General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has released an image render of a missile-armed new unmanned combat drone.
The drone is being developed as part of a DARPA programme called LongShot, which includes Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman as industry partners as well.
LongShot will launch from larger drone or human-crewed aircraft and charge into hostile airspace armed with its own air-to-air missiles.
The programme could give legacy aircraft such as bombers a potent new anti-air capability. If a bomber was flying 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.
DARPA awarded contracts to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman for preliminary Phase I design work for the LongShot programme in February.
The objective is to develop a drone that can significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft.
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 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 Paul Calhoun. “LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.”
In later phases of the programme, 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.