BAE Systems' Taranis unmanned combat air system demonstrator is designed to defeat new counter-stealth radars, and may use thrust vectoring as a primary means of flight control and an innovative high-precision, passive navigation and guidance system.
The Taranis has been designed to be operated by sophisticated on-board computers which follow a set path to avoid targets and adjust itself as required. It is designed to do this without being detected and upon identifying threats it will “request” clearance from the controller before engaging any targets. It is also a technology demonstrator which will undoubtedly lead to a future UCAV system sometime beyond 2030.
Taranis made its maiden flight at the Woomera test range in South Australia on Saturday 10th August 2013, under the command of BAE Systems’ test pilot Bob Fraser. The first flight lasted only 15 minutes, in which the demonstrator aircraft took off, rotation,climb-out and returned for landing.
RAF's need of an UCAS.
The age of Bomber began when Sikorsky's Muromets dropped bombs on a German Railway station during world war 1 in a daring raid. Since then the technology of combat aircraft have steeply progressed. The increment happening, was better situational awareness, better targeting, better flight. Crew safety had always been considered most crucial part of a combat aircraft design and taking it to the next level. The US made unmaned combat drones that could deliver bombs at longer distances precisely. These unmanned bombers even if crashed isn't a big risk to the crew operating it.
But as technology advanced the adversaries also developed greater level detection technologies that could detect and destroy drones even before drones can achieve their mission objective. For example the Chinese after receiving the threat of stealth fighters like F-22 developed VHF radars that work in L band and as per claims could detect even the super stealthy F-22 Raptor. The Chinese KJ-2000 AWACS has L-band radar. The Chinese Aegis Type 052C/D destroyers have a VHF radar.
As of now the US and it's allies have the brand new F-35, partly funded by US allies. The US allies got pissed off when they came to new that the coveted core tech of F-35 won't be shared with allies. The most pissed off were the British.
As Britishers faced a really tough time convincing fellow Europeans to develop the Eurofighter an air superiority multirole fighter which has Anti Stealth capabilities, they missed the development of a homegrown fifth generation fighter. To counter Chinese VHF radar the British have come up with Taranis. It is designed to avoid detection by very high frequency (VHF) early warning radars such as those being developed by Russia and China as counter-stealth systems. VHF radars can detect some stealth shapes with wing and tail surfaces close in size to their meter-range wavelengths. When that happens, radar scattering is driven by “resonant” phenomena not affected by the target's shape. Taranis is just a demonstrator not a full scale developed model that would enter production.
Nations around the world are quite secretive about development of stealth armed drones. The Germans are developing Barracuda, The French have been involved in nEUROn, The US has X-45 and X-47 and may be many programs, The Chinese, Russians and Indians also have similar programs running. But rarely anything is reported about progress in development of these drones.
Taranis is a blended wing-body shape with no tail surfaces, like most UCAS designs for wide-band, all-aspect stealth. It has a triangular top-mounted serpentine inlet and 2-D V-shaped exhaust nozzle. Two small doors are visible on either side of the raised centerbody, and are likely to be auxiliary inlets used at low speeds. The demonstrator's gear comes from the Saab Gripen. The underside is flat, with visible outlines representing weapon-bay doors.
The weapon-bay outlines are on either side of the engine and the forward-retracting main landing gears are outboard of the weapon bays. Panels under the leading edge point to provision for a dual-antenna radar like a smaller version of that fitted to the B-2 bomber. The demonstrator may be designed so that functional weapon bays and sensors can be installed for a follow-on program.
As per reports Taranis is powered by a Rolls Royce Adour mk951 Turbofan. They are mounted low in the center fuselage, behind a serpentine air inatke, duct.
The engine itself isn’t anything special as it is also in service on the similar sized BAE Hawk but the exhaust system (which is of course, top secret) takes the lower powered turbofan’s heat signature down several steps.
