DARPA’s long-shot program has been developing a missile-carrying air-to-air combat drone. The concept of which was released recently by General Atomics.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) LongShot program has set its eyes on increasing the efficacy of the air to air weapons system. The “Air Warrior” is poised as the game-changer in Combat Drones. The idea is to launch an unmanned combat drone near enemy territory with an aircraft or bomber.
“This way, LongShot is envisioned to 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”, DARPA said in its statement.
The article published about futuristic UAVs described the futuristic drone, which can be “launched from larger UAS or human-crewed aircraft and charge into hostile airspace armed with its own air-to-air missiles, able to fire on enemy targets if it were so commanded”.
Talking about the multi-faceted capabilities of the weapon, the article pointed out the ways in which LongShot can be deployed, such as “initiating a fighter sweep ahead of a strike wave without putting a human crew in danger or joining an attack alongside the vanguard with human-crewed warplanes or could give legacy aircraft such as bombers a potent new anti-air capability”.
As for the drone’s size, the drive concluded that it seems large enough to carry host radar-guided air to air missiles, including AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM.
Northrop Grumman revealed its concept image 2 days after getting the contract. The image had an aeroplane-like platform and a more traditional wing and tail configuration.
“The LongShot program enables us to combine our digital engineering skillset with our extensive knowledge in advanced technology weapons, autonomous systems, and strike platforms to increase weapon range and effectiveness,” Jaime Engdahl, program director, kinetic weapons and emerging capabilities at Northrop Grumman, said in the statement.
DARPA announced the project in February 2021, soon after which contracts for Phase I development were handed out to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.
“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,” said DARPA program manager, Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun.
The underlying advantage which the long-shot renders to its handler is that it engages the targets from a closer vicinity. Thus, the missile retains its effectiveness and makes it harder for the target to get away. More so, the missile laden drones stacked in a bomber craft make for a lethal combination.
This would be a deadly addition in aerial combat and play a massive role in breathing new life into the legendary bombers. The press release mentioned LongShot also give “legacy aircraft such as bombers a potent new anti-air capability”. However, the eventuality of using these with the B 21 stealth bombers is also being considered.
It is yet to be determined what Lockheed Martin brings to the table for the sweeping air-launched drone designed for the US’ adversaries.