• The Merge
  • Posts
  • 🔷 Collaborative Combat Aircraft

🔷 Collaborative Combat Aircraft

If you’re new around here, welcome to the club!

The ROE here is simple: Read→Learn→Share.
BONUS: When you use your referral links to spread the word you’ll earn free merch!

 💥 Someone in the US has no idea that this is their last weekend with all 10 fingers.

Collaborative Combat Aircraft

The Air Force is making a big bet on its future with a program called Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA).

These so-called ‘loyal wingmen’ promise the allure of affordable, capable mass by combining cost-efficient air vehicles with exquisite autonomy—and doing it fast. The Air Force expects to buy 100+ CCAs by 2029, with an overarching goal of fielding 1,000+ CCAs and realizing the program’s goal of cost-effective scalability.

To dig into this, we went straight to the source and pulled together an exclusive interview with Anduril and General Atomics—the 2 companies selected to build the first air vehicles.

We discuss hardware, software, program structure, competitive advantages, and the challenges of integrating CCAs into the Air Force at the service's desired timeline.

While there was a ton to agree on, they also shared unique and varying perspectives—something that you can only get when you have them in a discussion together.

This is an episode you don’t want to miss!

Check it out!
In That Number

51.9 percent

The US Air Force F-35A fleet had a 51.9 percent mission-capable rate last year.

For context, the goal is 80 percent, and the closest the fleet got to that was in 2020 when it achieved a 71.4 percent mission-capable rate.


What is this and what was it used for?

A) an aerial gunnery target for fighter pilots to practice
B) a reflective coating flying test bed
C) a target surrogate for airborne laser testing

On the Radar

DARPA revealed a new flying wing drone. The XRQ-73 is DARPA-unique in that it features a hybrid electric propulsion from the SHEPARD (Series Hybrid Electric Propulsion AiR Demonstration) program. It builds on the XRQ-72 "Great Horned Owl" project with the goal of using hybrid propulsion for low noise-signature ISR collection. Scaled Composites is doing the work under Northrop Grumman.

  • The Merge’s Take: There’s a lot going on here beyond the tech. This is a Group 3-class drone, meaning it lives in the 56 to 1,320-lb weight class. That’s a huge swath, but almost all current Group 3 drones live in the <250lb for logistical reasons connected to their use cases. The XRQ-73 breaks that paradigm because it weighs a whopping 1,250 pounds. The other uniqueness: the program’s goal is to be operationally representative and rapidly fieldable—things DARPA typically does not do.


New direct-to-cell satellite tech could disrupt billion-dollar military SATCOM programs. This tech uses phone signals (4G, 5G, etc.) connected to both terrestrial networks and satellite constellations. Traditional military SATCOM programs, such as the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) and Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), involve extensive ground infrastructure, expensive user terminals, and a few high-cost satellites. The ability to connect directly to satellites could reduce these costs, improve connectivity resilience, and help connect more people to the intel they need to decide and act.

  • The Merges Take: The tech has a ways to go before it replaces military SATCOM, but keep an eye on this over the next few years. Commercial competition is a proven catalyst for rapid innovation and product improvement. Given who’s in this race right now, it's going to be fun to watch. Companies like Iridium and Lynk Global (backed by Alex Rodriguez of Yankees’ lore) are going it alone, but keep an eye on the partnership face-off: Verizon and AT&T are joining forces with AST SpaceMobile to take on T-Mobile and Starlink.

The Army used a Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) to strike a moving maritime target during a recent exercise in the Pacific. PrSM is a 250+ mile ballistic missile that will replace the venerable ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) over the next few years and will be fielded in 4 increments. Increment 1 is expected to go into full-rate production next year, with Increment 2 fielding in 2028.

  • The Merge’s Take: The Army is deadly serious about transforming itself into a multi-domain force—and it started long before you might think. The seeker used in this live-fire test is officially called the Land-Based Anti-Ship Missile (LBASM). It’s been in development since 2015, has been on flying test beds since 2020, and was transferred to the PrSM program for integration late last year. The seeker was initially planned to field with Increment 1, but the Army lacked the funding to align it with the initial PrSM production contract. Instead, it will field with Increment 2 production in 2026—unless someone can shake the money tree to accelerate fielding.

  • The Merge’s Spicy Take: We said it before, but we’ll say it again: PrSM is replacing ATACMS, which was originally called JTACMS (J for Joint) and designed to be ground-launched by the Army and air-launched by the Air Force. It might be time to dust off this concept and spend some R&D money to experiment with adapting PrSM for the F-15EX and B-52J. It would be the perfect program for the Strategic Capabilities Office

They Said It
“Regardless of the amount of autonomy that is in a system that’s ISR-based, if it wasn’t a fighter pilot that was a part of the situation, it’s not something they will have learned. So now the fighter pilot community is going to get to go learn something and internalize it. Most of the other parts of the Air Force community are going to be like: ‘Yeah, we knew that.’”

John Clark, head of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, throwing shade at the Air Force’s fighter pilot community and Project Venom, a small test fleet of F-16s being modified to host autonomy.

Knowledge Bombs

🎁Earn Free Merch!🎁 

Hey. Don't keep us a secret!
Share the Merge = earn free swag. It's that simple.

You currently have 0 referrals, only 3 away from receiving Stickers.

C. This is an NKC-135 painted with a black nose and a white ballistic missile silhouette and served as a target surrogate for the 747-based YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed. If you read last week’s feature on airborne lasers, you knew that already 😉