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BAE Systems' Taranis: $214 million unmanned stealth jet can strike targets across oceans

BAE Systems' Taranis: $214 million unmanned stealth jet can strike targets across oceans

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Britain has unveiled a $215 million prototype unmanned combat aircraft that's fast, nearly invisible and deadly. Here's a look.

The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence on Monday unveiled a prototype unmanned combat aircraft that's intended to strike targets on different continents.

The drone, made by BAE Systems and called Taranis (after the Celtic god of thunder -- really), is one step on the way to developing the world's first autonomous, stealth Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) with long-range capability -- far enough to strike targets on another continent.

The aircraft is controlled by military crews on the ground, and comes with a £142.5 million, or approx. $214 million USD, price tag, according to the UK's Daily Mail.

A few quick stats about Taranis:

  • It's nearly invisible to ground radar.
  • It's designed to travel at "jet speeds."
  • With onboard sensors, it's intended for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in enemy territory.
  • It can also carry weapons, including bombs and missiles.
  • It can be controlled from anywhere in the world using satellite communication.
  • The plane began development in December 2006.
  • It's the U.K.'s answer to U.S. supremacy in the stealth aircraft sector.

"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, managing director of BAE Systems' Programmes & Support business, in a statement.

"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 center for engineering excellence and innovation."

Initial ground-based testing began this year. The first flight is expected to take place in 2011.

The aircraft is the product of an informal partnership of the UK Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems, Rolls Royce (propulsion), QinetiQ (autonomy systems) and GE Aviation (vehicle systems).

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Andrew Nusca

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Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure