UK enters next stage of 'loyal wingman' project

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Over 100 jobs are to be supported in Belfast with a £30m contract to design and build an uncrewed 'loyal wingman' fighter aircraft. 

'loyal wingman'
Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast will design and manufacture a prototype supporting more than 100 jobs (Image: MoD)

Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast will lead Team Mosquito in the next phase of a project to develop the RAF’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept, with a full-scale flight-test programme expected by the end of 2023.

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According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) the uncrewed combat aircraft will be designed to fly alongside fighter jets and will be armed with missiles, surveillance and electronic warfare technology. The so-called ‘loyal wingman’ will be the UK’s first uncrewed aircraft that can target and shoot down enemy aircraft and survive against surface-to-air missiles.

In a statement, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff said: “We’re taking a revolutionary approach, looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones and uncrewed fighter aircraft like Mosquito, alongside piloted fighters like Tempest, that will transform the combat battlespace in a way not seen since the advent of the jet age.”

Team Mosquito, which includes Northrop Grumman UK, will develop the designs and manufacture a technology demonstrator to generate evidence for a follow-on LANCA programme, which originated in 2015 at the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). If successful, Project Mosquito’s findings could lead to this new aircraft being deployed alongside the Typhoon and F-35 Lightning jets by the end of the decade.

An aim of the research and development project is to ensure that the final aircraft design can be easily and affordably updated with the new technology. The MoD add ‘the aircraft’s flexibility will provide the optimum protection, survivability and information as it flies alongside Typhoon, F-35 Lightning, and upcoming Tempest as part of the UK’s future combat air system’.

“Project Mosquito is a vital element of our approach to Future Combat Air, rapidly bringing to life design, build and test skills for next-generation combat air capabilities,” said Richard Berthon, Director Future Combat Air, MoD. “Autonomous ‘loyal wingman’ aircraft create the opportunity to expand, diversify and rapidly upgrade Combat Air Forces in a cost-effective way, now and in the future.”