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DARPA's New Combat Drones Could Catch a Ride from Other Aircraft

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This Reaper drone is armed with a AIM-9X Block 2 missile.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last week announced the LongShot project to develop an unmanned aircraft able to launch its own air-to-air weapon.

Credit: Senior Airman Haley Stevens /U.S. Air Force

Imagine an unmanned aircraft that is able to launch its own air-to-air weapon. That agile machine would itself first deploy from a bigger, crewed airplane, meaning that the entire system would involve missiles inside a drone that detaches from an airplane—like airborne Russian nesting dolls. This is the idea behind the aptly-named LongShot project, which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, announced last week.

Details about the project are scant, but here's what we know about it.

DARPA said in a news release that the purpose was to create a new craft "that can significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft."

In other words, the system is a type of "standoff" weapon—just like a B-52 bomber deploying a cruise missile while flying outside an adversary's airspace, it's an approach that keeps an aircraft and its crew far away from enemy air defenses.

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