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UK awards contract for advanced uncrewed fighter aircraft prototype

5th February 2021

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has placed a £30-million contract with a consortium of aerospace companies, led by Spirit AeroSystems Belfast (a British subsidiary of major US aerospace group Spirit AeroSystems), for the development of an advanced technology high-speed uncrewed fighter aircraft prototype for the country’s Royal Air Force (RAF). The programme is designated the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (Lanca).

The Lanca programme was launched in 2015 within the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). It forms part of the UK’s Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative and is intended to use new and innovative technologies and concepts to significantly cut development time and costs. The programme falls under the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office, with the project management of, and technical authority for, the Lanca vested in the Dstl.

The Spirit Aerosystems Belfast-led consortium includes Northrop Grumman UK (also a British subsidiary of a major US aerospace and defence group) and is called Team Mosquito. (The named recalls the renowned Second World War British multirole combat aircraft, the De Havilland Mosquito, as well as the biting insect.)

“This is fantastic news and underlines the distinct strengths in Northern Ireland’s economy, through its advanced engineering and manufacturing capabilities,” highlighted Secretary of State (Cabinet Minister) for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis. “This ground-breaking project will involve significant investment which will not only support local employment, but also reinforce Northern Ireland’s contribution to the security of our nation.”

Team Mosquito, in cooperation with other partners across the UK, will use the latest techniques in software development, plus expertise in civil aerospace engineering and manufacturing, to dramatically cut development costs and times. The aim is to develop an aircraft capable of being upgraded quickly, easily and affordably.

“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,” averred Defence Procurement Minister (equivalent to a Deputy Minister in South Africa) Jeremy Quin. “The £30-million project will accelerate the development of the UK’s future air power by delivering cutting-edge uncrewed aircraft, maintaining our position as a world leader in emerging technologies.”

The prototype is scheduled to be flown in 2023, with a full-scale flight test programme due to start by the end of that year. Data gathered from the development, construction and operation of the prototype will be used to further develop the Lanca concept. The ultimate aim is to produce an uncrewed high-performance combat aircraft capable of undertaking air-to-air, air-to-ground, reconnaissance and electronic warfare missions, alongside the RAF’s crewed Typhoon, F-35B and later Tempest combat aircraft. It would also be easy and affordable to upgrade with new technologies.

Lanca will be the first British uncrewed aircraft designed and intended to engage in air-to-air combat and to survive in the presence of hostile surface-to-air missiles.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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