Telemos, Talarion, Hammerhead and the Mystery of the European MALE


Interesting times ahead in the land of unmanned aircraft

The future of Mantis, Telemos, Reaper, Heron, Talarion, Neuron, Taranis, Hammerhead, Watchkeeper and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all seems subject to the fickle whims of national industrial self-interest, faux European cooperation and a basic lack of cash.

Something is going to have to give.

For whatever reason, the European defence industry has been well behind the curve with Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned systems, whilst Israel and the USA were getting their Predator/Reaper and Heron systems into production Europe was talking about it, basically, they were out innovated.

Conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali have presented an unpalatable choice for European governments, buy American/Israeli or make do with nothing. The UK, Germany and even France have purchased, or will, Predator/Reaper and Heron despite how painful this might have been given the impact on their indigenous defence aerospace industries.

The decision now is either accept that the market opportunity has passed, cede any future domestic or international sales to the USA and Israel or get behind, with cash, a European design.

The UK has invested considerable sums in its Reaper capability and it is difficult to envisage a capability difference between an evolved Reaper and something new that warrants casting that investment aside and starting from scratch.

Even if consensus on a European design were found the practical way forward is far from clear, hugely complex and would have to contend with the rather problematical European defence industrial landscape.

For the Medium Altitude Long Endurance RPAS/UAV, the state of play is…


This an EADS design, notionally for France, Spain and Germany, that they have reportedly spent in excess of £500m developing after the risk reduction contract from the three governments expired. Alenia joined the development programme as well as Saab and Turkey later on.

Let’s not forget as well, EADS is a large shareholder in Dassault.

The mockup on display at the EADS stand at the Paris Airshow this week looks very much Talarion shaped although with some engine and wing variations from the older design

EADS Talarion
EADS Talarion

Talarion specs include a maximum altitude of 50,000ft with a payload of just under 1,000kg externally and 800kg in a modular internal payload bay with an endurance of 20 hours. The satellite and electro optical systems are permanently fitted but the payload bay can be fitted with weapons, radar or an additional fuel tank. Indra and Thales have developed the radar option and it is an advanced, electronically scanned system that offers both SAR and GMTI modes.

This initial payload offer also includes potential for SIGINT, comms relay and electronic warfare.

EADS Talarion Payload Bay
EADS Talarion Payload Bay

Talarion isn’t the finished article by a long way but the concept looks sound and it offers a number of potential benefits over the turboprop powered Reaper and Mantis.

Work ceased in Talarion in 2012 with no amount of arm bending able to convince anyone to stump up the cash to proceed.

In what was reported as an unusual move, the Paris Air Show this week saw a joint statement from EADS, Dassault and Alenia urging someone, anyone, to dig down the back of the sofa and find some cash to kickstart a European MALE UAV. The statement was at pains to point out the issues of operation in European airspace, resource pooling and European sovereignty.

Note the absence of BAE.


In comparison with Talarion, the Mantis/Telemos looked like it has fallen out of the parts bin and I get the impression neither BAE or Dassault had that much interest in it, preferring the bigger UCAV prize. After an initial flurry of activity during the post SDSR 2010 Anglo French love in it was basically allowed to whither on the vine as no agreement to proceed was reached.

BAE Mantis

BAE Mantis
BAE Mantis

Both companies have now ceased development, which is as large an indicator that the UK is sticking with Reapers as you can get!

When I wrote about the Mantis some time ago I noted that if the UK wanted a BAE MALE UAV it would have to dispense with Dassault and any notion of an Anglo-French collaboration because of the realities of agreeing work-share with the French aerospace industry and grasp the nettle ourselves.

This was of course always an outside bet given the state of the MoD’s budget, Afghanistan and about a gazillion other priorities.

The time has passed for Telemos.

P.1HH Hammerhead

As a wild card, I think this one is a fantastic idea and have covered it a few times in the past, here for example. Piaggio and the UAE Abu Dhabi Autonomous System Investments (ADASI) company had signed an agreement to develop a multirole patrol aircraft variant of the P.180 Avanti II.

The Hammerhead departs from the Avanti II in having a reinforced, folding wing with a higher aspect ratio. Instead of personnel, the interior is fitted with a range of communications and avionics equipment in additional to an extra fuel tank.

Headline specs include 16 hour endurance, maximum altitude of 45,000 feet and a mission payload of 900kg although the initial version will not be fitted with any weapons.

The only problem is it complicates the well-laid plans of EADS, Alenia and Dassault because it neatly sidesteps them and offers a system that on paper looks like both a quicker into service and cheaper option than Talarion yet with a number of qualitative advantages over Reaper/Heron.

After experiencing problems with using weapons on their own Reapers the Italian Air Force is said to be foursquare behind the Hammerhead.

Read more here              


General Atomics have sold nearly 600 Predator/Reaper systems and have been making strides into markets outside the USA/Europe including developing a version called the XP that cannot carry weapons and designed for sales to more sensitive areas like the Middle East outside of the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) process. They have stated that the XP will be sold to the UAE which is interesting given the ownership of Piaggio. The Predator B model may also be joined by the faster and jet powered Predator C which would negate the speed advantage of the Hammerhead.

