Life After Typhoon and Rafale, What Next for a European UCAV

ASTRAEA Jetstream

In the previous post I looked at the European defence industry approach to Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) types with EADS, Dassault and Alenia calling for European governments to stump up the cash to bail them out of a situation entirely of their making.

General Atomics created the Predator platform from a good idea and not a lot else, nearly 600 airframes later they dominate the armed MALE system segment with EADS, Alenia, Dassault, Saab and BAE sitting in the corner sulking about the lack of Government money.

Whilst it may be almost palatable to cede the MALE market to the USA and Israel if Europe does not come up with a plan for a post Rafale/Typhoon manned aircraft then an unmanned combat aircraft (UCAV) is the only thing that will ensure the survival of the European defence aerospace sector.

It really is that simple.

One of the reasons the US Government have backed Lockheed Martin to the hilt, despite the development car crash that is JSF, is because it knows full well that after Typhoon/Rafale the way is currently clear for the F35 to dominate the manned fighter aircraft market and not just in the USA but everywhere the Chinese and Russians don’t sell into. The once mighty European defence aerospace industry will be reduced to making parts for US aircraft and picking up scraps here and there for fast jet platforms.

With no MALE UAV and no manned fighter programme after the ‘Euro Canards’ it would be time to turn the lights out across the European defence aerospace sector.

This is why a European UCAV is so important.

But as usual, the industrial landscape across Europe has produced an understandable duplication and where with the prospect of ‘ze big bucks’ any notion of pooling and sharing tends to get somewhat of a battering and no one wants to be on the losing side.

If BAE seemed somewhat uninterested in Mantis/Telemos the same definitely cannot be said of the UCAV space and Dassault have a similarly large interest. Both organisations have been building expertise for some time and both the BAE Taranis and Dassault Neuron technology programmes are well advanced.

BAE Taranis and Dassault nEUROn are the main points of interest but there is a great deal of enabling research and development going on.

In the UK, the ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment) programme for example. This was a collaborative effort between BAE, EADS Cassidian, Thals and AOS. Thales created the sense and avoid architecture, EADS Cassidian the communication systems and AOS the autonomous decision making software.

ASTRAEA Jetstream
ASTRAEA Jetstream

The ASTRAEA Jetstream made an impressive flight in UK airspace this April.

The flight flew 500 miles through normal UK airspace from Warton to Inverness and back with its pilot on the ground controlling it. There were a couple of safety pilots on board who handled take-off and landing but during flight it was controlled from the ground. The point of the flight was to test how unmanned aircraft could operate in civilian airspace.

Another little known innovation is the Flapless Aerial Vehicle Integrated Interdisciplinary Research Programme (FLAVIIR), this seeks to develop the technologies to an unmanned aircraft without conventional control surfaces. An unmanned system without flaps and other control surfaces has obvious maintenance cost reductions and a range of aerodynamic and stealth improvements.

The Demon and ASTRAEA Jetstream are just two examples of first rate hard slog research away from the spotlight of glitzy roll outs and air show appearance.

Just to demonstrate the depth of this research, have a look at a couple of presentations from ASTRAEA, here and here, really informative stuff that shows some of the problems with autonomous flight, but they also show the progress on tackling those same problems.

A recent announcement heralded a joint venture between QinetiQ and the MoD for the development of a UAV deployment centre called the Unmanned Air Systems Capability Development Centre (UASCDC).

UASCDC is a coordination centre designed to pull together the various unmanned programmes.

BAE Systems have a long pedigree in developing unmanned air vehicles and underlying technologies and this has culminated with Taranis but in Europe, BAE is not alone, Dassault have the Neuron, and EADS Cassidian the Barracuda.

So what about the runners and riders?

Taranis

Taranis is a UK only £142.5m technology demonstrator, it is not the finished article but instead designed to prove technology and operational concepts that will be rolled into a final design and is the latest in a long line of such demonstrators; Replica, Nightjar I, Nightjar II, Kestrel, Corax, Raven and HERTI/Fury.

Taranis
Taranis

The video below shows its unveiling in 2010

Flight trials have been delayed from the optimism of 2010 and it seems the first flight of Taranis will be this year in Australia, at the famous Woomera range.

It makes sense to wait until things are right for a first flight and the specialist media have reported that some significant progress has been made recently on engine intake integration and radar cross section testing.

It is powered by a Rolls Royce Turbomeca Adour 951 engine, the same as used in the Hawk T2 and Dassault Neuron, with full FADEC and a thrust rating of 6,5000lbf. The 951 is the latest version of the non-reheated Adour. Maximum weight is reportedly 8 tonnes but its range is unknown, despite several sources taking a guess.

