The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded preliminary Phase I design contracts for its LongShot unmanned air vehicle (UAV) programme.

The contracts have been awarded to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

The LongShot programme seeks to develop an air-launched UAV that can carry and fire multiple air-to-air missiles.

It must also be capable of increasing engagement ranges and mission effectiveness.

According to DARPA, LongShot will increase the survivability of manned platforms as it will allow the platforms to be at standoff ranges far away from the threats of enemy forces.

DARPA noted that an air-launched LongShot UAV will play a key role in bridging ‘the gap to take more effective missile shots’.

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During the programme’s later phases, LongShot will involve building and flying a full-scale air-launched demonstration system.

This system would be capable of ‘controlled flight, before, during, and after weapon ejection’ in operational conditions.

DARPA programme manager lieutenant colonel Paul Calhoun said: “The LongShot programme changes the paradigm of air combat operations by demonstrating an unmanned, air-launched vehicle capable of employing current and advanced air-to-air weapons.

“LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.”

In February last year, DARPA asked for $13.27m to develop a missile with an attached gun as part of its FY21 budget request.