Taranis's flight controls arouse one’s curiosity being an aviation enthusiast. Taranis have two large elevon surfaces on the trailing edge, with deep cut-outs at both ends who's shape is observed to be similar to cat’s eyes. These prevent formation of right-angle shapes when the elevons move, and are large because the surfaces are thick. Outboard of the elevons are upper and lower “inlay” control surfaces, set into the wing surface.
The elevons will provide pitch and roll force. The one-piece elevons cannot provide yaw input that is independent of pitch or roll. The inlay surfaces can act as roll spoilers and speedbrakes, and differentially for yaw control. (Similar surfaces were used on the upper side of the X-47B.) But the inlay surfaces are non-stealthy when open, so they must mainly be used at low speeds, including take-off and landing.
There is no visible source of yaw control, which points to the use of thrust vectoring now there is a Rolls-Royce patent filed in the U.K. in 2005 outlines a fluidic vectoring system designed to generate yawing moments in a high-aspect-ratio 2-D nozzle.
Interestingly BAe and some British universities had been involved in development of a fluidic thrust vectoring for a small UAV called Demon. This was back in in 2010 when they conceived using air injection inside the exhaust to vector the thrust, with no moving parts externally or in the exhaust stream—as part of a flight-control system with no moving surfaces. In 2010, BAE teamed with two British universities to build a small UAV called Demon with fluidic vectoring—using air injection inside the exhaust to vector the thrust, with no moving parts externally or in the exhaust stream—as part of a flight-control system with no moving surfaces. A Rolls-Royce patent filed in the U.K. in 2005 outlines a fluidic vectoring system designed to generate yawing moments in a high-aspect-ratio 2-D nozzle.
Being designed to defeat the new Anti Stealth VHF radars the Taranis have highly swept wing leading edges as a measure to reduce frontal radar cross section. The serrated contour of the weapon’s bay is clearly seen in this photo, where the stealthy Taranis shows its belly and underwing area on a banking turn. The double-V trailing edge is swept more acutely than on most blended wing-body UCAS designs. Unlike the Northrop Grumman X-47B or the Dassault-led Neuron, there are no short-chord wing sections or short edges: The shortest edge is more than 11 ft. long.
By observing the pictures of Taranis taken from rear one comes to the conclusion that the engine might be buried somewhere deeper in the airframe similar to how the B-2’s engines were buried in the wing. It might have active cooling incorporated at the exhaust nozzles to reduce temperature of exhaust air as a measure of IR signature management. But no confined reports or indications have come up to support this guess as such matters are a highly guarded secret. Composite materials will no doubt be used extensively which when coupled with a lower speed and the aforementioned engine tech will serve to greatly reduce the aircraft’s infrared signature.
The navigation and guidance system for Taranis, perhaps not yet installed, very probably uses an advanced concept called simultaneous localization and mapping (Slam). BAE Systems Australia has been developing a highly autonomous Slam-based system and is responsible for the Taranis navigation and guidance gear, which it refuses to discuss (AW&ST April 1, 2013, p. 24).
Slam is suited to a stealth aircraft because it can use passive sensors—day video, IR or passive RF. Nor does it rely on a sometimes inaccurate terrain database. The sophisticated on-board computers which follow a set path to avoid targets and adjust itself as required. It is designed to do this without being detected and upon identifying threats it will “request” clearance from the controller before engaging any targets.
If implemented correctly, Taranis should render VHF radar useless. However, there might be a compromise in aircraft performance due to the lack of meter-length tail control surfaces.
The Taranis has to be careful and dodge around carefully implementing tactics plus technology to counter Chinese KJ-2000 AWACS with L-band radar. If the Taranis is found to be detectable in lower S-band or C-band, it will have to stay away from ground-based radar stations too. Definitely the Chinese will secretly build their own version of the Taranis to defeat VHF radar and test their other radar spectrums against the Chinese Taranis ending up making a more capable dete tion system. But as of now they are f….
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