The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has awarded General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) a $94 million contract to complete the third and final phase of the agency’s effort to develop armed, air-launched drones.
The LongShot program aims to develop an unmanned aerial vehicle able to fire multiple air-to-air weapons while flying alongside or ahead of manned aircraft in order to extend ranges and reduce risk, according to a DARPA release. The three-phased effort began in 2021, when General Atomics, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin were all chosen to provide preliminary designs of the drone.
General Atomics now remains the sole prime contractor in the program. After scoring the phase 2 contract to create detailed designs and ground demonstrations of key subsystems in March, the company has moved beyond the critical design review phase and will complete phase 3, according to an award announcement posted to Sam.gov on Wednesday.
A DARPA spokesperson told DefenseScoop in an email that the third and final phase of the LongShot program will have General Atomics manufacture and conduct flight tests of its system.
According to the agency’s budget proposal for fiscal 2024, DARPA plans to ramp up fabrication, testing and demonstration of the LongShot flight test vehicle. The $44 million request would be used to integrate the drones into host aircraft and conduct a series of proof-of-concept flight tests and demonstrations.
The LongShot UAV will be able to be launched from manned fighter jets, transports or other aircraft, and will carry munitions to shoot down enemy aerial threats, according to General Atomics. A company spokesperson declined to comment on the phase 3 contract award.
“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,” Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, DARPA program manager, said in a 2021 release after the project kicked off. “LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.”
Both the Air Force and Navy have become interested in armed robotic wingmen that can fly alongside crewed aircraft. The Air Force is pursuing drones known as “collaborative combat aircraft” that will pair with the service’s sixth-generation Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter jets and other manned systems.
At the same time, the Navy is looking to deploy similar platforms with its future carrier air wings. The sea service has been working with the Air Force on the development of both next-generation fighter jets and the accompanying loyal wingman drones.
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