European reliance on UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) systems has grown considerably with each passing modern conflict and several concerns have thrown their hats into the ring to provide near-future solutions locally and with the lucrative prospect of export. BAe Systems unveiled their "Mantis" solely as a UAV technology demonstrator to evaluate a full-sized unmanned combat vehicle - known specifically under the categorization of "Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle" (UCAV). The UCAV class is similar to the basic UAV/drone in most respects through evolved to the extent that it supports the delivery of precision-guided munitions (as in the American MQ-9 "Reaper" family). These aircraft are generally of larger dimensions with more advanced in-flight systems and greater internal volume for fuel (extending operational ranges) and mission payloads. The Mantis currently serves as a developmental test platform, having recorded its first flight on October 21st,2009 at the Woomera Test Range in Australia. It joins BAe System's other high-profile UAV demonstrator - the "Taranis" - which saw work on a prototype begin in 2007. To date, the Mantis program has produced a single prototype following the mockup which debuted in 2008 at the Farnborough Air Show in Britain.
The Mantis program is British-led initiative and centered along the prospect of defining a reusable, long-range, deep-penetrating UAV combat-minded system. As such, the vehicle was specifically designed with high endurance and long range performance in mind along with a modular payload capability (including support for weapons delivery). As with other growing UAV programs, the Mantis intends to operate largely autonomously while relying on satellite communications for its self-positioning. user interaction will allow for overides but the Mantis will be independent in its navigation, landing and take-off procedures. While headed by BAe Systems, the program also includes major industry players such as GE Aviation, L3 Wescam and Rolls-Royce. Avionics includes the LS Wescam MX-20 series imaging system and the BAe Systems-supplied Imagery Collection and Exploitation (ICE) suite. Data collected during the Mantis program will assist in the future development of the joint British-French UAV initiative known as the "Telemos" (headlined by BAe Systems / Dassault).
The external profile of the Mantis is largely conventional and essentially mimics a manned aircraft though the domed front section houses operational systems instead of a cockpit. The fuselage is well-contoured for aerodynamic efficiency and includes low-set, straight wing appendages. The rear section of the fuselage is tapered and mounts a "T-style" tail unit. The Mantis is propelled by a pair of Rolls-Royce engines arranged in a "pusher" configuration and seated in individual nacelles along the fuselage spine just ahead of the tail unit. The undercarriage is wheeled in the traditional way and fully retractable. The wing assemblies are designed to support external munitions across six hardpoints.
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