General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), one of the three companies tasked with developing air-launched unmanned air vehicles (UAV) for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has shared the first rendering of its proposal for the LongShot UAV.
The graphic was shared by the company as part of an broader article in which it laid out its vision for the future of small UAVs.
GA-ASI is developing its LongShot prototype under a contract from DARPA. The program aims to develop a system that will launch from larger UAS or human-crewed aircraft and charge into hostile airspace armed with its own air-to-air missiles, able to fire on enemy targets if it were so commanded.
As pointed out by the company, the small UAV could initiate a fighter sweep ahead of a strike wave without putting a human crew in danger, or it could join an attack alongside the vanguard with human-crewed warplanes.
In addition to GA-ASI, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are also developing prototypes under the program.
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.
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.
LongShot also could give legacy aircraft such as bombers a potent new anti-air capability. Imagine if a friendly bomber were en route during a combat mission and allied battle networks detected the approach of hostile fighters. LongShot would let the bomber crew go on offense against the threat without the need for its own escorts or the retasking of friendly fighters, preserving its ability to service its targets as planned.
While LongShot is still in its preliminary design phase, it should be noted that GA-ASI has already demonstrated an air-launched drone capable of deploying from a “mother-drone.” In September 2020, the company said it completed test flights with the Sparrowhawk UAV, which was carried by a company-operated MQ-9 Reaper.
Compared to the LongShot which will have an offensive role, GA-ASI envisions Sparrowhawk as surveilling an area and turning back to rendezvous with the aircraft that launched it.