France has recently signed an order for a pair of MQ-9 Reapers which was surprising given a) the French don’t like to buy anything from America and b) they already have in service two EADS Harfang systems, a derivative of the Israeli Heron, that would on face value, seem quite similar and finally, c) they had selected the Heron TP a while ago to replace the Harfang.  Early reports indicate that the French Reapers will be unarmed and not likely to have all the bells and whistles of those found on RAF Reapers because, to be blunt, it seems the US do not trust the French to keep their hands off the intellectual property and transfer it to EADS or Dassault.

Germany has plans to purchase Reapers but is also in discussion with IAI for the Heron TP. It is reported that no decision on either will be made before the national elections later this year and the cancellation of the Euro Hawk does leave some additional space in the budget.

Without knowing the underlying reasons why the US has refused Italy the permission to arm their Predators, despite them flying in Afghanistan, they have angrily decided to pursue other options, the so called Black UAV (which in the end turned out to be the Hammerhead). Alenia has no involvement with the Hammerhead.

Read more about the Predator B or Reaper, here

The RAF of course has been a user of Reaper for some time and recent investments in additional airframes and a UK operating facility mean it is likely to enter the core equipment programme post Afghanistan. The contract award for Brimstone integration is another large and obvious signpost.

Armed RAF Reaper Aircraft Approaches Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
Armed RAF Reaper Aircraft Approaches Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

GA has already demonstrated a Sea Spray equipped variant validated with the Open Payload Architecture during the Sovereign Payload Capability Demonstration programme.

Predator B SeaSpray
Predator B SeaSpray

We might even see a Seaspray equipped maritime patrol variant linked up with the Sea Hercules concept that has been in the news again this week.

With General Atomics spending their own money on STANAG certification, a range of safety improvements and talking up sales to Holland and Germany, it seems likely the the much discussed European Reaper club will become a reality.

There might even be an opportunity here, specifically for the MoD. The MoD has invested significant sums in setting up an operations hub at RAF Waddington and it could feasibly be developed into a European Predator operations hub. Combine that with sovereign technology insertion and the loss of expertise across the sector might not be as acute.


What next for the UK is of course the interesting question, it seems the smart money would be on a continuation of Reaper, with BAE looking beyond MALE and to UCAV and no interest in joining in the European ping pong game of defence aerospace politics it is looking like its over to someone else to pick up the Talarion tab.

Shame really, because when you look at the Talarion concept it is quite well conceived and would be a step forward, arguably, from Reaper, perhaps even encroaching into the space that might have included a HALE type such as Global Hawk.

The modular payload bay, ability to carry a decent weapon load internally and fast transit speed might also have allowed it to slot into the lower end of the UCAV mission space.

With Telemos gone, without any skin in the Talarion game and an established infrastructure in Reaper I can’t see the UK putting anything into Talarion. Let’s not forget the UK is the only country other than the USA that operates armed MALE UAV’s.

However, there seems even less chance that the European operators or would be operators of Reaper, i.e. the big four of Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy will be operating them in European airspace any time ever. The Euro Hawk cancellation and troubles with Watchkeeper clearly shows the difficulty of operating unmanned systems in non-segregated airspace.

If Talarion does have a chance it is because of this, the joint statement clearly making the point that Talarion has been designed with European airspace integration from the start.

The European defence industry is paying the price for their tardiness, urgent requirements have meant that in the medium sized UAV market, General Atomics and IAI have cleaned up, unless Governments want to leave this market to the USA and Israel, accepting that the equipment will never fly in Europe, they are going to have to find the money to move forward on Talarion.

For the UK, it is hard to see anything but Reaper which is a shame given the obvious advantages of Talarion but there are still opportunities to be had in leading a European Predator/Reaper operations and operator group.

The next post will look at the European UCAV situation but for now, the Future European MALE or FEMALE, remains elusive.

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June 19, 2013 9:36 am

Don’t be a tease.. What, news is their of the Sea Hurcules?

June 19, 2013 9:49 am

I love the look of the new Talarion and the modular payload bay seems like a great idea. I don’t think the Uk should be overly concerned about dropping out of the MALE UAV market. industrially it is always going to be relativly small and BAE sees to be using its lead on the software side pretty well. the real industrial prize is the autonomous civilian aircraft market.

I agree that Talarion now seems very much a HALE type UAV competing with Global Hawk. buying four of five of these once some one has works out eh kinks would be very nice at some point closer to 2020. However this is not worth jumping in to a messy EU project to get.

THe Reaper with Seaspray seems like a decent platform to give us some MPA capability on an airframe we already operate with hopefully a relativly low cost. It should deffinatley be considered.

BAE seems to be out of this race and as you say they seem to be gearing up for the bigger UCAV prize. I think we should continue with the work being done on Taranis and even consider a UK only program going forward. we must avoid at all cost getting involved in another Eurofighter mess. if we get Taranis right and given the fact the USA won’t be selling any of its high end UCAVS to anyone we could have a real export winner.

June 19, 2013 9:57 am

I’m not doing the work…but not much here about Taranis?

June 19, 2013 10:11 am

As with so many other topics, the fundamental questions are ‘What are these for? What is the operational need? What strategic and/or tactical effect do they deliver?’

I am content for UAVs to gather intel. Satellites already stare into foreign territories so the UAV gathered imagery and information is a different perspective of something already done. A useful and non-controversial role.

