In the study of military solutions it is now a tendency to extend the combat range of aircraft, and to keep human operators out of danger. And in this sense, Elon Musk's recent statements about the future of air combat have more than a grain of truth.
DARPA has just begun development of new combat drones equipped with missiles. Called longshot, the unmanned aircraft is intended to be launched directly from the air from a carrier vehicle. The US agency relied on the services of three defense contractors to get the program off the ground.
Like drones Gremlin (also from DARPA) currently in development, the LongShot program will hopefully result in an unmanned combat drones that help keep valuable aircraft and their pilots out of harm's way. And this is part of the US military's strategy to integrate their fighter aircraft fleets with unmanned systems.
"The LongShot program changes the paradigm of aerial combat operations with unmanned air-launched combat drones capable of employing current and advanced air-to-air weapons," says DARPA program manager, Lt. Colonel. Paul Calhoun. "LongShot will break traditional incremental weapon enhancements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability."
It wasn't a linear path, anyway. To kick off the LongShot program, DARPA awarded contracts to the largest players in the industry. General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman were only involved in the preliminary design work. As the program progresses, the goal is obviously to develop and test the system on a large scale in flight, including demonstrating its ability to fire weapons under operational conditions. Another step towards the "automatic" warfare.