MILITARY

Secrets of Next-Generation British Stealth Plane Revealed

A high-tech British roboplane capable of attacking targets as far away as Afghanistan was unveiled by defense contractor BAE Systems in the U.K. Monday.

The prototype roboplane, named Taranis after the Celtic god of thunder, took four years to build and cost £143 million ($215 million).

The plane is unique in that it can fly itself, without piloting from the ground. It is equipped with two internal bomb bays to carry a wide range of weapons.

It can also attack intercontinental targets, meaning it could launch an attack from the U.K. on targets as far away as Afghanistan. Nigel Whitehead, BAE's managing director for programs, said the plane's biggest technological advantage was its ability to fly without intervention from the ground.

He said most unmanned planes were controlled by pilots on the ground, but that the Taranis could fly itself and evade radar detection.

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"You can tell it what to do, give it alternatives, change the mission in flight -- and it is smart enough to do it itself and make choices," he said. "You can also intervene if something goes wrong."

BAE Systems won the contract to build the Taranis four years ago. The company's goal was to build an unmanned aircraft capable of covert intelligence gathering.

Taranis will commence flight tests in 2011, and BAE hopes that the British Ministry of Defence will purchase the planes for service with the Royal Air Force.