DARPA Is Developing Air-to-Air Missile Carrying Drones

Image by Andrew West from Pixabay

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), U.S. Air Force’s R&D platform, is developing a novel type of high-speed drone that will be able to carry and deploy air-to-air missiles. The drones will be taken up in the air by fighter jets, and the idea is to extend the reach of the planes beyond the range of the missiles themselves. This way, a pilot would be able to intercept enemies that lie afar, getting a key advantage in battle. 

DARPA has clarified that while the original idea involves fighter jets and larger bombers, these drones could get launched by ships or even military vehicles and platforms on the ground. The work on the project which has received the name “LongShot”, is in the ‘Phase I’ stage. The engineering teams involved in the program include engineers from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics, all working feverishly in the development of the new system.

Part of the reason why they are in a hurry to have “LongShot” ready for field testing as soon as possible is that the U.S. Air Force is actually lagging behind against the long-range missiles currently used by the Russians (R-37M) and the Chinese (PL-15). America’s best effective range figure is 100 miles, achieved by the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. This is a whopping 24 miles less than the Russian and Chinese counterparts, which makes a huge difference in dogfights as it determines who gets to shoot first.

The new drones will be able to carry two AMRAAM missiles, sending them well beyond their regular range, but the specifics are elusive at this point. We don’t know the drone speed or its own range, both of which will be crucial factors in proving the usefulness of the concept. What is already clear is that American pilots will be allowed to focus on their maneuvering after the deployment of the LongShot, avoiding enemy fire while letting the drone do its job with its locked targets. If this works as intended, it’s gonna be revolutionary.

Bianca Van der Watt

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