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UK Royal Air Force Moves Ahead With ‘Loyal Wingman’ Combat Drone

The aircraft will be capable of launching an offensive against enemy aircraft and intercepting surface-to-air missiles.

Production will soon begin on a new Royal Air Force (RAF) prototype for an unmanned high-speed combat drone following a 30 million pound ($41 million) injection from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD said the aircraft will be designed as “loyal wingmen” capable of launching an offensive against enemy aircraft or even intercepting surface-to-air missiles.

The project will “accelerate the development of the UK’s future air power, maintaining its position as a world leader in emerging technologies,” Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said in the press release.

The contract was awarded to Kansas-based aircraft manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems and includes a full-scale vehicle flight test program by 2023

Wingman Role

The highly sophisticated drones could be deployed alongside fighter jets such as the Typhoon or F-35 armed with missiles and electronic warfare technology.

The “loyal wingmen” will be fully capable of detecting enemy air defenses and will have the technology to continue on a mission even if targeted by cyber attacks.

The developers, dubbed “Team MOSQUITO,” will utilize the RAF’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept that aims to deliver dramatic reductions in the traditional development costs and timeline of unmanned combat systems. This could even provide an uncrewed combat air “fleet” in the future with a full-scale vehicle flight-test program.

“We’re looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones and uncrewed fighter aircraft like MOSQUITO, alongside piloted fighters that will transform the combat battlespace in a way not seen since the advent of the jet age,” Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston explained.

Ending the ‘Era of Retreat’

Last November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country’s biggest military investment since the Cold War, promising to end the “era of retreat” with a  £16.5 billion ($22.5 billion) spending pledge over the next four years. 

The additional 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion) of investment for military research and development will go into funding not just the new “loyal wingmen” but also ensuring that the armed forces are equipped “to meet the threats of tomorrow.”

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