Concept art for loyal wingman

‘Loyal wingman’ autonomous combat aircraft to be produced in Belfast

Image credit: Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright

The UK government has invested £30m in the design and manufacture of a new unpiloted combat aircraft, which will be known as the ‘loyal wingman’.

The new aircraft will be designed to fly at high speed alongside Typhoon, F-35 Lightning and eventually Tempest planes. It will be equipped with missiles and unspecified surveillance and electronic warfare technology to “provide a battle-winning advantage” over opponents. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that it will be the UK’s first unpiloted aircraft to be able to target and shoot down enemy aircraft and survive surface-to-air missiles.

Belfast-based Spirit AeroSystems will lead 'Team Mosquito' in the next phase of the project. The MoD said that the three-year contract to design and manufacture the prototype 'loyal wingman' alone would support more than 100 jobs. 

“This is a great win for the Northern Ireland defence industry and will showcase some of the most pioneering engineering work currently being undertaken in the UK,” Jeremy Quin, defence minister, commented. “The £30m project will accelerate the development of the UK’s future airpower by delivering cutting-edge uncrewed aircraft, maintaining our position as a world leader in emerging technologies.”

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis added: “This is fantastic news and underlines the distinct strengths in Northern Ireland’s economy, through its advanced engineering and manufacturing capacities.”

Team Mosquito will develop the RAF’s 'Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft' concept, aiming for a full-scale flight test programme by the end of 2023.

According to a government statement, Project Mosquito will take an unconventional approach to development, bringing on board the latest software engineering techniques and civilian aerospace engineering and manufacturing expertise. This is intended to result in “dramatic” reductions in costs and timeline and will ensure that the aircraft will be capable of being efficiently updated with the latest technology.

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, chief of the air staff, added: “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.”

Richard Berthon, director of future air combat, said: “Project Mosquito is a vital element of our approach to future air combat, rapidly bringing to life design, build and test skills for next-generation combat air capabilities. 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.”

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