General Atomics has secured the US military’s LongShot air-launched armed drone program phase 3 contract.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) program intends to extend the reach and effectiveness of manned aircraft by equipping them with drones armed with air-to-air missiles.
The $95-million phase 3 contract includes prototype manufacturing and flight tests in 2024.
General Atomics was awarded the program’s phase 2 contract following the preliminary design review, which included Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Phase 2 included a critical design review and ground demonstrations of key subsystems.
The Pentagon agency has reportedly requested $44 million to enhance the “fabrication, testing, and demonstration of the LongShot flight test vehicle” in the fiscal 2024 budget proposal.
Air-Launched Armed Drone
The capability allows the manned aircraft to fly from a safer distance, beyond the range of enemy weapons.
The drone could be deployed either internally from a bomber or externally from a fighter jet.
“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,” DARPA program manager Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun said in 2021.
“LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.”