The U.S. Air Force’s Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle (UAV) demonstrator completed its inaugural flight on March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) 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 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.
Kratos has spent more than $30 million on the Valkyrie, designed to be “attritable,” meaning it could be considered expendable in some situations. 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 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, has earlier said that 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,” Herro 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.