Northrop Grumman Reveals LongShot Concept
Two days after DARPA named Northrop Grumman as one of three competitors for the LongShot contract, the company on Feb. 10 released an image of its concept for an air-launched unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that itself can fire multiple air-to-air intercept missiles.
Northrop will combine its skill set in digital engineering with an “extensive knowledge in advanced technology weapons, autonomous systems and strike platforms to increase weapon range and effectiveness,” said Jaime Engdahl, Northrop’s program director for kinetic weapons and emerging capabilities.
DARPA selected Northrop, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. to develop competitive designs for the LongShot program.
The LongShot concept appears similar to a previous DARPA program that involved Northrop, which was known as the Flying Missile Rail. But Northrop said that 2017 program did not directly influence the company’s proposal for a long range air-to-air engagement system.
“The real challenge that DARPA posed with LongShot was to investigate whether innovations in multimode propulsion can significantly increase the efficiency of delivering weapons at extended ranges, and whether that efficiency can provide significant advantage to our warfighters,” a Northrop spokeswoman told Aerospace DAILY.
LongShot would allow fighters and bombers to take off with air-to-air missiles attached to a powered UAS that can separate and fly far ahead of the launch aircraft. A key challenge is to complete a series of events, including finding, tracking and engaging a target at very long range with an autonomous missile launching system.
Instead of the Flying Missile Rail, Northrop pointed to the company’s experience with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Gray Wolf low-cost cruise missile program. AFRL has since restructured the program to focus on a collaborative autonomous control system for existing weapons and low-cost cruise missile propulsion, rather than invent a new cruise missile.
The Gray Wolf program challenged Northrop to adopt a new approach to agile design, weapon open system architecture, low-cost manufacturing and small turbine engines.
“The Northrop Grumman team was able to combine much of the innovation that came out of Gray Wolf with some advanced technologies to develop our LongShot solution,” the spokeswoman said.