NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.–Seeking to demonstrate low cost, innovative capabilities to deliver surveillance and lethality at stand-off ranges using existing systems, AeroVironment [AVAV] and Kratos Defense & Security Systems [KTOS] have teamed to integrate their tactical unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and strike weapons into larger UAS for use in complex battle environments.

Initially, the companies plan to demonstrate launch, communications and control of tube-launched tactical UAS supplied by AeroVironment from Kratos’ “mothership,” jet-powered UAS, passing information back to a ground control station or using it to modify the mission.

The development effort between the two companies began in late 2018 and they expect to conduct flight-tests either in the fourth quarter of 2019 or first quarter of 2020 to demonstrate the capability to potential customers, Steve Fendley, president of Kratos’ Unmanned Systems Division, told Defense Daily here at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference.

Switchblade tube-launched tactical missile. Photo: Courtesy of AeroVironment

The integration is being internally funded by the two companies, which hope potential customers see the value in the system of systems capability they’re developing even though there isn’t a requirement at the moment.

“We both have a vision for opportunity,” Fendley said. “I think we have elements of kind of the Silicon Valley approach and on some of the lower cost systems where we do think we can bend the cost curve we’ve taken a strategic plan that says, ‘We’re going to spend a little bit of internal money. We think there’s an application here. We’re going to put it together. We’re going to demonstrate it, because together, we can do that very, very quickly. Once we show what that capability set is. Either that whole capability set or some elements of that will be attractive to a DoD user and we’ll capitalize on it at that point.’”

“Our business model has been to put a lot of internal investment up front, turn the customer’s head, and get them to understand what’s capable with today’s technology, and I think in a lot of cases they’re surprised,” Adam MacDonald, director of Business Development at AeroVironment’s Tactical Missile Systems, said in the interview.

Kratos’ MQM-178 Firejet aerial target. Photo: Kratos

Fendley and MacDonald said that initially the integration will consist of Kratos’ MQM-178 Firejet aerial target and AeroVironment’s Switchblade tactical missile. The Firejet can carry multiple tube-launched tactical missiles and UAS.

Eventually, the plan would be to integrate the tactical systems on larger Kratos unmanned systems such as the MAKO, which can carry “many” tactical systems and the Valkyrie, which can carry “10s to hundreds” of the smaller systems, Fendley said.

With larger numbers of tactical systems, the integrated solution complicates the environment for adversaries and can make it more expensive for them to operate, the officials said.

“And really what that’s all about is trying to overwhelm the adversary with things that are inexpensive enough to really bend the cost curve or their calculus of trying to keep us at bay,” MacDonald said. “If you run a bunch of stuff at their systems, you can really make them trade their systems for lower cost things that aren’t worth their trade.”

MacDonald said that a tactical system could be made to appear as something else to an adversary.

“If the enemy were to shoot one of their expensive anti-aircraft missiles at a Switchblade, that’s a good deal for us,” he said. “You’ve won that battle.”