LONDON (AFP) Ė An unmanned jet capable of striking long-range targets has been dubbed the combat aircraft of the future" by the Ministry of Defence. The Taranis -- named after the Celtic god of thunder -- was unveiled at a ceremony at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire, on Monday. The £142.5 million prototype is the size of a light aircraft and has been equipped with stealth technology to make it virtually undetectable. In a press release, the MoD described the Taranis as "a prototype unmanned combat aircraft of the future." It is built to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions while its crew stays safely on the ground and can control the aircraft from anywhere in the world. The unmanned fighter jet can also carry bombs and missiles and, if the trials prove successful, the MoD said it should "ultimately be capable of striking targets at long range, even in another continent." The current generation of propeller-driven drones -- such as the Predator and Reaper -- are capable of carrying missiles, but these unmanned planes can only be used in areas where the military has air dominance, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The first flight trials are due to start next year.
"Taranis is a truly trailblazing project," said Minister for International Security Strategy Gerald Howarth. "The first of its kind in the UK, it reflects the best of our nation's advanced design and technology skills and is a leading programme on the global stage." The Taranis was created by the MOD in partnership with BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ and GE Aviation. "Taranis has been three-and-a-half years in the making and is the product of more than a million man-hours," said Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of BAE Systems' Programmes and Support business. "It represents a significant step forward in this country's fast-jet capability.
"This technology is key to sustaining a strong industrial base and to maintain the UK's leading position as a centre for engineering excellence and innovation."