The UK Ministry of Defence's "combat aircraft of the future" -- a state-of-the-art jet capable of deploying weapons and bringing back intelligence without human guidance -- made its long-awaited debut at a ceremony Monday.
Named after the Celtic god of thunder, the Taranis comes equipped with advanced stealth technology. Unlike the current generation of propeller-driven unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), the Taranis would therefore be able to carry missiles into regions where the military does not have air dominance, the AFP reports.
Initially budgeted at 125 million pounds, the Taranis was originally scheduled to enter ground testing last year in time for military use this year. Instead, the aircraft set producers BAE Systems back an estimated 143 million pounds, and flight testing is expected to commence next year.
Taranis "is a prelude to the next generation of fighting capability," Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of programs and support at BAE, told the Financial Times. "If we are not on top of that, there will be no future for UK aircraft capability."
Though the use of UCAVs and other automation of weaponry is a growing military trend as part of a way to reduce budgets, the Taranis' debut has its share of detractors. As the Globe and Mail reports:
"Militaries are spending large amounts of money to develop robots that can locate targets and "destroy them without human intervention," says Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, raising the prospect of a scenario similar to that portrayed in the "Terminator" series of movies, in which robots are self-aware enough to start killing humans.
Photos of the Taranis, via the AP: