Britain's Ministry of Defence recently unveiled an unmanned stealth attack aircraft that redefines "autopilot"--it's designed to fly halfway around the world and choose its own targets without human intervention, according to a report in The Globe and Mail.
Named after the Celtic god of thunder, the Taranis is designed to fly much farther than conventional drones, which typically support troops or carry out air strikes in a limited area. Controlled by ground-based human operators, Taranis is supposed to be able to hit targets on other continents; it's unclear when the target-picking AI skills would actually be a real feature of the aircraft.
The Taranis prototype was shown to reporters at BAE Systems, which began developing the robo-jet back in 2006 along with Rolls Royce and other contractors.
The V-shaped drone can evade enemy radar and carry a large payload in its two bomb bays. An air intake for the jet engine is located where the cockpit would be. The overall appearance resembles that of the Boeing Phantom Ray unmanned combat air vehicle unveiled in May and slated to fly in December.
By eliminating the pilot, UCAVs can undertake missions that have greater risks, for instance stronger G forces, than manned planes. UCAVs can also be lighter because they lack pilot equipment.
"(The Taranis) could then carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activity," Squadron Leader Bruno Wood, ministry spokesman for the Taranis project, was quoted as saying by The Globe and Mail. "It's a combat aircraft with weapons so it could strike with precision weapons."
As seen in the vid below, there was a lot of smoke and music and the tightly managed unveiling ceremony, the result of a million man-hours of work and some $220 million that went into Taranis. Flight tests are due to begin in 2011, but Taranis is a technology demonstrator and may or may not enter production.
"Should such systems enter into service, they will at all times be under the control of highly trained military crews on the ground," the ministry said in a statement. Wasn't that part of the plot of "Stealth"?