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RCO defends Project Mosquito cancellation, claiming investment stopped making sense

4th July 2022 - 16:00 GMT | by Tim Martin in Belfast


Concept art showing the UK's Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (Image: UK MoD)

Despite the UK MoD awarding Spirit Aerosystems a Project Mosquito Phase 2 design and development contract for a low-cost, uncrewed fighter aircraft valued at £30 million, the project has been cancelled without a demonstrator being built.

The Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) in the UK RAF has told Shephard that the surprising decision to cancel Project Mosquito was based on continued investment in the effort no longer making ‘a huge amount of sense’.

Targeted at developing a low-cost, UK-made uncrewed fighter aircraft, Project Mosquito would have seen a Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) demonstrator, designed by lead contractor Spirit Aerosystems Belfast and partners Northrop Grumman and Intrepid Minds, make its first flight in 2023.

However, following a detailed review, the MoD abruptly ended those plans when it announced on 24 June that the project will not move beyond a design phase. 

‘We got to the stage where the challenges within Mosquito, to a degree, and the changing [operational] context for such continued investment didn’t make a huge amount of sense,’ said Wg Cdr Colin Welsh, head of military systems in the RCO. 

‘We made the difficult decision, which defence is often criticised for not doing, which is to decide that this is not the direction we should be going in right now. Let's focus our resources and effort into something that delivers the relevant needs to the warfighter more quickly and in a more agile way.’

The main considerations that informed the cancellation decision were the operational relevance of the proposed design, the projected time to delivery of the demonstrator and how ‘easy’ it would be to turn the capabilities offered by the demonstrator into future frontline capabilities, according to Welsh.

In a statement, Sir Michael Ryan, VP, European Space & Defence and Government Affairs at Spirit AeroSystems UK, said: 'Together with our industry partners, Northrop Grumman UK and Intrepid Minds, Spirit AeroSystems has focused on capturing knowledge and generating evidence, within a very challenging timeframe, to help inform a key decision for the Ministry of Defence (MoD).' 

‘We made the difficult decision, which defence is often criticised for not doing'Wg Cdr Colin Welsh, RAF Rapid Capabilities Office

He added: 'The team’s breadth of industry expertise across advanced composites manufacturing, mission management systems, and avionics and software has contributed to significant insight and substantial savings for the MoD. We have no doubt that the accrued learning will continue to deliver benefit for UK defence and we anticipate many opportunities to further develop our relationship with the MoD.'

Welsh revealed, however, that the LANCA demonstrator had still to be built despite Spirit receiving a £30 million Project Mosquito Phase 2 design and development contract in January 2021.

‘We stopped Phase 2 at the end of the material design phase, so there was no physical demonstrator built,’ he said.

Upon awarding the Phase 2 contract, the UK MoD had gone so far as to say that a final LANCA aircraft design would provide 'optimum protection, survivability and information as it flies alongside Typhoon, F-35 Lightning, and later, Tempest as part of our Future Combat Air System [FCAS]'. 

Even so, Welsh claimed that cancelling Project Mosquito will not affect the RAF's ambitions to design, develop and operate loyal wingman or uncrewed adjunct aircraft.

‘There are other platforms out there that offer category two [loyal wingman] performance with varying degrees of maturity so whether or not they can be operationally relevant against a timescale that meets what the RCO has been tasked to do [has to be evaluated further],’ he explained.

Welsh added: ‘Through experimentation within defence, [including] the army and the navy, we do now know the range of capabilities that can be placed on to smaller [uncrewed] platforms.’

Referring to the war in Ukraine, Welsh also suggested it is possible to acquire newer uncrewed systems with a ‘completely different price point’ compared to larger platforms, and with a ‘completely different’ approach to airworthiness and certification.

He said that Project Mosquito was ‘all about’ the positioning of low-cost uncrewed systems on a ‘cost capability curve.’

As Shephard previously reported, the RAF also has plans to develop a loyal wingman demonstrator under the multinational FCAS programme that is anticipated to include industry partners from the UK, Italy and Sweden.

Welsh said he could not comment on any such plans however as the RCO is not directly involved in the FCAS Technology Initiative.

‘There are real differences between a Category 2 aircraft and an adjunct capability that is designed from the outset as part of a system of systems [approach] as FCAS envisages,’ he acknowledged. ‘They are two really different propositions, offering different levels of capability, different levels of integration challenge and vastly different levels of cost.’   

Tim Martin


Tim Martin

Tim Martin is Air Editor for Shephard Media, based in Belfast. 

Tim has experience writing …

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