In its FY21 budget request, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has asked for $13.27m to develop a missile with an attached gun.

Although light on details the programme, called ‘Gunslinger’ aims to develop and demonstrate an air-launched tactical range missile that will feature a built-in gun system ‘capable of scalable effects and engagement of multiple targets’.

The budget estimate document reads: “The Gunslinger programme will develop and demonstrate technologies to enable an air-launched tactical range missile system capable of multi-mission support. This system will utilise the high manoeuvrability of a missile system coupled with a gun system capable of scalable effects and engagement of multiple targets.”

According to the document, the missile will address counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, close air support (CAS) and air-to-air engagement missions for use later by the US Air Force (USAF) and US Navy.

It explain the scope of the development effort saying: “The programme will address the system and technology issues required to enable development of a robust missile system considering (1) vehicle concepts possessing the required aerodynamic, propulsion, and payload capacity for a wide operational envelope, (2) the algorithms that support manoeuvring and target recognition to enable expedited command decision making for selecting and engaging targets and (3) approaches to incorporating modularity of design to reduce cost throughout the design and development process.”

For FY21 the programme aims to conduct trade studies including looking for information on propulsion systems, munitions, sensors, GPS and communications capabilities before developing ‘higher fidelity modelling and simulation environment to support program concept of operations’.

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DARPA is requesting $230m for the development of advanced aerospace systems, of which the Gunslinger programme is part, along with the Tactical Boost Glide programme, a joint DARPA-US Air Force project to develop hypersonic boost-glide systems.

Other projects under this remit include the ‘Glide Breaker’ project to develop a component of a system to intercept hypersonic threats, and ‘Longshot’ a programme designed to expand the range of missiles by carrying them on a slower, more aerodynamic missile system.

Longshot could be deployed on fighter aircraft or bombers and looks ‘to develop and flight demonstrate a weapon system using multi-mode propulsion that significantly increases engagement range and weapon effectiveness against adversary air threats.’

Like Gunslinger, DARPA sees the Longshot system potentially transitioning to partnership with the USAF or US Navy.