DARPA Begins Autonomous Weapon-Launching Drone Program

The drones will be able to fire their own air-to-air missiles while minimizing the risk of harming civilians.
Fabienne Lang
Long Shot Unmanned Air VehicleDARPA

As part of its LongShot program, DARPA is developing an air-launched unmanned vehicle (UAV) resembling a drone that is capable of deploying air-to-air weapons.

The design of this futuristic vehicle has been awarded to Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics for the program's first phase.

The plan is for the system to launch from a bigger manned aircraft, jet off to a certain area out of the way of land-based missiles, and engage in multiple combat threats using its weapons. The chances of humans being harmed would be minimized as it would be an unmanned drone-like aircraft. 

What DARPA's UAV will be capable of

Announcing its contract on Monday, DARPA is working towards developing its novel UAV that increases engagement ranges, mission effectiveness, among other attributes. 

"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.

"LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability."

One of the biggest focuses of the program is to minimize manned fighter aircraft from being damaged, and for their pilots to remain safe. These manned aircraft would remain in standoff ranges from enemy threats while the UAVs would forge forwards attacking first. 

Further down the line, the LongShot program will build and fly a full-scale air-launched demo system that puts on display its controlled flight capabilities before, during, and after launching weapons.

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What's different about DARPA's LongShot program UAV is that not only will it offer a way to engage targets from a larger distance, but it will also fire missiles much closer to the targets. Given missile ranges and capabilities keep increasing year on year, it seems essential to also increase the maneuverability and range, as well as unmanned flying systems, to counter such advancements.

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