General Atomics wins $94 million Phase 3 of DARPA program

After a bitter competition between General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin, only GA remains to continue DARPA's "LongShot" drone program.
Christopher McFadden
Concept art of GA's proposed "LongShot" drone.

General Atomics 

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has officially selected General Atomics (GA) for the next phase of its "LongShot" program, reports Breaking Defense. GA was awarded the $94 million contract in June (2023) for the program's third phase, which will include flight tests sometime in December 2023. For reference, "LongShot" is a program designed to develop a drone that can be deployed by fighters or bombers that can launch its missiles.

GA stands alone

“General Atomics was competitively awarded a contract to develop DARPA’s concept for disruptive air combat operations [by demonstrating] an air-to-air weapon capable air vehicle. The concept seeks to significantly increase engagement range and mission effectiveness of current 4th gen fighters and air-to-air missiles,” company spokesman C. Mark Brinkley said in a statement.

"Begun in 2020, GA was competitively awarded a contract to develop DARPA’s concept for disruptive air combat operations through demonstration of an air-to-air weapons capable air vehicle," Brinkley added. "Over the last three years, GA-ASI has iterated on numerous vehicle designs to optimize performance and will begin flight testing in December 2023," Brinkley said.

Brinkley added that the flight testing will “validate basic vehicle handling characteristics and lay the foundation for follow-on development and testing.” DARPA considers "LongShot," an unmanned aircraft system launched from a bomber or fighter capable of launching its missiles, potentially useful for the Air Force and Navy.

The new concept art, released by GA, depicts a significantly altered design compared to the one displayed two years ago, The Drive reports. The uncrewed aircraft features an elongated fuselage, small canards at the front, reverse-swept main wings towards the back, and an inverted V-shaped twin-tail configuration. The main wings appear to be detachable after launch. Additionally, there is a small streamlined tail extension behind the top-mounted dorsal engine air intake and a chined nose.

“The objective is to develop a novel UAV that can significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft,” a February 2021 announcement from DARPA stated. “It is envisioned that 'LongShot' will 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," they added.

"The 'LongShot' program is developing and flight demonstrating an air-launched Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) capable of engaging multiple adversary targets from standoff ranges using existing air-to-air missiles," according to the entry for the program in the Pentagon's 2024 Fiscal Year budget proposal, which was released in March. "LongShot will be deployed either externally from existing fighters or internally from existing bombers," they added.

"This system will capitalize on a slower speed, fuel-efficient air vehicle for ingress while retaining highly energetic air-to-air missiles for end-game target engagements, which provides several key benefits that increase weapon effectiveness," the proposal continues. "This program will address the stability and control challenges of launching air-to-air missiles from a relatively small UAV in an operational environment," it adds.

The last man standing

In February 2021, GA, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin were selected to submit preliminary designs for "LongShot's" first phase. However, only GA was awarded the contract for Phase 2 in March 2022, and then again for this Phase 3 effort.

Currently, Pentagon leaders are highly focused on developing innovative drone designs. This is due to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kath Hicks' announcement of the "Replicator" effort. This initiative aims to acquire thousands of drones across various domains within 18-24 months.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board