I am less content for UAVs to be offensive weapon platforms; the ability to take hostile action against peoples in far away lands without any risk to the attacker is all too easy. The removal of the threat of personal danger to the attacker also removes the restraint born of self preservation, and allows the attacker to thwack enemy personnel as readily as they might swat a fly. One of the greatest forces holding antagonists back from warfare is the fear of what injuries might befall their own, should the hostilities erupt. Being able to wage war thousands of miles from home territory and hundreds of miles from own forces demotes the perceived importance to something approaching a computer game. This change of attitude results in an increased likelihood of warfare.

But at least with the current systems there are fingers on triggers. The man-in-the-loop control system does apply a degree of restraint; a sense of proportion and an understanding of collateral effects that might just steady the urge to destroy.

I am absolutely against any form of autonomy in weapons release from UAVs. I have used equipment controlled by software for many years and while the functionality is helpful and complex and labour-saving, the reliability and repeatability cannot be trusted. Particularly as equipment ages. My car is 20 years old and full of ECUs that operate at all times whether the ignition is on or not. I found the car one frosty November night had turned its engine cooling fan on at full chat because one of the ECUs determined an overheat situation. Clearly the ECU was wrong but it didn’t have the intelligence to see that for itself. Blowed if I’d trust a bunch of ECUs to decide what and when to shoot. Should weapons autonomy be given to any unmanned combat equipment, then we are all at risk of being selected as a target. I’m not warning of instant irreversible Terminator scenarios (although continued developments along the same autonomous lines might lead to uncontrollable automat killers), but of the glitch in the software that makes that innocent looking light plane above you decide to blitz your house with a salvo of guided munitions. The software coders will dismiss such fears as ridiculously low risk; well if they are so good at software why do I have to shut down errant applications on my PC so often?

I would be overjoyed if autonomous weapon systems of all kinds were banned by international law. I can see no justification for allowing machines endowed with less intelligence than the average woodlouse to make decisions over who should live or who should die.

The fact that warfare hurts is the main reason why it remains an action of last resort. A clear example is the nuclear deterrent which, as Maggie once famously stated ‘has helped to keep the peace for over 40 years’ – it is the fact that putting the nuclear boot into the opposition’s face would result in your own nation’s nuclear cremation that stops anyone having a go. As soon as warfare is seen as ‘safe’ or ‘surgical’ or even ‘distant’, there will be far less restraint. As such I would be quite content for remote operated weaponry – Reaper for example – to fall under the same international ban.

Our armed forces are brilliant at what they do; I expect them to be given the very best equipment to keep them well protected and allow them to operate efficiently and effectively. But its the interaction with those whose territory they are in that really shines – hearts and minds. To accomplish what they do requires a connection with the locals and well informed judgement over how to act or react. Switching on a container-full of e-warriors and letting them loose to destroy whatever their tiny minds desire would never be as effective at curtailing hostilities – not unless they achieved all-out genocide.

So. Rant over; back to TD’s question about MALE.

There are many hurdles to overcome to make an aircraft trustworthy to navigate the busy skies unaided. Few control systems are likely to be judged adequately reliable and adequately judgemental to be certified by aviation authorities. A pilot only shows his/her true value when things go wrong and problems need to be fixed quickly and safely – writing equivalent capabilities into unintuitive dumb computers is no easy task. If then there are only two or three certified control systems the choice of airframe is largely unimportant. Whatever it might look like its control system would have to be one of the certified options. Unless the MALE were to be constrained to military controlled airspace? Which seems to restrict the utility of flying eyes considerably.

It seems to me the real value in this sector will be the control system. HALE can be engineered to fly above civil aviation; tactical UAS operates over short distances in military controlled airspace. MALE would seem to need to mix it with civil aviation on a regular basis and would then need much sharper control. The plastic airplane choice is not central to the role – pick the right airframe for the desired endurance, speed, altitude and payload envelope and off you go. Whether it looks like Predator or Mantis or Heron or Argosy or Zeppelin really doesn’t make any difference to the requirements of the control system. So a smart defence company would have a competent set of avionics and sensors that could be fitted to a wide array of airframes (their own and those of other manufacturers) to turn them into certifiable UAS for the MALE environment.

Of course if MOD bought into the control system so it could mandate and free-issue the control system to whichever airframe manufacturer had the most appropriate airframe for the role, the choice of UAS would be broad and the cost minimal. They won’t do that, then – far too sensible.

paul g
June 19, 2013 10:32 am

As we seem to be in a small group of experts in wing design/production (see A380,A400m & A350wxb). Would it worth dipping a toe into talarion project if we could get a signed in blood MOU that wing production would be in the UK. It’s worked for the above aircraft, and broughton in north wales has the new composite building up and running.
Just a thought as it avoids tech transfer issues, plus as an afterthought the aircraft in afghanistan must surely be eating up airframe hours, So could be due for replacement as the talarion comes on line (and when we may, just may have some money in the account)!!

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
June 19, 2013 10:47 am

What Chris said re control systems – in spades!

If you think about what you’d have to do to ensure no combination of stimuli caused an AI control system to fail, it’s no surprise there are (as yet) no certification criteria developed. Unmanned systems are fine in mil-controlled airspace where the deconfliction can be done offboard. Not so clever in civ airspace where that may not be possible….

