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April 2007 edition

Big investment in UAV projects heralds an era of war by remote control

If a future British prime minister makes the decision to go to war, the ensuing bombardment of ground targets could largely be carried out by pilotless drones designed and built in the U.K.

The Lockheed Martin-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is generally considered to be the last major manned fighter-bomber project that will be developed by the West. As little as 10 years from now, unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) controlled remotely from computers continents away, could begin replacing piloted military aircraft.

A number of UAV programmes are being developed by British defence firms. The newest, and perhaps most promising, is called Taranis.

In December 2006, BAE Systems, which had admitted its previously classified UAV work existed at all only 10 months earlier, announced the Taranis programme, in partnership with other defence firms Qinetiq, Rolls Royce and Smiths Aerospace, and with the Ministry of Defence as its "customer".

Worth £124m, the four year jointly funded programme (three quarters of the sum is reported to come from the MoD; the rest from industry) aims to develop "a world-class UAV technology demonstrator." The project is part of the U.K. Government's strategic unmanned air vehicle experimental (SUAVE) programme.

One of the end goals of SUAVE research is a remote-controlled aircraft capable of attacking ground targets, a fact made explicit by Britain's....

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