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UK pursues low-cost unmanned combat aircraft

Industry teams led by Blue Bear Systems Research, Boeing Defence UK, and Callen-Lenz have been awarded contracts by the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) to complete the preliminary design of a low-cost unmanned combat aircraft that can operate alongside manned fast jets as part of future air power mix.

Three Phase I contracts have been awarded under the LANCA programme. (Crown Copyright)

Three Phase I contracts have been awarded under the LANCA programme. (Crown Copyright)

The Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Air (LANCA) technology demonstrator initiative, which is known as Project Mosquito, is intended to generate evidence in order to inform a potential future ‘Loyal Wingman’ requirement. As well as exploring the utility of an unmanned adjunct capability to inform the UK’s Combat Air Strategy, the LANCA initiative is also intended to grow understanding of methods to radically reduce the cost and time of fielding a combat air capability of this class compared with traditional combat air systems.

LANCA emerged from the 2015 studies undertaken by the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to understand how innovative combat air technologies and operating concepts might offer radical reductions in system cost and development time. Subsequently, LANCA was brought into the RAF RCO as part of the wider Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI): apart from LANCA, the FCAS IT initiative also encompasses the Next Generation Combat Air System (being developed under the umbrella of Team Tempest).

The acquisition strategy for Project Mosquito is split into two phases: Phase I, which lasts for 12 months and covers preliminary system design, and Phase II, which will see a downselect to one or two teams to further mature their designs, complete manufacturing of the technology demonstrator, and complete a limited flight-test programme.

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