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 11:21 am

I can’t see UAVs being un-invented any time soon. I think we’ll have to get used to them.

I don’t really agree with Chris’ point, although he makes it clearly, on weaponised UAVs. We’re already quite content if the ROE permit it to lob indirect fire at OPFOR, even if that is considerably less precise than a missile coming off the wing of a UAV and controlled by data link and the operators watching it through live video.

I’m also seriously perplexed by readers of the Guardian newspaper who seem to have formed a collective opinion that armed UAVs are illegal. There’s no fundamental difference between the operators of an armed UAV and a Kevin sitting in a jet. They’ve both got the same SA and optical aids to inform them.

I once ran a UAV experimentation exercise in the USA, concentrating on combat search and rescue. The baseline was the existing US doctrine of a Kevin in a fast jet trying to coordinate everything. We then repeated the scenario with a Major in the UAV ground control station. It was about 4 times faster, simply because the task of flying the airframe had been removed from the decision maker.

June 19, 2013 12:02 pm

I think the chief problem here is that a) nobody has any real budget, and b) the biggest actual use for the things is a UOR that runs out in 2015.

Reaper is fine for Afghanistan-and-similar, but nobody’s going to buy significant numbers of a Euro-Reaper (aka Talarion) when they’re going to be out of Afghanistan within 18 months are they? When it really looked like someone might buy a fleet of them, EADS and Dassault were fighting like cats in a sack for the contract. Now, it’s no longer a priority. All the whining about the dastardly Brits is cover for the fact that Afghanistan is going to be over, and therefore no European power is going to buy a fleet of Reaper-class drones unless another similar war breaks out (aka, long term, COIN/guerrilla/CT, permissive air and electronic warfare situation).

The French might need a flight’s worth for the Sahel, and guess what? They’ve leased a slack handful of Reaper, available now and good enough.

As for the technology development, what big gains are there in building a plane the size of a light twin or business jet with the autopilot plugged into a satcom? If there’s anything clever it’s in the sensors, which are also useful attached to a helo, a fast jet, a space ship, a ship ship, a tank, stuck on a pole, etc.

June 19, 2013 12:05 pm

RT – I think I see the difference in that your Arty team is on the ground and at risk of retaliation, as are their non-Artillery pals. It focuses the mind and encourages critical thought at Command such as ‘Is this necessary? Is this proportionate? Is collateral damage minimal?’ and the like. If the only ‘own force’ for hundreds of miles around is a plastic airplane then realistic and painful retaliation is out of the equation, and human nature being what it is that means less restraint on use of the UAS weapons.

The same argument goes for the piloted aircraft – the pilot in the cockpit will be just that bit more careful and sure about what is shot at, based on his/her natural instinct for self preservation. The pilot in an air conditioned bunker in Nevada has no self preservation issues beyond the quality of the coffee from the vending machine, so will be slightly more relaxed about tugging the trigger.

As for the retention of eyes & boots on the ground and the effect on Command decision and effectiveness, I offer an aside. I recently took a brief to an Army trials team; amongst other things was a vehicle that provided only electronic vision to the vehicle crew, partly due to a remote turret. Still a manned vehicle, but no option to open lids and operate head-out. Not welcomed for many reasons despite some strong technical advantages; one of the reasons for not liking it was that it was (the Army said) very important to be seen as real people when they drive through town & country because it fundamentally changed the reaction of the locals. If they were not able to be seen then the vehicle would be perceived as an impersonal machine of war worthy only to be destroyed. If only unmanned weapon systems are deployed, there is little hope to build any bond with the locals that might help reduce the urge to fight.

June 19, 2013 12:10 pm

All these drones are irrelevanzt for actual defence; for fighting a campaign against a great power.
Small powers ain’t gonna attack our alliance(s).

The high threat scenarios require drones more like the designs of the Cold War; such as CL-289 or Brevel.
Radar low observability characteristics, small, modest range, encrypted radio comm with ECCM qualities are required for actual defence nowadays.

The extreme loiter and assassination drones are relevant only for small wars.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 12:34 pm


i’d hope those sort of questions are asked by anyone involving in delivering lethal force, whether they are half a mile away or half a world away. I acknowledge your thoughts on human nature, but we (i.e. the MoD specifically, our nation generally) need to ensure through training and a legal framework that the controls are in place.

Your other thoughts about the clammed up wagon: very interesting. I’d have instinctively been against the concept on the grounds of SA, rather than interacting with the locals, but I see that as another good idea. Interesting that your concept is similar to the VERDI tech demo programme that DERA Chertsey (or Qinetiq or DSTL, I can’t remember which side of privatisation it was) ran in the late 90s or early noughties. It was a precursor to FSCS / Lancer / Sika.

Bloody hell, it’s 15 years since FSCS / Lancer / Sika, and we’re still rumbling around in CVR(T), and I’ve completely lost sight of where FRES SV has gone. At this rate, we’ll have hover tanks before FRES delivers.

June 19, 2013 12:35 pm

Chris, your scenario would be right, but there are a few counterfactors that make the situation not so clear cut.

