EO/SAR) to Watchkeeper but encased in a larger airframe. It can fly for longer, faster and at a greater altitude. Its satellite communication system means that it is not reliant on in theatre communication resources so can be operated at distance. Finally, its party piece is a large weapon fit. This combination means the predator has value as both a strategic and tactical system.

Because we are using the Reapers on US infrastructure this is a situation that cannot endure if we are to have any sovereign autonomy even though the recent announcement of a move to the UK of some of the infrastructure is a step in the right direction.

The MoD has been ‘looking at the requirement for a while now and working with industry on a number of projects like JEUP and various demonstrators. The Herti system had a useful deployment to Afghanistan in 2007 under the joint BAe/RAF Project Morrigan to demonstrate its autonomous flight control and image collection systems. When the RAF’s Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) was cancelled it was replaced with the strategic unmanned air vehicle (experiment) SUAV(E) programme in 2005, this is a more combat UCAV oriented programme with the Taranis being part of its output and a joint collaboration with the US on a UCAS system.

Scavenger is part of the wider DABINETT/SOLOMON programme and the requirement is described this;

Inaccessible loitering intelligence collection from difficult and distant locations. SCAVENGER will fill significant gaps in the UK’s strategic and theatre collection capabilities, using a mix of UAVs, standalone sensors and potentially Low Earth Orbit satellites.

UK has collection gaps which need to be filled if we are to gather all the intelligence we need.

It is thought that a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV in the Reaper class will form a key component of Scavenger.

Scavenger is intended to provide sovereign capability but it has also been reported that we are considering the Reaper and its stealthy follow on, the Avenger, which has also been proposed as a maritime variant, the Sea Avenger. The Avenger will also have the same electro-optical system as the F35, the much-vaunted EOTS which dispenses with turrets and distributes the sensor throughout the airframe.

The BAe Mantis demonstrator recently completed a successful Spiral 1 flight test programme in Australia. Spiral 2 will likely integrate a range of Selex sensors and UK weapons. The Mantis air vehicle is relatively large, 22m wingspan, powered by a pair of Rolls Royce RB250B-17 engines (better for resilience) developing 450shp each which compares well with the 900shp single engine in the Reaper. Performance targets for a production version include a 24-36 hour duration, high operating altitude and a weapons payload of approximately 3,000kg or 12 Brimstone/6 Paveway IV on 6 wing hardpoints. Other payloads might include ECM, SIGINT, comms relay or even the RAPTOR pod.

With the recent Anglo/French defence cooperation agreement the Scavenger requirement is looking like it aligns perfectly with the similar French requirement, although the French may obtain a small number of Reapers as gap fillers. In a recent report from the French National Assembly, the desire for increased funding for MALE UAS was laid out including a commitment to the technology and the classification of it as a strategic capability that should not be obtained from outside the EU.

The report acknowledges that because of funding issues the programme will have to be a collaborative one and suggests that the BAe Mantis might be the sensible choice with Thales and Dassault providing the payload and integration respectively, this is building on the greater collaboration on ISR announced in November 2009. Italy, Germany and Spain would likely be interested in joining any collaborative venture but only if EADS could be involved and therein lies the problem. EADS has a competing development called Talarion but this is at a much less advanced stage than Mantis and would no doubt be a riskier proposition i.e. more costly, however much snootily dismissive of Mantis EADS appear.

What started out as a possible joint venture could easily get wrapped up in European defence politics and likely morph into a multinational programme like the Typhoon or A400. No doubt it would be a fine system but it would be 10 years late, several billion over budget and not likely to be exportable because the Israelis and Americans had dominated the market.

From a late start, it is interesting to note the rapid progress the MoD and BAe have made in unmanned systems development and contrast that with other European nations. The MoD and BAe have created a number of de-risking programmes, getting on with the job quietly and competently. Mantis is the culmination of these to date and has cost very little in comparison, a limited set of deliverables, moderate aspirations and a low-risk technology approach yielding significant results.

The MoD and BAe have the valuable experience and a tangible lead over our European competitors in this area now.

We must not squander it and concentrate on fielding Mantis to provide the UK with a system that is independent of US infrastructure and easily exported, meeting the Scavenger requirement. There is a large future market for MALE UAS so let’s make sure the UK gets back into the weapons exporting business by not farting around for the next ten years deciding who is going to make the wings.

Scavenger envisions an in-service date between 2015 and 2018.

Today’s announcement from BAe and Dassault would seem to indicate progress towards the common requirement, if we can avoid adding any more partner nations we might just avoid some of the industrial politics that so blights these types of projects.

Two’s company and three’s a crowd.

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