A defense contractor yesterday unveiled what it says is the future of combat aircraft — an unmanned plane, with stealth capability that could carry out long-range attacks on other continents.

BAE Systems and the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense unveiled the Taranis — a name derived from the Celtic god of thunder.

The prototype was built at a cost of around $210 million and its first test flights are due to take place in 2011.


The aircraft would be remotely controlled by highly trained military crews on the ground — and BAE Systems said its range would allow it to undertake surveillance and bombing missions across vast distances -— even reaching intercontinental targets.

U.S. and other military forces fighting in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan already use pilot-free drones which can deliver video feeds, other surveillance and missile strikes.

But it is the range of the Taranis, its advanced stealth technology — making it almost invisible to ground radar — its speed, and its variety of surveillance and attack capability that BAE says makes it unique.

Speaking on behalf of the industry team, Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of BAE Systems’ Programs and Support business, said: “Taranis has been three and a half years in the making and is the product of more than a million man-hours.”

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