1) Anyone using UAVs do keep in mind what the cost of kicking off a large scale war will do, there IS a human at the other end of the control link, and people do calculate in the human cost, especially since there is no fleet of CUAVs large enough to provide for a whole CUAV air force, which means sooner or later, you have to throw bodies into the fray. This is also backed by the fact that a manned air superiority fighter tears through UAVs like a hot knife through butter. It literally is jet plane vs propellor plane.

2) In WWII, it was demonstrated that humans under fire tends to drop their bomb loads early due to anxiety. This resulted in “bomb creep” and collateral damage, so having the anxiety factor taken out might actually reduce random collateral damage. Autonomous AI weapons release is really a no-no, you are right in that AIs can be idiots at times, but a human backed system away from danger might be more precise than a manned plane.

3) Not sure if they changed the protocols, but the UAV ground control team in a war is actually very close to the target, the transit team flies the UAV to the location, hands over control to the local ground station which hits the target, then hands it back to the transit team, so the point where ground control is not in danger of enemy action is wrong. The Pakistani cross border attacks by the US is not Air Force or Army protocol, they are specifically CIA assets and their usage is not normal to conventional operations.

In all honesty though, I don’t see the future in a CUAV, they are sneaks, scouts and flying eyes that are expected to die in droves, asking them to do a FJ’s job is giving them too much credit. We may actually be hitting the outer edge of UAV capability soon, can’t see what other paths are available for them that manned solutions can’t do better other than recon and surveillance, despite all the pseudo-bomber configurations.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 12:42 pm

…update to above. Google says it was RARDE Chertsey, not DERA. Surprisingly, there’s bugger all on VERDI on the internet, apart from a clip from the IWM film collection which my computer won’t play. It says the TDP was based on a Stormer, which I sort of dimly recall. It had a 2 side by side seating arrangement for Comd and driver, and lots of flat panels which were in effect the sort of multi-functional displays that Kevins had, and you could customise them.

All DOS in those days, so some knowledge of computery was necessary and there were strange command prompts. Believe me, you don’t want a command prompt in a battle wagon. It had a server where the BV should have been.

June 19, 2013 12:47 pm

Obs – good points well made. I are a engineer so all my military knowledge is second/third-hand and/or reasoned interpretation. Like I said near the beginning of this topic I don’t object to UAV flying eyes, but really I prefer they stay just that. UCAV with flightpath and engagement autonomy are the spawn of the devil and should be cast into the pit of Hades without exception. In my opinion.

RT – ” At this rate, we’ll have hover tanks before FRES delivers” – you must have been in on my brief!!

Rocket Banana
June 19, 2013 1:00 pm

“…whilst Israel and the USA were getting their Predator/Reaper and Heron systems into production Europe was talking about it, basically, they were out innovated.”

“The European defence industry is paying the price for their tardiness…”

Which is why we shouldn’t have let the UK be held back by Europe.

We have lots and lots of sea that these things could operate over. So why not bolt on the MPA requirement and stop worrying about European air space restrictions. Failing that just have them “down south” where we’re lacking a cheap land-based AEW capability. These are great opportunities to allow slow-paced (British) progress of a new UAS.

June 19, 2013 1:03 pm

: no objection to remote turrets on my part, although I can’t see wraparound LCD screens being a substitute for heads out, as well as being very expensive. Helmet displays look better, although the likes of RWS/CROWS seem to work just fine without them.

I do wonder whether we’re getting a bit obsessed with COIN. A fighting vehicle’s primary purpose is not “reinforcements of goodwill”, even in COIN. And if it’s essential, what’s wrong with popping a hatch?

Rocket Banana
June 19, 2013 1:15 pm

“Hover Tanks” aren’t we discussing an upgrade to these over on another thread ;-)

Peter Elliott
June 19, 2013 1:33 pm


Do you know what are the STOL charactistics of these fixed wing systems is? Could any of them ever be adapted to take off and land from a 280m strip that moves around quite a bit?

From what I can see any funding the UK does scrape together is much more likely to go on a rotary UAS for the RN. If that platform can also be leveraged to do some spotting for the RA then that solves the Watchkeeper problem too. And VTOL is a less mature market than Fixed Wing so the export potential is greater.

Looking forward to a similar update on the VTOL UAS picture some time soon….

June 19, 2013 1:39 pm

RT, as of 2 years back, the company that I worked for was so skinflint with a buck that we were still using DOS and phosphor screens, the green mono-coloured one. No, hell no to that on a battle platform. And hopefully never again.

Simon, the problem is not only about European regulations, most UAVs are not manned, so they are not safety certified to the same standard. Which means that there may be a problem flying them over populated or heavily populated areas as they have a higher chance of simply falling out of the sky compared to manned aircraft. To the detriment of whoever’s house happen to be below it when it decides to take a dive. Over the ocean, well, maybe. Just avoid populated areas and use outlying airfields.

“And if it’s essential, what’s wrong with popping a hatch?”

In FIBUA? Grenades dropped from high, but in the main, I always had an adversion to the military doing COIN. Bringing in the military is an admission that the police cannot handle the situation. And remember Assad, this Syria thing is feeding on itself BECAUSE he called in the military. Think the term for it was “unanticipated expansion of conflict”.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 1:39 pm


Are we discussing hover tanks elsewhere? I must have missed out on that.

I’ve got a back of brain batcrap idea of employing the increasing powers of computing to put direct fire weapons into a remote situation. Not full blown robots, but little wagonettes that can go a couple of hundred yards and fire missiles, stream back video, carry up to 100 kilos on a flatbed, carry ECM and jam comms on a directional basis. I think they’d be good for urban operations. Engine and battery power for 2 hours, line of sight operation or some basic sat nav driving for city streets.

We did some PV work late last year for something equally demanding in computing terms (for a commercial environmnet with high toxicity). We did it with a Raspberry Pi computer, and it was pretty effective.

June 19, 2013 1:45 pm

RT he meant the AH-1s or AH-64D variants upgrade. And he has a point calling them that.

RCVs, it’s been done. Still needs some tweaking though. Think we trialled a RCV mod of an old M-113 as a breacher vehicle once too. No idea what happened to it, but the idea went nowhere. Good way to recycle those scrap vehicles, Suicide APC robots. :)

Jeremy M H
June 19, 2013 1:50 pm

I think there is something that is “wrong” with Talarion. On the surface it would seem like a useful thing for just about anyone to have. As TD said it kind of is a small HALE UAV rather than just a MALE one. And I suspect that is the problem. The unit cost was projected to be in excess of the Global Hawk and no one in Europe is looking to buy something that expensive.

I do think that EADS had a point back around 2010 when they questioned the wisdom of attempting to skip the MALE/HALE stage of UAV’s and jump straight to UCAV’s. I worry that without having laid the groundwork and spread some of the development cost of the basic knowledge on the initial projects that the unit cost for a UCAV will rise to unacceptable levels and the program will get crushed.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 1:51 pm

…not trying to take an form of ownership of the general idea. Lots of people are working on that sort of thing. Here’s one: ((No connection to me, but only some admiration of what they’ve so far achieved)

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 2:02 pm


I was thinking of something smaller than an M113 – possibly quad bike chassis, or something like the Big Dog from Boston Dynamics. But an M113 or AFV 432 full of Semtex and the sort of remote control operation that the new CET has would be a bit of an eye opener if it drove onto your position.

I had a chat with a company that makes unmanned target boats, with some pretty sophisticated remote operation software. That software on an optionally manned RHIB such as the Andrew operate could open up all sorts of new possibilities.

(I’m not rambling I hope – I think that Unmanned Systems offer much more potential than merely flying platforms, which is what TD posted)

June 19, 2013 2:14 pm

@Jeremy M H

I agree that going straight to UCAVS is a bad idea. however the UK and BAE have for a long time been following a very effective long term development of UAS with Corax, HERTI and Mantis. Taranis is just the latest development of this. the program is yet to field a deployable system but BAE seems to be creaming off the most useful tech from the program in the software for unmanned aircraft operating in congested airspace. The hardware in UAVs is little better than large model planes. Even UCAV s will be simpler to build than manned fighters like F35. It’s the software that is the really tricky thing.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
June 19, 2013 2:33 pm

Don’t go nicking my idea RT – I came up with Blue FIAC years ago! Essentially it’s a remote-controllled RIB, plastered in Claymores, which you drive alongside your friendly innocent FIAC swarm for as long as they are within threatening range of your vessel.

It could have lots of friendly slogans on one of those digital signboards in the appropriate language – things like “I’m looking for my mate’s iPod, have you seen it?”, or “Wouldn’t you rather be haemorrhaging?” or “Step aboard to meet your 72 virgins etc”.

Apparently this was deemed politically incorrect or against international law or somesuch nonsense. Hey-ho.

June 19, 2013 2:38 pm

@NaB: how about “those 72 virgins will be crap in bed. Wouldn’t you prefer some slags instead?”

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 2:45 pm


are you prepared to go offline with a proper business conversation? We’ve got a dozen or so ideas for different uses of optionally manned RHIBS, some very clear ideas on long distance control, and we’re a systems integrator with a particular speciality in comms. What I need is a Naval bod to talk me through the real issues experienced by frigate and destroyer Captains. A possibility is a CDE bid as an early step, but ultimately it’s about jointly developing some shared IP for a systemic solution if the MoD are likely to think it useful.

TD’s got my email.

June 19, 2013 3:10 pm

Re autonomous UCAVs – Would the issue be simpler if autonomous UCAVs were considered as weapons in of themselves? i.e. launching an autonomous UCAV could be considered a weapons firing, even if the UCAV hasn’t fired any of its own weapons.

To my mind autonomous UCAV (or any kind of autonomous unmanned platform) is always going to run up against an issue of responsibility – who is responsible if something goes wrong? Who catches the blame if the platform accidentally bombs the wrong target or crashes?

In a conventional manned platforms (or unmanned but remotely operated platforms), the issue of responsibility can start with the operator, then go to immediate commander and carry on up from there.

With our autonomous platform though, things become murkier. Is the person responsible the one who wrote or signed off on the RoE – i.e. the Generals and Politicians? I’d like to meet the person who can write RoE that can make the battlefield into the Black and White world that a computer needs to operate in.

If the platform was found to be operating within the RoE and those RoE are not at fault, then it becomes a platform issue. Are BAe or Boeing really going to want to take the flack for that?

Flipping it 180° – what if we have autonomous UCAV that doesn’t fire when required? What if a UCAV called in to provide CAS won’t fire because the targeting software develops a fault or its interpretation of the RoE.

