Here at the Paris Air Show, Dassault and BAE Systems have joined forces to display a mockup of the UK company’s Mantis medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV technology demonstrator. The combined exhibit highlights the recent agreement between the two companies to codevelop the Telemos UAS to meet the needs of both British and French armed forces.
Mantis was initially created as a joint UK government/industry program to demonstrate a deep and persistent ISTAR capability, and flew in Australia in 2009 just 19 months after the program was initiated. The vehicle incorporated a number of innovative technological and construction features and demonstrated that the capability existed in Europe to create a vehicle in this class.
With the success of the first flight behind it, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) began to explore options for a bilateral program with another European partner, and a joint BAE/Dassault feasibility study was undertaken in 2010 on behalf of the UK MoD and its French counterpart, the DGA. The study looked at national requirements, common solutions and industrial capabilities, while analyzing cost and schedule.
The conclusion was that a joint project was feasible and it was included in the UK/French defense cooperation treaty signed last November by Prime Minister Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy. In turn, this led to a memorandum of understanding in February between BAE Systems and Dassault to jointly pursue a proposal for the design, development, production and support of a MALE Operational Unmanned Air System (OUAS) for service entry in the 2015-2020 timeframe. The name Telemos was announced just before the show.
Both companies have built up extensive experience in the unmanned arena–BAE Systems through its Raven, Corax, HERTI, Mantis and Taranis programs, and Dassault through the AVE series, SDM MALE and Neuron–and both have complementary areas of excellence and key suppliers. The joint program allows for the sharing of investment and technological developments for the benefit of both nations.
At present there is no formal joint requirement for the OUAS MALE, but UK and French teams are working on an integrated requirement. According to one French industry source close to the program, the requirements are “already very close to convergence.” The requirement will be based on the provision of affordable, actionable combat ISTAR capability on a 24/7/365 basis, the ability to incorporate the rapid implementation of new technology and the ability to operate on a worldwide basis across a range of operational scenarios. OUAS MALE will be part of the UK’s Scavenger requirement for data collection and Solomon for data dissemination, as well as corresponding French requirements.
One element of OUAS MALE that is still to be defined is the acquisition approach, which is constrained by European Union competition law. A decision is expected in mid- to late summer.
Meanwhile, BAE Systems and Dassault have already mobilized a team to mature the joint proposal and are hoping for an early down-select to one industrial team. According to Ian Fairclough, BAE Systems’ project director for strategic UAS, “An early start would enhance the ability to de-risk the program downstream, deliver a more mature initial operating capability, get funding focused on one core design and help sustain industrial capabilities.”
It is accepted that the BAE Systems/Dassault Telemos proposal will be based to some degree on the Mantis. Dassault spokesman Yves Robins concurred, commenting that, “We are happy to see BAE as the lead. Mantis is the startpoint.” The Joint Project Office will be established in the UK at Abbeywood.
Although the prop-driven Mantis technology demonstrator was designed so that it could trial jet power as an alternative, it is likely that the Telemos will retain turboprops, trading time-to-height performance for better endurance characteristics. Weaponizing the vehicle has been studied, initially by BAE Systems as part of the UK-only program but now expanded as part of the joint proposal.
Early successes for the Telemos collaboration might provide the basis for the similar development of a single European unmanned combat air vehicle. Both BAE Systems and Dassault are leading separate teams to develop stealthy UCAVs (Taranis and Neuron) to fly next year, both of which are intended to demonstrate broadly similar technologies and capabilities.