A fleet of unmanned combat air systems (UCAS) in RAF colours took a step closer to reality on 25 January as the British government injected £30 million (€33.8 million) into the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept, with a full-scale vehicle flight-test programme expected by the end of 2023.
The aircraft will be designed to fly at high speed alongside manned combat aircraft, armed with missiles, surveillance and EW technologies, to provide a battle-winning advantage over hostile forces. Known as a ‘loyal wingman’, these aircraft will be the UK’s first unmanned platforms able to target and shoot down enemy aircraft and survive against surface to air missiles.
Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast has been selected to lead Team Mosquito in the next phase of the project. The team, which also includes Northrop Grumman UK, will mature the designs and manufacture a technology demonstrator to generate evidence for a follow-on LANCA programme. If successful, the findings could lead to this revolutionary capability being deployed alongside existing TYPHOON and F-35 LIGHTNING II jets by the end of the decade – and the next-generation TEMPEST aircraft at a later date.
Working with innovative partners from across the UK, Project Mosquito is transforming traditional approaches to combat air to enable the rapid development of technology. By using the latest software development techniques and civilian aerospace engineering and manufacturing expertise, the project will deliver dramatic reductions in both cost and development timelines, so that innovations can reach the front-line faster. The project will ensure the final aircraft design will be capable of being easily and affordably updated with the latest technology, to remain one step ahead of potential adversaries.
“We’re taking a revolutionary approach, looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones and uncrewed fighter aircraft like MOSQUITO, alongside piloted fighters like TEMPSEST, that will transform the combat battlespace in a way not seen since the advent of the jet age,” commented Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff.
“Project Mosquito is a vital element of our approach to Future Combat Air, rapidly bringing to life design, build and test skills for next-generation combat air capabilities. Autonomous ‘loyal wingman’ aircraft create the opportunity to expand, diversify and rapidly upgrade combat air forces in a cost-effective way, now and in the future,” added Richard Berthon, Director Future Combat Air.
LANCA was originated in 2015 at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to understand innovative combat air technologies and concepts that offer radical reductions in cost and development time. It is an RAF Rapid Capabilities Office-led project under the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI), for which Dstl provides project management and acts as the MoD’s technical authority for LANCA and Project Mosquito.