The arrival of cooperative combat drones designed to support and extend the capabilities of combat aircraft will constitute, in the years to come, an evolution of air warfare as radical as that which followed the arrival of the turbojet engine or the air-air missile. . Whether heavy drones like the Russian Okhotnik-B drone, consumable drones like the Valkyrie from Kratos, or airborne drones like the MBDA and Airbus Remote Carriers developed under the European SCAF and FCAS programs, these equipment will not only bring new capabilities, but also profoundly change the conduct of combat air operations. As such, and much more than stealth or data fusion, these drones and the devices that will be able to control them, will form a real new generation of combat aircraft.
It is in this context that is positioned DARPA's Longshot program. launched in 2021, this one aims to develop an airborne combat drone, like the European Remote Carrier, which can be implemented from a fighter or a bomber, and capable of carrying detectors (radar, electronic detection systems or electro-optical) and effectors (air-to-air, air-to-ground or air-to-surface missiles; electronic warfare system, bombs and guided munitions), and which can be directly controlled from a combat aircraft such as the F-35 Lignthing II or the future NGAD of the US Air Force and the US Navy. Phase I, having brought together General Atomics but also Lockheed-Martin and Norton Grumman, which was to conduct an initial study, having ended in early 2022, DARPA announced the transition to Phase II of the feasibility study for General Atomics in March 2022, with a deadline of one year, as is often the case for DARPA which carries out its programs at full speed.
According to General Atomics spokesperson C. Mark Brinkley, the feasibility study was transmitted in due time to DARPA, so that General Atomics is now awaiting the next notification of the contract for Phase III, which will consist of the design of a prototype which will have to fly in 2024. It should be noted that the fact that General Atomics benefited from exposure following the awarding of the Phase II contract does not mean that Lockheed-Martin and/or Northrop-Grumman were excluded from the program, nor that General Atomics is currently the only manufacturer to be awarded a Phase III prototype contract. It is moreover probable that neither DARPA nor the US Air Force, sponsor of this program, would like a single industrialist to develop the prototypes, knowing that this technology is today at the heart of US strategy in an attempt to control the rise of Chinese forces.
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