The UK’s first fleet of uncrewed fighter aircraft is one step closer to becoming reality with the announcement of a £30m contract to design and manufacture a prototype.
More than 100 jobs in Belfast will be supported by the three-year deal, the Ministry of Defence said.
The aircraft, known as 'MOSQUITO', will be designed to fly alongside fighter jets at high speed, armed with missiles, surveillance and electronic warfare technology to give an advantage on the battlefield.
Known as a 'loyal wingman', the aircraft will be the UK's first uncrewed platforms capable of targeting and shooting down enemy aircraft and surviving against surface to air missiles.
Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast has been selected to lead Team MOSQUITO in the next phase of the project. The team will develop the designs and create a technology demonstrator.
This could build evidence for a broader Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) programme for the RAF, which could lead to uncrewed aircraft being deployed alongside Typhoon and F-35 aircraft by the end of the decade.
LANCA could also be part of the Tempest project in the coming decades.
A full-scale vehicle flight-test programme for Team MOSQUITO is expected by the end of 2023.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, said: "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."
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: "This is fantastic news and underlines the distinct strengths in Northern Ireland's economy, through its advanced engineering and manufacturing capabilities.
"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."
Cover image: A computer-generated image of a future uncrewed combat aircraft (Picture: MOD).