The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is developing unmanned aircraft for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as part of a joint-venture with the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO).

Dstl is developing Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA), under the name ‘Project Mosquito’, to deploy with advanced fighter jets like the Lockheed Martin F-35, Eurofighter Typhoon and the future Tempest air system.

Dstl project lead for LANCA, Peter Stockel, told Air Force Technology: “The game-changing aspect of this has to be the aim to deliver useful combat air capability much more quickly and at a significantly lower cost.”

Dstl says the aircraft will provide “protection, survivability and information for the manned aircraft” or in future as a combat fleet of unmanned aircraft.

Phase one of the development will take a year. Dstl will then manufacture two designs to test as early as 2022.

Contracts were given to the Blue Bear Systems Research, Boeing Defence UK, and Callen-Lenz – in partnership with Bombardier and Northrop Grumman – to develop the first designs. The shortlist was chosen after nine defence contractors including BAE systems expressed interest.

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LANCA began in 2015 as research into innovative combat aircraft and ways the RAF can save money in costs and development of systems.

Speaking last week Defence Minister Stuart Andrew, said: “At the launch of the Combat Air Strategy last year, the MoD revealed the concept future fighter jet Tempest. The vision of the jet featured advanced flexible power and propulsion systems, a virtual cockpit, swarming weapons and laser-directed energy weapons.

“Operated either manned or unmanned, it would be rapidly upgradeable and cyber resilient. Following on from last year’s announcement, a new project to develop a novel unmanned combat aircraft has been announced by the RAF and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)”

The US Air Force is also developing autonomous aircraft under the ‘Skyborg’ programme. The US system will revolve around the F-35 and Kratos’ Valkyrie UCAV.

Project Mosquito ties into the UK Armed Forces’ push for more connective systems, as the Royal Navy are also set to develop unmanned surface and submersible vessels. The NavyX accelerator has ear-marked millions for spending on naval technology.

The RAF showed a possible model of what LANCA could look like at the Royal International Air Tattoo last weekend.