The US Air Force Research Laboratory has contracted Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to build prototypes of swarming, low-cost cruise missiles under the Gray Wolf programme.

The AFRL awarded two contracts worth $110 million each to Lockheed and Northrop to cover the development and flight test costs for the subsonic cruise missiles.

The goal is achieve a design that use use swarms of Gray Wolf missiles to defeat the integrated air defence systems that pose an increasing hazard to manned fighters and bombers.

The spiral development effort will create multiple variants equipped with different payloads. The air force plans to fly Gray Wolf with other weapon systems, according to a broad agency announcement released earlier this year.

Under the Gray Wolf demonstration, AFRL will examine whether innovative manufacturing practices can produce low-cost missiles at low quantities without long-lead times. AFRL will also test the missile’s ability to work in a collaborative formation.

AFRL has released few details about the Gray Wolf project, describing the concept broadly as a “modular platform intended to advance multiple low-cost precision strike technologies”, the service tells FlightGlobal in an email.

“It is a ‘modularity truck’ to mature technologies ranging from advanced turbine engines to networked, collaborative, cooperative communication between air platforms,” Col Garry Haase, director of AFRL munitions directorate says in a statement.