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DARPA Aerial Turducken the LongShot still cooking towards 2022 milestone

Preliminary designs reviews for the mothership drone, to be launched from an aircraft before firing its own missiles, are planned for mid-2022.

By Lee Ferran on November 24, 2021 at 1:27 PM

LongShot drone illustration. (DARPA)

WASHINGTON: As families gather around their dinner tables this Thanksgiving, a few of those tables will host a true culinary monstrosity: the turducken.

For the lucky uninitiated, a turducken is a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey. It’s also known as a Three Bird Roast, and yes, people eat it. And during a slow news week, the concept of the turducken reminded Breaking Defense to check in on the US military’s own, much deadlier equivalent, the LongShot concept currently under development by contractors working for the mad scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The LongShot effort was “initiated” in February and was described at the time by DARPA as an “air-launched Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) with the ability to employ multiple air-to-air weapons.” In other words, a plane launches the LongShot mothership, which in turn launches its own air-to-air missiles. The mothership could be sized to be carried by fighter jets and bombers.

So yes, in the spirit of the holiday: if a ground-based missile is a chicken, the LongShot is a turducken.

“The objective is to develop a novel UAV that can significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft,” the February DARPA announcement says. “It is envisioned that LongShot will increase the survivability of manned platforms by allowing them to be at standoff ranges far away from enemy threats, while an air-launched LongShot UAV efficiently closes the gap to take more effective missile shots.”

But, like the turducken, these kinds of complicated designs take time, and DARPA is still years away from the first LongShot prototype flight.

“The designs continue to mature toward a Phase I preliminary design review and work to-date supports the feasibility of the LongShot concept,” DARPA LongShot program manager Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun told Breaking Defense this week.

DARPA spokesperson Randolph Atkins added that the agency initially envisioned flight tests starting no earlier than fiscal 2024 and that “remains true.” The next milestone, preliminary design reviews, should happen by the end of the summer in 2022.

Defense giants General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were all selected in February to provide preliminary designs, and the Navy and Air Force could be the eventual customers. Those contractors are still engaged, DARPA said.

DARPA budget documents show the agency planned to spend $24 million on the project in 2021 and another $36 million next year. Those unclassified documents, published in May, said that in fiscal 2022 DARPA hopes to undertake wind tunnel and missile separation tests before completing a critical design review.

Speaking of which, Breaking Defense would encourage all turducken chefs to engage in their own critical design review before serving such a thing. Is this feasible? Is it worth the cost (in calories)? Most importantly, will the customer be satisfied? If the answer is yes, get to stuffing. Happy Thanksgiving.

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