DARPA’s LongShot UAV concept enters design phase

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has contracted three firms to participate in the first phase of the LongShot programme, which seeks to develop an air-launched unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of launching air-to-air missiles.

DARPA revealed on February 8 that it had contracted General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to conduct preliminary Phase I design work for the LongShot concept. The value of these contracts were not disclosed in the announcement and no details were provided regarding the planned timeline for the programme.

LongShot UAV [DARPA]
An artist's impression of the LongShot air-launched UAV deploying air-to-air missiles in flight. DARPA

However, DARPA confirmed that it will construct and fly a full-scale air-launched demonstration system that is capable of maintaining controlled flight before, during and after weapon launches under operational conditions.

The agency states that the objective of the LongShot project is to develop a “novel UAV that can extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft.” It noted that current air superiority concepts rely heavily on advanced manned fighter aircraft to provide a penetrating counter air capability to effectively deliver munitions.

“It is envisioned that LongShot will increase the survivability of manned platforms by allowing them to be at stand-off ranges far away from enemy threats, while an air-launched LongShot UAV efficiently closes the gap to take more effective missile shots,” DARPA added.

LongShot UAV [Northrop Grumman]
DARPA's LongShot UAV is being developed to increase overall mission effectiveness, extend engagement ranges and reduce the risk to manned combat aircraft over the battlespace. Northrop Grumman

Lt Col Paul Calhoun, DARPA programme manager, said: “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. LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.

In a separate press release, Northrop Grumman outlined that the LongShot programme will explore new lethal engagement concepts “by leveraging multi-modal propulsion, weapon systems that can be operationally deployed from existing fighters or bombers.” The firm adds that this conceptual unmanned weapons platform will be low-cost and that it will help operators to maintain a competitive advantage in highly contested environments.