The UK defense ministry has awarded an Northern Ireland company a £30 million (approx. $40M) contract for the design and development of an uncrewed fighter aircraft prototype.
The unmanned system will be designed to fly at high-speed alongside fighter jets, armed with missiles, surveillance and electronic warfare technology to provide a battle-winning advantage over hostile forces.
Known as a “loyal wingman”, the prototype will be just one of several such aircraft being developed globally. The US Air Force is already working on the Skyborg AI drone capable of teaming with manned aircraft, while Boeing is building a similar system for the Australian Air Force.
The UK defense ministry has selected Spirit AeroSystems to lead team Mosquito in the next phase of the project. The team will further develop the RAF’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept, with a full-scale vehicle flight-test program expected by the end of 2023.
LANCA originated in 2015 out of a need to understand innovative combat air technologies and concepts that offer radical reductions in cost and development time and is a RAF Rapid Capabilities Office led project under the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI). The UK MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) provides the project management and is the MOD’s technical authority for LANCA and Project Mosquito on behalf of the RCO.
Team Mosquito, which also includes Northrop Grumman UK, will mature the designs and manufacture a technology demonstrator to generate evidence for a follow-on LANCA program. If successful, Project Mosquito’s findings could lead to this capability being deployed alongside the Typhoon and F-35 Lightning jets by the end of the decade.
“We’re taking a revolutionary approach, looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones and uncrewed fighter aircraft like Mosquito, alongside piloted fighters like Tempest, that will transform the combat battlespace in a way not seen since the advent of the jet age,” Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff said.