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UK walks away from Project Mosquito loyal wingman drone development

Royal Air Force axes Project Mosquito loyal wingman
Royal Navy illustration of a Project Mosquito loyal wingman design

The Royal Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) has revealed it will not be taking Project Mosquito, an undertaking to develop an unmanned “loyal wingman” prototype, beyond the design phase.

The service announced the decision on June 24, saying it was taken in agreement with industry partners following a “detailed review of the technical demonstrator and the broader Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) program.

The decision was made after the UK defense ministry awarded Spirit AeroSystems a £30 million (approx. $40M) contract for the design and development of an uncrewed fighter aircraft prototype in January 2021.

The defense ministry that the decision to not proceed with the specific manufacturing technology demonstrator “would not impact on the wider intent to build the most capable and cost-effective force mix possible, or the loyal wingman concepts under investigation within the Future Combat Air System Enterprise.”

As revealed, the analysis concluded that more beneficial capability and cost-effectiveness appeared achievable through exploration of smaller, less costly, but still capable additive capabilities.

“Through Project Mosquito and other experimentation activities the Royal Air Force has made substantial progress and gained significant value in understanding and harnessing a range of future uncrewed capabilities. This decision maximizes the learning accrued to date and enables a change of direction for the LANCA program. The Rapid Capabilities Office will now quickly launch activities to aggressively pursue the RAF’s unchanged firm commitment to integrate advanced uncrewed capabilities into the near-term force mix with more immediate beneficial value,” Air Commodore Jez Holmes, head of the Rapid Capabilities Office said.

With its announcement on the launch of Project Mosquito, the UK joined the US and Australia, who already had similar projects underway. The UK had expected to have Project Mosquito lead to further development of the RAF’s LANCA concept, with a full-scale vehicle flight-test program set for start by the end of 2023. The goal of the LANCA program is to mature the concept of an unmanned system that will fly at high-speed alongside fighter jets, enhancing their ability to conduct air combat, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.