Long story short – I can see three futures for autonomous platforms:

1) We use autonomous platforms as 1:1 replacements for our current manned forces and accept the inherent risk of significant collateral damage.

2) We use autonomous platforms as 1:1 replacements for our current manned forces and never go to war again short of a total war situation as the risk of significant collateral damage is too great otherwise.

3) Autonomous platforms are limited to certain roles and situations. For the air domain this would be ISTAR and advanced cruise missile type platforms.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
June 19, 2013 3:11 pm

Potentially, but not for a few hours. If you’re on arrse, you can ping me there too.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
June 19, 2013 3:14 pm

wf – Hearts & minds, got you!

Rocket Banana
June 19, 2013 3:18 pm


Your “batcrap idea” is very similar to my “over the hill” rotary airborne version that carriers Hellfire and a camera.

Was it 100kg all up weight? I guess there’s a comprimse between man-deployable (lift it out the back of a truck) and man-portable (lift it up, turn it over and drop it in the bin).

Like the Gladiator or TALON?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 3:26 pm

TD, can you please connect me with NAB by email? Ref above.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 3:28 pm


the whole concept would include both small scale UAVs (ie the sort of quad / octo-copter that’s becoming cheap and affordable) and ground based little wagonettes. Probably all controlled by an ISTAR platoon.

Rocket Banana
June 19, 2013 4:28 pm

Yup those quad copters should make idea platforms. A bit of 2nd order control logic and a few accelerometers and Bob’s your mother’s brother!

Should be controllable from a laptop and truck based signal booster. The chap in control doesn’t really have to fly it rather click on a map downloaded from the ISTAR platform with associated known contacts on it.

New contacts are added and uploaded to the ISTAR platform (to be shared) with an associated intel expiry time.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 4:48 pm

Simon, an issue is multipath in an urban environment, but we can get around that. There’s some quite good video links in the civvy 5.8 GHz band, but it’s line of sight stuff and needs to reduce in frequency to offer adequate resilience. Stick on good enough encryption for reasonable privacy and you’ve still got a reasonable system.

Rocket Banana
June 19, 2013 5:38 pm


I suppose you can up-and-down to avoid multipath interferance but that relies on an overhead asset. Failing that I guess you’re down to OFDM or even just a couple of carrier signals and a decent digital protocol.

My drive (in a technical meeting) would be to avoid data streaming by doing as much pre-processing at the source as is reasonable. This might mean simple video edge\motion detection and encoding a much lower bandwidth data stream or even attempting to build a model of the world the system sees and simply replicate that back-and-forth. Depends how important “eyes on” really is.

June 19, 2013 5:40 pm

Well, as long as you remember not to overload your men, it’s fine. And not only overload as in weight, if someone is flying/driving the RCV, he’s out of the fight for a while, don’t expect him to stand sentry or overwatch and pilot at the same time. Which may mean 2 people out of a fight for 1 bot. (1 operator, 1 assistant to watch his back). Might still be worth it, many factors depending.

Rocket Banana
June 19, 2013 5:49 pm

How many men would it normally take to check a building or passageway?

Surely you’d have one up front and another covering his back anyway. Hardly any difference in resource except only a robot gets shot at ;-)

June 19, 2013 7:05 pm

To me the only real short term game in town is to build a fix wing UAV suitable for STOL platforms. Sure the USMC would be interested as well as Spain / Italy / Japan / South Korea / Australia and maybe even India / Brazil.

Peter Elliott
June 19, 2013 7:31 pm

Basically agree with @Repluse on that. But the RN seems pretty set on Rotary UAS becuase it can then also operate off any ship or RFA in the fleet.

But whether it’s going to be derived from hummingbird, firescout, or somthing left-field that I haven’t heard of who knows…?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 7:46 pm


there’s an issue with fuel lift (ie endurance) versus max payload and electrical power generation – some sort of 3-way trade off. I don’t have all of the details to memory, but what it means is that whoever can come up with the best compromise is going to win a bootload of orders.

The launch and recovery are the least of your problems, as there’s no Kevin aboard. Just bungy it into the air with some non-human survivable level of G force. Landing can be a simple controlled crash. Have you ever seen how they recover Scan Eagles?

Whoever invents a UAV that can be fired from a standard 4.5 inch naval gun, and gives 20 minutes of live video at 10 miles for less than £1000 a pop is going to coin in a mint. As far as I can see, all of the technology exists, but needs to be ruggedised to withstand firing shock.

Rocket Banana
June 19, 2013 8:03 pm


Did you say bungy? I think someone could invent a steam powered catapult or even an EM rail if they put their mind to it ;-)

Failing the CTOL/CATOBAR carrier argument we could strap a simple rail along the ski-jump of CVF and use a rocket sled to put the thing in the air.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 19, 2013 8:03 pm

… and indeed a 155mm artillery piece reaching out to nearly 20 miles with an air deployment height of 15,000 feet, and a glide ratio of 10:1 which is hardly demanding gives you something like 37 minutes. Doing some real fag packet calcs I suspect that the issue is that you’d lose line of sight video link at about 800 feet AGL and well before the thing stoofs into the ground, but that’s on an assumption of a receiver at 10 metres above ground level, perfect conditions etc.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
June 19, 2013 9:03 pm


The USN operate Scan Eagle from their Cyclone class patrol vessels. HMCS CHARLOTTETOWN deployed Scan Eagle successfully during their time in the Med last year. The tech is proven well priced and available off the shelf so of course we will come up with a requirement that ensures we have to have bespoke solution which takes a decade to bring into service, costs a fortune and brings little extra capability.

