The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is rethinking its approach to future uncrewed aircraft and how they might augment the F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon fighters. The service has been exploring various concepts in a program named Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA). As a first practical step, it let a contract for a flying demonstrator named Mosquito Protector to a consortium consisting of Spirit Aerosystems and Northrop Grumman.
The RAF terminated that contract recently, at the critical design review stage. “We have learned and gained a huge amount from our Mosquito program around digital design and novel manufacturing techniques,” Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston told the Global Air & Space Chiefs’ Conference in London last week. “We’ve decided that our focus now should be on systems that can be operationalized much more quickly, and that is why we have drawn the Mosquito program to a close.”
The RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) directs the LANCA program, and Wigston said that the RAF will launch a series of industry competitions later this year for scalable unscrewed systems, culminating in an operational fly-off to get them into service faster.
An officer in the RCO told AIN that two-thirds of the budget for Project Mosquito remains unspent. He said that the focus would now center on exploring UAS that fit somewhere between what he termed Category 1 (expendable airframes) and Category 2 (attritable airframes). There is also a Category 3, which is survivable, presumably indicating a larger airframe with stealth and other advanced technology.
But, he cautioned, there remain “fundamental challenges” relating to concepts of operation. Furthermore, he said that the RCO is aware of industrial challenges, such as the possible reluctance of combat airframe primes to release their software to companies providing LANCA-type air vehicles, to enable the necessary networking.