Military lab to oversee development of ‘novel’ drones for RAF

Updated: Aug 8, 2019



The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) will be working with the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office to develop a novel unmanned combat aircraft for military use.


The Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) is intended to be deployed alongside fighter jets like the Typhoon and F-35. It could offer additional capabilities, and lend increased protection, survivability and information to the manned aircraft. Eventually, the LANCA could form part of an entirely unmanned combat air fleet.


LANCA reportedly originated in 2015 studies at DSTL to assess combat air technologies which could offer reductions in cost and development time, and was later brought into the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office as part of the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative. In a notable break with standard approaches to developing and deploying combat air systems, this concept aims to provide dramatic reductions in cost and development timeline.


Under LANCA, a technology demonstrator project named ‘Mosquito’ has awarded contracts to teams led by Blue Bear, Boeing, and Callen-Lenz for the first phase of the work, which will continue for 12 months. This phase will involve producing initial system designs for a drone, and assessing key areas of risk and cost trade-offs. It will also include the exploration of design, development, prototyping, manufacture, and support, to enable the more efficient development of the drone systems.



The second and final phase of Project Mosquito will use up to two of the designs for further development, including complete manufacturing of technology demonstrator. Initial flight tests of the demonstrator drone could take place in 2022.


According to a government statement, the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office will be adopting ‘creative approaches’ to delivering the project, such as by conducting a competition between suppliers to assess the best concepts. Subject matter experts from within the Ministry of Defence (MOD) have been assigned as technical partners to each team to offer advice.


Recently, it was announced that the MOD would spend £10m on a contract to develop hypersonic propulsion systems, potentially enabling the UK’s fighter fleet to travel through air at five times the speed of sound.


At last week’s Royal International Air Tattoo Show, the European aerospace giant Airbus presented a concept aircraft inspired by the anatomy of birds. The ‘Bird of Prey’ concept aircraft - which is not expected to be built - is hybrid electric, and features feathered wingtips.