While a U.S. Air Force official said last week that he was uncertain whether the service’s Skyborg Vanguard research and development program for teaming low-cost attritable aircraft and manned aircraft would be ready to transition to an acquisition program of record in fiscal 2023, Kratos [KTOS] said on Aug. 17 that it will be ready to meet that timeline.
The Air Force has used the design of the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie as an example of what Skyborg drones may look like.
“Kratos remains committed to supporting our partner’s, the United States Air Force, objective of transitioning Skyborg to a program of record in 2023 with the XQ-58 Valkyrie,” Kratos CEO Eric DeMarco said in an Aug. 17 statement. “Primary stated requirements for Skyborg program drones include runway independence, affordability, and that the actual to be fielded aircraft exists today, are not surrogates and will execute flights under the program this year, not at some future date. Kratos is currently satisfying the complete requirement set.”
Last week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Dale White, the program executive officer for fighters and advanced aircraft, said that the Air Force plans to continue Skyborg experimentation to determine its possible fit in the service’s force mix (Defense Daily, Aug. 13).
“I’m not going to say that’s not achievable,” White said of the fiscal 2023 timeline for making Skyborg a program of record, “but it has to be balanced with all the other requirements we have across the portfolio to able to do that, and I think there is some amount of work we want to do with respect to the platform and the autonomy piece before we make that transition.”
In 2019, the Air Force designated Skyborg as one of three service Vanguard programs to accelerate the fielding of advanced technologies, and former Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper aimed to make Skyborg a program of record in fiscal 2023.
The Air Force said that it had conducted a two hour and thirty minute flight test on June 24 of the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS) aboard a General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger tactical drone during the Orange Flag 21-2 exercise at Edwards AFB, Calif. (Defense Daily, July 1).
ACS is to be the collaboration and autonomy-enabling “brain” of Skyborg.
Steve Fendley, the president of Kratos’ unmanned systems division, said on Aug. 17 that Kratos has developed more than 10 affordable drone types able to meet Skyborg’s requirement for autonomous, low-cost platforms that can generate massed combat power with minimal logistics footprints.
The 12 initial Valkyrie drones “are coming off the [production] line this year and next,” he said. “Our unique position as a mid-tier system provider enables us to take these more commercial (versus conventional defense primes) approaches which benefit the DoD and demonstrate the speed that is achievable through leveraging the Silicon Valley approach to technology and system development.”
Last December, the Air Force awarded more than $76 million to Kratos, Boeing [BA], and General Atomics to build prototypes for the service’s Skyborg Vanguard program and fly them in teaming with manned aircraft (Defense Daily, Dec. 7, 2020).