The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle (UAV) completed its inaugural flight on 5 March at the Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona.
The US Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems to develop the XQ-58A.
This joint effort falls within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio, which has the objective to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft, the US Air Force said.
The objectives of the LCAAT initiative include designing and building UAS faster by developing better design tools, and maturing and leveraging commercial manufacturing processes to reduce build time and cost.
Developed for runway independence, the aircraft behaved as expected and completed 76 minutes of flight time. The time to first flight took a little over 2.5 years from contract award. The XQ-58A has a total of five planned test flights in two phases with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems.
“XQ-58A is the first example of a class of UAV that is defined by low procurement and operating costs while providing game changing combat capability,” said Doug Szczublewski, AFRL’s XQ-58A Program Manager.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie developed by Kratos, a market leader in target drones, 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 new rival unmanned system aircraft could accompany an advanced fighter jet like a Lockheed Martin F-35 given their different costs and capabilities.
“Our whole plan is to extend the mission capability sets of exquisite fighters. That is what we want to do both in range and capabilities and affordability.”
Defense contractors are investing more in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for cheaper and safer ways to maximize their resources.
The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in the United States said last year that the U.S. Air Force should explore pairing crewed and uncrewed aircraft to expand its fleet and complement a limited number of “exquisite, expensive, but highly potent fifth-generation aircraft” like the F-35.
Kratos has spent more than $30 million on the Valkyrie, designed to be “attritable,” meaning it could be considered expandable in some situations.
The U.S. Air Force has also invested in the demonstrator, Herro said, estimating a formal purchase tender could be issued in the next two years.