Taranis
Taranis

Taranis is about the same size as a Hawk and has been developed under the auspices of the Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicles (Experiment) Integrated Project Team, or SUAV(E) IPT. Joining BAE Systems in the project is QinetiQ, GE Aviation and Rolls Royce.

Neuron

France and Dassault is leading on the Neuron programme which started in 2005 and includes Spain, Germany, Sweden

It is the next stage in the Dassault Logique de Développement d’UCAV concept

From the Dassault website;

To be fully effective, a single point of decision, the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA – Délégation Générale pour l’Armement), and a single point of implementation, Dassault Aviation company as prime contractor, were settled to manage the nEUROn programme.

The Italian, Swedish, Spanish, Greek and Swiss governments acting together with their related industrial teams, Alenia, SAAB, EADS-CASA, Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) and RUAG, have joined the French initiative.

It is a complex industrial arrangement.

First flight was December last year

The French Government has invested 202.5 million Euros into the project with the balance coming from the other nations; total programme budget is 405 million Euros.

It has been made abundantly clear several times that the Neuron programme will complete without any other partners, i.e. there is no room at the inn for BAE and the UK

Barracuda

The EADS Barracuda is another collaborative European programme, this time with Germany and Spain providing the funding.

It might be argued that Barracuda is more of a MALE UAV than a UCAV in the mould of Taranis and Nueron but still worth considering in the same space and does have a fairly long track record.

Gripen

No, I am not smoking something.

As if things couldn’t get even more complex, Saab have rocked up to the Paris Air Show this week with a concept for an unmanned Gripen, or perhaps more accurately, optionally piloted. Another curious proposal given that SAAB are partners in the Nueron system.

See a mock-up image here

An Anglo French Arrangement called FCAS

To summarise;

  • The UK has been going it alone with Taranis
  • Germany and Spain working on Barracuda
  • France, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Switzerland and Spanish on the Neuron

The non UK work is being carried out by various combinations of partnerships with EADS and Dassault being the two prime contractors.

Remember, EADS own 40% of Dassault and EADS itself is split between public and private ownership, the French government owning 22.4% and Spain 5.4%. Germany also has a significant stake through Daimler.

Into this complex situation came the 2010 Anglo French Defence Cooperation Agreement.

The two governments agreed to work together on unmanned technologies and although as I described in the previous post, a change of French government saw work on Telemos fall by the wayside, the agreement also looked at UCAV.

A contract was jointly let to Dassault and BAE for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) unmanned air system (UAS) programme that was an 18 month study that was intended to mature the underlying technologies and lead to a joint UCAS demonstrator. Roll Royce and Snecma also joined together to work on next generation combat aircraft engines and collaboration on the FCAS demonstration programme.

With the usual alphabet soup of programmes, DPOC, FCAS and many more, the path forward is far from clear.

The Future Combat Air System Demonstration Programme Preparation Phase (FCAS DPPP) has concluded its first stage and the two governments and companies are looking at moving into the next stage, a detailed definition phase.

By around 2015 Taranis and Neuron will have finished, what next is the interesting part, especially what next for collaboration with others.

Perhaps it is too early to start working on what comes after Rafale/Typhoon/Gripen but one thing is certain, the current situation where there are three main European combat aircraft will not be the same with UCAV’s

This is the reality for a European UCAV

Over the next few years the two men might be BAE/Dassault and EADS/Alenia with Saab offering a reserve pugilist for the budgetary challenged.

Would you bet the Barracuda against the Taranis/Neuron?

I know I wouldn’t, which maybe explains why EADS are so keen on a European Future MALE UAV!

Maybe the fight will come down to Neuron and Taranis with the UK pitting son of Taranis against the rest of Europe.

It could be that the UK looks West and enters into some sort of collaboration with US companies.

Maybe we will see sense and keep Taranis on a UK only path.

There so many variables for a UK UCAV!

Interesting times ahead in the run up to life after Typhoon

 

Further reading;

http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~mark/projects/aja506_project.pdf

http://home.exetel.com.au/jwcook65/Resource/BAE.pdf

http://www.soltron.co.kr/data/file/tech1_11/990609174_Op0U2LmI_UCAV.pdf

http://congress.cimne.com/eucass2013/admin/files/fileabstract/a526.pdf

http://www.weaf.co.uk/filemanager/userfiles/files/Conrad_Banks_smaller.pdf

http://aerosociety.com/Assets/Docs/Publications/DiscussionPapers/Unmanned_Aerial_Vehicles_A_New_Industrial_System.pdf

http://www.satellite-evolution.com/issues-2011/sea-march-2011/uavs.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/33838/desider_27_August2010.pdf

 

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