Kratos Defense and Security Solutions’ XQ-58 Valkyrie unmanned “loyal wingman” combat aircraft is scheduled to make its maiden flight next week, Reuters reported citing company officials.
The drone is designed to fly alongside a crewed fighter aircraft in combat and act as its “loyal wingman”. It will be able to deploy weapons or surveillance systems. The aircraft’s design features stealth technology with a trapezoidal fuselage with a chined edge, V-tails, and an S-shaped air intake.
The development of the drone is supported by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). This joint effort falls within the AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio, which has the objective to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie is similar to the newest unmanned aerial platform unveiled by American defence major, Boeing at the Australian International Airshow 2019, dubbed the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. The Australian government has announced A$40 million ($28.53M) of funding for the system, in addition to an undisclosed amount from Boeing. The aircraft is expected to make its first flight next year.
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’s F-35 Lightning II given their different costs and capabilities.
The price of Valkyrie is reportedly around $2-3 million while the Boeing’s offering is expected to cost around $8-10 million.
“We are not going after the market that Boeing is. This is a different market,” he said. “I don’t think that people are going to buy 1,000 of those. 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.”
The Valkyrie has a longer range than Boeing’s planned 2,000 nautical miles. It is smaller and rather than using runways, launches like a rocket and lands with a parachute.
Kratos has spent more than $30 million on the Valkyrie, designed to be “attritable,” meaning it could be considered expendable 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.