North Carolina’s Blue Force Technologies said on Jan. 25 that it has ground tested a “novel carbon fiber composite propulsion flowpath system” for the small business’ Fury unmanned fighter under AFRL’s Bandit program, which seeks to develop fifth-generation drones to serve as adversary air trainers for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Last March, AFRL awarded Blue Force Technologies an up to $9 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) initial contract for Fury design maturation/engine ground testing. The contract included options to finish the design and build of up to four Fury drones.

Blue Force Technologies said that it is maturing the Fury “high-performance uncrewed 5th generation fighter design that provides replication of pacing threats at a fraction of the cost of a crewed fighter.”

Scott Bledsoe, the president of Blue Force Technologies, said in a Jan. 25 statement that “on an uncrewed fighter like Fury, proper integration of the propulsion flowpath is the most significant design driver for the overall vehicle.”

“It was crucial to us to demonstrate, prior to building flight test aircraft, that we could correctly predict the interaction between the propulsion flowpath components and the Williams International engine,” he said.

“The air vehicle technology developed under Bandit supports uncrewed adversary air training objectives relevant to the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and can be adapted for other Autonomous Collaborative Platform (ACP) mission areas,” per Blue Force Technologies. “The Bandit program further demonstrates the impact that small businesses can have in the defense industrial base.”

AFRL said last March that its requirements development, design, analysis, and build work with Blue Force Technologies under SBIR for drone adversary air began in 2019. Blue Force Technologies was also an entrant in the Air Force’s Skyborg competition.

AFRL said that it has been coordinating the Bandit program with Air Combat Command (ACC) at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and that ACC Commander Gen. Mark Kelly “addressed the need for alternate approaches to costly adversary air sorties at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Life Cycle Industry Days in August 2021.”

Alyson Turri, the Bandit program manager at AFRL, said in Blue Force Technologies’ Jan. 25 statement that Bandit “is about demonstrating ever tighter model-to-hardware prototype development cycles for autonomous collaborative platforms, and this integrated propulsion flowpath test is indicative of that approach.”

“After making the engine selection in June 2022, the AFRL and Blue Force Technologies team worked to finalize test objectives and procedures concurrently with Blue Force’s hardware build to ensure this full-scale test came together in under six months,” she said.

The Air Force’s adversary air program has had F-16 Aggressors, T-38A/Bs, units’ own aircraft used for training, air support contracts with companies, and, since last June, F-35As in the reestablished 65th Aggressors Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev. (Defense Daily, May 18, 2022).

Kelly has also said that Air Force flight training to counter Chinese and Russian air threats will require a greatly enhanced use of simulators.

Despite upgrades to Air Force ranges to train for such threats, “there is no level of fiscal investment that would enable a physical range expansion to replicate the size and scope of an Asia-Pacific fight, and there is no level of fiscal investment that would let me legally replicate the contested electromagnetic spectrum of communications jamming, radar jamming, and GPS jamming that a peer adversary would transmit into a contested region,” Kelly said last year (Defense Daily, March 9, 2022).

“There are also limits to the amount of high-end adversary air that I can generate to challenge our aircrews,” he said. “To that end, we have to take our toughest combat challenges into the synthetic, simulator environment. All roads to Desert Storm led to the Nellis test and training range and Red Flag. The dynamics of modern conflict and the limits of our physical range infrastructure mean that all roads to peer competition and conflict will go through our virtual test and training center and other synthetic training environments.”

The Air Force has aimed to conduct 90,000 training sorties per year without contractor support by 2030 (Defense Daily, Dec. 23, 2021).