Northern Ireland-based Spirit AeroSystems has been awarded a £30m contract by the UK Ministry of Defence to design and manufacture a prototype for the Royal Air Force’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) programme.
The UK MoD announced the three-year contract award on January 25, adding that Spirit AeroSystems will “lead Team Mosquito in the next phase” of the LANCA project. The ministry states that the deal will support more than 100 jobs in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and that “ground-breaking engineering techniques” will be exploited to further develop the concept. A full-scale vehicle flight-test programme is anticipated to begin by the end of 2023.
UK Defence Minister, Jeremy Quin, said: “This is a great win for the Northern Ireland defence industry and will showcase some of the most pioneering engineering work currently being undertaken in the UK. The £30m project will accelerate the development of the UK’s future air power by delivering cutting-edge uncrewed aircraft, maintaining our position as a world leader in emerging technologies.”
The LANCA programme seeks to develop a small, low-cost, attritable unmanned combat air vehicle, which is designed to serve as a force multiplying asset, augmenting the UK’s fighter aircraft in the battlespace. A product of the wider ‘loyal wingman’ concept, LANCA will be the UK’s first unmanned platform that is capable of targeting and engaging enemy aircraft, while being survivable against surface-to-air missile threats.
The MoD states that LANCA will be equipped with missiles, as well as surveillance and electronic warfare technologies. It will have a degree of flexibility, allowing it to provide enhanced protection, survivability and information-gathering capabilities as it flies alongside the UK’s Typhoon FGR4, F-35B Lightning II and future Tempest fleets. The RAF anticipates that the LANCA platform will be deployed alongside Typhoon and F-35B fighters by the end of this decade.
ACM Sir Mike Wigston, the RAF’s Chief of the Air Staff, added: “We’re taking a revolutionary approach, looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones and uncrewed fighter aircraft like Mosquito, alongside piloted fighters like Tempest, that will transform the combat battlespace in a way not seen since the advent of the jet age.”
Launched in 2015, the LANCA programme was established to develop innovate concepts and combat air technologies that can offer reductions in overall cost and development time. The project is being led by the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) under the UK’s Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI). The MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is also involved in the programme, providing project management services and acting as the ministry’s technical authority for the LANCA effort.