Valkyrie drone could accompany US fighter jets

The XO-58A Valkyrie

A recent announcement from the military describes the drone and its development: “The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The 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 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.”

The drone behaved as was expected in its 76 minutes of flight time. It took a bit more than 2.5 years from the contract award to the first test flight. A total of five test flights are planned for the drone in two phases. The tests will evaluate everything from system functionality , aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems. Doug Szczublewski the program manager for the drone said that it was the first of a class of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that had low procurement and operating costs but would provide game changing combat capability.

The drone will be able to play an electronic warfare, strike, and surveillance role on the battlefield while under control by a pilot in a manned aircraft. It can also carry a small payload of bombs. It can use a conventional runway for takeoff or be launched by a rocket.

The loyal wingman concept

Although the first tests of the drone have been alone, it is intended to play the role of what is called a “loyal wingman”. The idea is that the drone will be controlled by the pilot of the plane it flies alongside. The drone can provide extra force protection or go ahead or behind for surveillance purposes scouting terrain and on occasion even drawing fire away from the piloted plane.

The range of the drone is expected to be about 2,500 miles about the same range as existing fighters. The F16 Fighting Falcon has a range of just more than 2,600 miles while the F22 Raptor’s range is just over 1,800 miles. The two planes can travel up to 1,500 miles per hour while the Valkyrie can go only 652 miles per hour.

The loyal wingman concept could be also used to create drones for accompanying land or sea-based vehicles as well. The drone could help keep soldiers in vehicles or tanks or in warships out of harms way. The Pentagon hopes to add greater automation and AI to warfare with such new devices as autonomous submarines that could gather intelligence or clear naval mines.

The Valkyrie is relatively inexpensive

The estimated cost of the drone comes in at $2-3 million about equivalent to that of a Patriot missile. The fighters it will accompany cost more than $100 million each. It would be much cheaper to have the Valkyrie suffer a hit than its accompanying fighter with its crew.

The Pentagon has yet to commit to the Valkyrie apparently as it is one of several systems being developed such as the one shown on the appended video being developed by Boeing in Australia.

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