DARPA has announced the three companies it selected to develop concepts for its LongShot program. The agency didn’t reveal the financial details for its selection, but did state that the contracts are for concepts on a UAV that would be launched in the air, after which point the drone would be able to launch its own air-to-air weapons.
At this point in time, DARPA says ‘air superiority concepts’ revolve around manned fighter jets, which is a problem for an obvious reason: it puts human pilots at risk. One of the biggest advantages of autonomous military technology is that it removes the human component, allowing soldiers and others to stay further back from the action.
DARPA’s LongShot program seeks advanced air-to-air weapon concepts that will enable fighter aircraft to launch a UAV carrying ‘multiple air-to-air weapons.’ The LongShot UAV will get closer to the target while the manned fighter jets stay farther away, allowing for ‘more effective missile shots’ while decreasing the risk to pilots.
The LongShot contracts have been awarded to Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin — they cover the Phase 1 preliminary design work. Once this phase is complete, future phases will involve actually constructing and flying a full-scale version of a concept, including ‘weapon ejection.’
DARPA program manager Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun 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.