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The UK's high-profile Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) programme, a replacement for the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft, has been scrapped after years of planning and concept evaluation to make way for a fundamentally different kind of project focused on a family of long-range, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that will probably embrace the combat, reconnaissance and surveillance roles.
The UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) Strategic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Experiment (SUAVE) will place the testing of UAV technologies - and probable procurement decisions stemming from it - at the centre of a wide-ranging plan to replace the capability currently vested in the Tornado. The Future Combat Air Capability (FCAC) programme, as the plan is known, will rely on 'legacy' programmes - platforms and weapons already in the inventory or on order - to fulfil the mandate originally laid down for FOAS. SUAVE, however, will add the final dimension to the 'force-mix' - placing a UAV and unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) capability at the centre of a gap that cannot be filled by manned combat aircraft and cruise missiles.
FOAS has drifted in the last five years, as it has struggled to establish a firm identity. "It was not well-enough defined and no one is prepared to take big-bang risks anymore," one analyst commented. "We don't need any more killing machines. There's a view that the needs of the army should be met first, with money invested in communications, body armour and technologies that cater to the soldier of the future. In the current climate [the UK military's commitment to Iraq and the war on terror], a big aircraft programme at this stage would simply have been shot down in flames."