Home Air DARPA awards contracts for LongShot air-launched UAV development

DARPA awards contracts for LongShot air-launched UAV development

DARPA Longshot air-launched UAV
Artist's impression of a LongShot UAV. Photo: DARPA

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched its air-launched unmanned air vehicle (UAV) LongShot program with three contract awards.

The Pentagon research agency has awarded contracts to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman to start work on the development of a UAV that will be able to employ multiple air-to-air weapons.

The preliminary phase I design work will be the first step on the path to develop a novel UAV that can significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft.

As explained by DARPA, current air superiority concepts rely on advanced manned fighter aircraft to provide a penetrating counter air capability to effectively deliver weapons. It is envisioned that LongShot will increase the survivability of manned platforms by allowing them to be at standoff ranges far away from enemy threats, while an air-launched LongShot UAV efficiently closes the gap to take more effective missile shots.

“The LongShot program 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 program manager Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun. “LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.”

In later phases of the program, LongShot will construct and fly a full-scale air-launched demonstration system capable of controlled flight, before, during, and after weapon ejection under operational conditions.

The announcement on the start of the LongShot program follows first successes achieved by the agency on the Gremlins air-launched UAV project. The overarching goal of the Gremlins program is to demonstrate aerial launch and recovery of multiple low-cost reusable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Gremlins UAVs are envisioned as being capable of launching from various types of military aircraft, keeping those less expendable assets beyond the range of adversary defenses. After air retrieval, they would be transported back to the ground where crews could prepare them for another mission within 24 hours.