JACKAL drone launches Thales missile in RAF trial

A UK-developed drone system has fired a Thales missile as part of a trial sponsored by the Royal Air Force, in what is claimed to be a ‘significant milestone’ for unmanned air combat.

The JACKAL drone platform is the work of Flyby Technology, a UK startup founded by former RAF and Royal Navy fighter pilot Jon Parker. An engineering team from Flyby and Thales worked together on a rapid six-week turnaround to build two JACKAL drones capable of firing the Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM). In a video published by Thales, the VTOL aircraft can be seen taking off vertically while tethered to the ground, before cutting to the drone launching an LLM at a test target a few metres away.

According to Flyby, JACKAL can replicate the capabilities of attack helicopters and fighter jets at a fraction of the cost and with minimum risk. As a VTOL aircraft, it can also operate from locations such as woods and built-up urban areas, negating the need for vulnerable runways.

“The days of having a fighter pilot in the cockpit are numbered and I realise I will not perhaps be loved for bringing about the end of my own kind,” said Jon Parker, Flyby Technology founder and CEO. 

“But the future of warfare is changing and JACKAL is part of that future as a true multi-role attack aircraft. We want to make JACKAL a flagship product, creating secure UK jobs and contributing to a new future for the British aerospace and defence industries.”

According to Thales, Flyby Technology was asked to brief the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) on their new drone system in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Flyby then contacted Thales in Belfast - where the LMM is designed and manufactured - to explore the possibility of firing it from JACKAL in a trial. Thales accepted the challenge, eager to demonstrate for the first time that the LLM could be fired from a drone platform.

“One of the unique selling points of LMM is its ability to be integrated onto multiple platforms, including armoured vehicles, helicopters, naval vessels or indeed, shoulder-launchers, each designed to address different threats,” said Philip McBride, managing director of Thales in Northern Ireland.

“It has been a privilege to work with the Flyby team on this time-compressed and ground-breaking trial and has proved that both Thales and Flyby can produce impressive and agile results when focussed on a collective, shared objective.”

The JACKAL team is now working on plans for productionising the capability whilst the aircraft undergoes further development.