The Secretive British Taranis Could Be First Autonomous Drone | World Defense

The Secretive British Taranis Could Be First Autonomous Drone


Dec 26, 2014
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The secretive British Taranis could be first autonomous drone - Tech Insider

Capable of reaching speeds of more than 700 mph, it could come and go without anyone on the ground noticing it, but for the sound of its sonic boom.

It's "virtually invisible to radar," David Coates, a spokesperson for BAE Systems — the company that manufactured the drone — told Tech Insider in an email.

Aptly named for the Celtic god of thunder, the British-made Taranis is one of the most advanced aircraft ever built, and certainly the most advanced built by British engineers.

But its development, especially some of its automatic features, was described in a 2013 UN report as "shrouded in secrecy." Details about what the Taranis is capable of are under lock and key. Here's what we do know and why its development has some ethicists worried.

The Taranis isn't deployed yet, and the UK military has no plans to make it part of its official fleet as it is. It's what's called a demonstrator, meaning its being used to test technologies that may be used in future aircraft, according to Coates.

According to BAE's website, the Taranis is capable of "undertaking sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intelligence, deterring adversaries, and carrying out strikes in hostile territory," all with the supervision of a human operator on the ground.

What sets the Taranis apart from other combat drones on the market, according to BAE's Coates, is its speed, stealth, and autonomy functions.

According to Popular Science, "it could technically fly autonomously," though during flight tests it's under the control of a human operator.

At 39 feet long with a 32-foot wingspan, the Taranis is about the size of a school bus. One of its most sophisticated features is its ability to evade detection while keeping in contact with the human pilot on the round. How the drone does this is "classified," Coates wrote when we asked how it works.

According to an infographic from BAE, the Taranis can also target threats and is able to fire on that target on its own after a remote pilot gives the go-ahead.

To do this, the Taranis would reach a preselected area using a programmed flight path. It would automatically identify and target the threat within that search area. It sends this data back to its home base, where the information is verified by the human operator, and the target is OK'd for attack.

The remote pilot would then essentially pull the trigger, and the Taranis would fire before flying back to the base on its own.

Because the Taranis is a prototype, it doesn't currently carry missiles, but future generations will likely carry weapons.