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The UK government is interested in advancing an unmanned initiative in the stratospheric layer of the earth’s atmosphere, extending to about 32 miles (50 km) above the earth’s surface. The Ministry of Defence has issued a tender for a demonstration of uncrewed stratospheric communication and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability with a global reach in near real-time.

Project AETHER will acquire ‘Stratospheric Uncrewed Air Systems’ that can stay airborne for months and be rapidly maneuvered anywhere in the world to provide ‘Ultra-Persistent Wide Area Communications with Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance’ capabilities anywhere in the world.

According to the tender, the information must be available in near real-time and be exploited using a range of existing resources. The capability must be on task for several months at a time with minimal resupply or maintenance effort. 

The value of the project is around £100m, according to The tender covers a 19-month effort between May 2022 and December 2023.