June 19, 2013 10:44 pm
June 20, 2013 7:24 am

that’s good news about scan eagle. Pitty it did not happen three years ago and one wonders how much time and money has been spent evaluating such a low cost system than we already new worked.

@ Jules – Thats interesting news about Lockheed and the UK opening discussions about the Sea Hercules. owever with the 10 year kit plan already set out and the Treasury looking for further cuts I just can’t see where the MOD could possibly think it could get the money. The obvious solution is to convert our existing C130 J fleet with role on role off tech but Lockheed seem to be indicating the British would want the full ASW capability. one wonders just how much such a program would cost? I have no doubt the SC130 would be an excellent ASW MPA just wonder where we could find the money.

June 20, 2013 7:42 am

@ Jules

Thanks for the link.

June 20, 2013 9:56 am

another story from Forbes this time about Taranis. gain its quoting it to have a super sonic speed and intercontinental range. I know a few people have crunched the numbers on Taranis and believ it will not be super sonic but it seems strange that this has been persistently quoted in the media since the start if the year. lets hope thye get it off he ground soon and our government finds the balls to develop the thing on their own.

El Sid
El Sid
June 20, 2013 11:27 am

Going back to Anglo-French UCAS, there’s been some comment emerging from Paris last week :

“Laurent Collet-Billon, head of French defense procurement agency DGA, says the Franco-British UCAS development is the top priority in the nation’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) roadmap, which also includes plans to purchase about 30 tactical battlefield drones in the coming years and a dozen or more U.S. General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reapers by 2020 to meet near-term ISR requirements. For the joint UCAS, the first “major milestone, after the ‘risk-reduction studies,’ will be the launch of the “first phase of an FCAS-Demonstration Program (FCAS-DP) as soon as next year,” ”

This was part of a wider discussion of the Livre Blanc :

And some comment from the MBDA on their missile plans, hopefully the likes of FASGW(H) and Aster Block 1NT will now be free to progress :

On the SeaHerc, it’s worth noting what Boeing are up to with putting the P-8 innards in a smaller plane – they’ve formally teamed with Bombardier and have a marketing deal with Embraer for the KC-390 which explicitly mentions the UK. One might imagine that if one was looking for a quid pro quo over T26….

El Sid
El Sid
June 20, 2013 11:39 am

(19:05) – you should look up DARPA’s latest project, TERN (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node). It’s still at the talking-to-industry stage but the requirement is for 600lb of ISR/strike payload at an operational radius of 600-900nm, that can be launched from the trimaran LCS. It’ would take LCS-2 quite close to BAE’s UXV Combatant…

June 20, 2013 1:01 pm

Interesting news El Sid on MBDA missiles. Aster 30 NT is particularly welcome. seems strange the French are looking for a Mica replacement though. COuld CAMMS become a joint program in the air to air role? it makes little sese for MBDA to keep making diverse missile systems performing the same role.

The Other Chris
June 20, 2013 2:45 pm

Re: UAV launched from a STOL platform, continue to keep an eye on Project Zero. Current situation is the prototype aircraft gets a few minutes of flight-time on pure batteries, however the next step is to carry a tuned diesel generator to increase its endurance.

If you can get past the gushing in this BBC video [1], note the vibration control innovation/feature which would not only allow your millionaire playboy a smoother ride in his personal VTOL transport, but would help with surveillance packages in the currently imaginary unmanned military version launched from the QE/POW too:


El Sid
El Sid
June 20, 2013 4:11 pm

The MICA thing is maybe not so surprising when you see that the USAF have suddenly requested proposals to significantly increase the range of Sidewinder, a “fat” version of AIM-9X seems most likely. It’s almost like Western intelligence has suddenly figured out that BVR radar missiles aren’t terribly effective when the red team have a) low-signature jets and b)lots of jamming capability, and they have an urgent need to push infra-red dogfighting missiles out BVR.

One might also suppose that the Indians are putting pressure on them to improve MICA.

June 21, 2013 9:08 am

If I were UK Plc’s CEO I’d be considering

1. Taranis – a high technology demonstrator that might sell in small volumes to the MOD. It is too high tech to sell export and the US isn’t going to buy it. Keeps the design and manufacture capabilities going.

2. VTOl/STOL UAVs – as previously pointed out by Peter and others, this is not a sewn up market. BAe, RR and others could leverage their strengths. Westland is possibly a bit small and feeble to guarantee a winner but this might be a good thing as maybe they wouldn’t be in the driving seat.

3. There is the market for ocean going UAVs – they haven’t featured much but this is where the real worldwide market would be, no worries about commercial aviation space, The argument for an UAV MPA I find quite compelling. I remain unconvinced that UAVs will work in environments that are testing/non permissive. The sea-airspace will be permissive generally, war would obviously change that but that will be true where ever the UAV is.

July 12, 2013 3:15 pm

No brakes!!!! It’s all in German but the video and pic say it all

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