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Artist’s impression of a LongShot armed UAV engaging a target with one of its own onboard missiles. (Northrop Grumman)

Three leading defence companies – General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman – have received contracts for Phase 1 design work from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in connection with the development of an air-launched, armed unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

Managed by DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) the project, called LongShot, is looking to develop a UAV that will be air launched then can fly on to “significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft.”

This would allow manned aircraft to remain out of high threat zones, potentially A2AD, while launching their unmanned ‘LongShot’ with multi-mission armed capability to close with and engage an adversary.

“The LongShot programme changes the paradigm of air combat operations by demonstrating an unmanned, air-launched vehicle capable of employing current and advanced air-to-air weapons,” said DARPA programme manager Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun. “LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.”

Jaime Engdahl, programme director, kinetic weapons and emerging capabilities, Northrop Grumman stated: “The LongShot programme enables us to combine our digital engineering skillset with our extensive knowledge in advanced technology weapons, autonomous systems and strike platforms to increase weapon range and effectiveness.”

The objective will be to identify then construct a full scale LongShot demonstrator capable of deploying weapons while remaining in controlled flight throughout the mission.

by Andrew Drwiega