Valkyrie combat drone to fly soon

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Kratos Defence and Security Solutions Inc expects its $2-3 million unmanned “loyal wingman” combat jet to make its first flight test next week, an executive said.

Rival Boeing this week unveiled a model of a larger Australian developed drone designed for the same mission: flying alongside crewed aircraft in combat.

Boeing declined to disclose the sales price, but defence industry sources said it was expected to cost around $8 million to $10 million. That aircraft is expected to make its first flight next year.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie developed by Kratos, a market leader in target drones, has a longer range than Boeing’s planned 2,000 nautical miles. It is smaller and rather than runways, launches like a rocket and lands with a parachute.

Jeff Herro, Kratos’s senior vice president for business development, said he could see scenarios where both the Valkyrie and Boeing’s aircraft could accompany an advanced fighter jet like a Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 given the different costs and capabilities.

“We are not going after the market that Boeing is. This is a different market,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to buy 1,000 of those. Our plan is to extend the mission capability sets of exquisite fighters. That is what we want to do in range, capabilities and affordability.”

Defence contractors are investing more in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for cheaper and safer ways to maximise resources.

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in the United States said last year the US Air Force should explore pairing crewed and unmanned aircraft to expand its fleet and complement a limited number of “exquisite, expensive, but potent fifth-generation aircraft” like the F-35.

The Australian government announced A$40 million ($28.53 million) of funding for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, in addition to an undisclosed amount from Boeing.

Pentagon weighs F-35 plan to pick off rockets

Kratos spent more than $30 million on the Valkyrie, designed to be “attritable,” meaning it could be considered expendable in some situations.

The US Air Force has invested in the demonstrator, Herro said, estimating a formal purchase tender could be issued in the next two years.