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Thu, Nov 17, 2022

USAF to Test XQ-58 Autonomous Aircraft

Callsign Asimov

The United States Air Force’s 96th Test Wing announced on 09 November 2022 that two XQ-58 Valkyrie drones had been transferred to the 40th Flight Test Squadron (FTS) at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base.

Developed and manufactured by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions for the USAF’s Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) program, the XQ-58 Valkyrie is an experimental, stealthy, Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), the design functions of which are to escort F-22 Raptors or F-35 Lightning IIs during combat missions, deploy weapons or surveillance systems, scout, lay down defensive fire, and/or absorb enemy fire if attacked. The XQ-58 is designed to act as a loyal wingman, and is controlled by a parent aircraft.

The Valkyrie features a trapezoidal fuselage with a chined edge, V-tail, and an S-shaped air intake. The contraption is capable of being deployed as part of a swarm of drones—with or without the direct control of a human pilot. Though the XQ-58 is capable of conventional take-offs and landings, it can also be launched from what the Pentagon calls nondescript launch modules, such as support ships, shipping containers, and semi-trailer trucks. Kratos claims it can produce between 250-500 Valkyries per year.

The 40th FTS will use the XQ-58s to test autonomous aircraft operations and airspace and safety processes. An autonomous aircraft experimentation team within the 40th FTS will lead the testing, partnering with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office. Aspects of subject testing will include software developed under Skyborg—a USAF Vanguard program about the business of developing unmanned combat aerial vehicles intended to accompany manned fighter aircraft.

In all, the Department of the Air Force has announced four Vanguard programs: Skyborg, Golden Horde, Navigation Technology Satellite 3 (NTS-3), and Rocket Cargo. The Vanguard programs, through prototyping and experimentation, will advance emerging weapon systems and warfighting concepts, thereby actualizing new capabilities and affording warfighters superior battlefield advantages—so says the Air Force.

The 40th FTS’s XQ-58 testing program is likely to play a key role in developing Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA)—the moniker ascribed by the Air Force to uncrewed aircraft designed to carry out autonomous tasks under the auspices of human pilots.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall counts the CCA program among his Operational Imperatives, and seeks to produce fieldable specimens of such aircraft in the next two-years. Secretary Kendall’s ambitions are predicated in part upon the testing to which the 40th FTS will ply its pair of XQ-58s upon their December 2022 arrival at Elgin AFB.

CCA team lead Maj. John Nygard has stated that the 40th FTS’s goal is to start experimenting with “crewed-uncrewed teaming display solutions' by the fall of 2023.



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