DARPA has selected General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman to begin the design phase of the Longshot unmanned air vehicle (UAV). The Longshot UAV would be launched from a larger manned aircraft, such as a bomber, and would fly to a predefined location to engage hostile aircraft or air defenses. Longshot would allow current 5th generation fighter jets, who are grossly outmatched by Russian and Chinese air-to-air missiles, to be able stay outside the counterattack range. It would also help extend the reach of vulnerable, non-stealth, 4th generation fighter jets. DARPA writes:
DARPA’s LongShot program, which is developing an air-launched unmanned air vehicle (UAV) with the ability to employ multiple air-to-air weapons, has awarded contracts to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman for preliminary Phase I design work. The objective is to develop a novel UAV that can significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft.
Current air superiority concepts rely on advanced manned fighter aircraft to provide a penetrating counter air capability to effectively deliver weapons. It is envisioned that LongShot will increase the survivability of manned platforms by allowing them to be at standoff ranges far away from enemy threats, while an air-launched LongShot UAV efficiently closes the gap to take more effective missile shots.
“The LongShot program changes the paradigm of air combat operations by demonstrating an unmanned, air-launched vehicle capable of employing current and advanced air-to-air weapons,” said DARPA program manager Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun. “LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability.”
In later phases of the program, LongShot will construct and fly a full-scale air-launched demonstration system capable of controlled flight, before, during, and after weapon ejection under operational conditions.
The Longshot could also be a building block for the 6th generation fighter jets. The WarZone writes:
In addition, a bomber-sized aircraft carrying a large number of these missile-laden drones could be a particularly potent combination. The Air Force itself has already suggested that its sixth-generation “fighter jet” could actually turn out to be something like a variant of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber loaded with air-to-air missiles and working together with smaller “loyal wingman” type unmanned aircraft.
There’s also no particular reason why an advanced and fully-autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) couldn’t also launch LongShots.