While Kratos [KTOS] annually builds 150 drones, including its Valkyrie XQ-58A, the company could double or triple such production now with existing plants to meet possible surge demands, a company official said on March 1.

In light of the Pentagon’s materiel aid to Ukraine/depletion in U.S. equipment, the possible need to ramp up production rapidly for future conflicts in which the U.S. becomes engaged, and the stated DoD desire to decrease the likelihood of successful attacks on U.S. supply chains, DoD officials have suggested a possible move away from “just-in-time” delivery efficiency and a small number of suppliers to myriad suppliers and more plants. Yet, defense companies have been operating for years below capacity so ramping up those plants could be a large piece of increasing production.

Asked whether there is idle capacity at Kratos, Steve Fendley, the president of Kratos’ unmanned systems division, replied in a March 1 telephone interview, “There is.”

Fendley said that Kratos could, if asked to do so, triple yearly production through production efficiencies, 3D printing, the use of machines and machine methods, and fewer parts that other companies could produce.

Kratos is “building and delivering 150 jet unmanned aircraft a year,” Fendley said. “Through some of the methods I’ve described and through multiple shifts in the current facilities that we have, depending primarily on our company, we can double or triple that.”

“What’s more significant is we recently did an analysis for a particular customer, and it was looking at the ability, to produce, not into the several hundreds…but into the thousands, and we have a plan in place, whenever it’s time to turn that on, that would enable us to produce in the thousands per year,” he said. “In general terms, that takes advantage of parallel parts manufacturing, parallel assembly, multiple final assembly stations, and multiple parts manufacturers. That plan exists, and we’re prepared to execute when the trigger is pulled.”

The study last summer concluded that Kratos could build additional plants, given more time, or, for a quick turnaround surge, outsource individual system components and final assembly locations.

On Dec. 30 last year, the U.S. Navy awarded Kratos a $15.5 million contract for two Valkyries under the Affordable Autonomous Cooperative Killers program under which the U.S. Marine Corps could use the “killers” as  “motherships” for small drones and to bolster the service’s strikes, electronic warfare, and intelligence gathering (Defense Daily, Jan. 5).

The Navy and U.S. Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programs are to include manned and unmanned systems. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has said that the manned NGAD could use one to five drones.

The Air Force Research Laboratory has been testing the Valkyrie as an example of what drones in its Skyborg Vanguard program could look like since 2020 and for experiments related to the Air Force’s NGAD. Skyborg aims to develop ways to use artificial intelligence to control low-cost aircraft in contested airspace.

Last November, Kratos said it flew a production Valkyrie at the Yuma Proving Ground for the Block 2 maturation program (Defense Daily, Nov. 3, 2022).

Last week, in a statement on Kratos’ fiscal 2022 earnings, Eric DeMarco, the company’s CEO, said that Kratos has delivered Valkyrie to the Air Force’s 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla., “where the Valkyries’ ability to autonomously operate over vast distances can be evaluated along with certain other objectives.”

“Kratos has produced over 1,100 high performance jet drones to date and is the only company with a family of attritable and expendable runway independent jet drones flying today, with active production lines, not Power Points, renditions, designs or computer generated surrogates and we stand ready to support the customer with quantities of high performance, low cost systems to deter and defeat our adversaries,” he said.

The company is in the midst of a production run for 12 Valkyries–seven that belong to buyers that Kratos is not disclosing, two for the Air Force Skyborg program, one for a progression of the Air Force Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator program, and two for the Navy’s Affordable Autonomous Cooperative Killers program, Fendley said.

The NGAD family of systems could contain a mix of stealth systems, mid-cost systems in the $5 million to $25 million range, and high numbers of low-cost systems priced below $5 million.

The Pentagon has accelerated fielding efforts for collaborative, autonomous drones, Fendley said.

“In the last six months I would say they have accelerated as much as they did in the prior three years,” he said.