Spirit AeroSystems was selected to develop and manufacture a prototype of the UK's loyal wingman drone.

The company was awarded a three-year, £30 million contract to start the development at its branch located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

According to the plan, the prototype of the drone should be flying by 2023, with a mass-produced version adopted by Royal Air Force (RAF) by the end of the decade.

So far there is no official designation for the aircraft, although its development program is called Project Mosquito. According to the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), Northrop Grumman UK is also working on the project.

The new drone will aim at accompanying RAF’s fighter jets into battle, supporting them with surveillance, air-to-ground and air-to-air capabilities, while relying on artificial intelligence (AI) and commands from crewed aircraft. One of its main selling points should be its low cost, which allows an air force to wield swarms of such drones, and sacrifice them if necessary. Mosquito is also said to be largely modular, being easy to upgrade and adapt to mission requirements.

RAF calls this concept Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA). In addition to flying alongside current Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, it is going to be an integral part of the Tempest program – UK’s 6th generation fighter jet which is currently under development, and is planned to employ an array of loyal wingmen drones.

Three loyal wingman designs – by Boeing, Blue Bear Systems and Spirit AeroSystems – competed in the latest phase of the LANCA project. While Spirit AeroSystems emerged victorious in the UK, Boeing’s design, together with other two by Kratos and General Atomics, was selected for further development in a similar Skyborg program run by the United States Air Force. 

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A swarm of small, fast, cockpitless fighter jets are flying in a tight circle around an F-22 Raptor, reacting to its every move, waiting for a command. They will scout ahead, attack or sacrifice themselves if needed, relying on their superhuman reaction time and precision to execute manoeuvres that human pilots would never manage to do. This is the way many nations envision the air combat of the future. But why?