The U.S. Air Force on Dec. 7 awarded more than $76 million to Kratos [KTOS], Boeing [BA], and General Atomics to build Skyborg prototypes and fly them in teaming with manned aircraft.

Kratos received nearly $37.8 million, Boeing $25.7 million, and General Dynamics $14.3 million.

The Air Force said that it expects to receive the first prototypes by next May for initial flight tests and to begin experimentation in July.

The Air Force launched Skyborg in May in an effort to field an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven system to be a “quarterback in the sky” for manned aircraft. Skyborg is one of the service’s three “Vanguard” programs, which are the service’s top science and technology priorities and are meant to demonstrate the rapid viability of emerging technology (Defense Daily, Nov. 21, 2019).

Air Force Brig. Gen. Dale White, the service’s program executive officer for fighters and advanced aircraft, said in a Dec. 7 statement that the Skyborg prototype awards to Kratos, Boeing, and General Atomics are a “major step forward for our game-changing Skyborg capability,” as “operational experimentation is truly where concepts become realities.”

“We will experiment to prove out this technology and to do that we will aggressively test and fly to get this capability into the hands of our warfighters,” he said.

13 entrants have been competing for up to $400 million in contracts under Skyborg. In addition to Kratos, Boeing, and General Atomics, the competitors are Lockheed Martin [LMT], BAE Systems [BAESY], Northrop Grumman [NOC], AeroVironment, Inc., Blue Force Technologies, Inc.Fregata Systems LLCAutonodyne LLCNextGen Aeronautic Inc., Sierra Technical Services Inc., and Wichita State University,

Skyborg is to develop a family of attritable aircraft systems with a common AI backbone that can train alongside manned aircraft and eventually help complete tasks, fly ahead of Air Force pilots in non-permissive environments, and frustrate adversaries.

AFRL has used Kratos’ XQ-58A Valkyrie as an example of what the Skyborg prototype could look like.