The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Kratos Defense & Security Solutions have completed yet another successful test flight of the XQ-58A Valkyrie at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The trial was conducted as part of the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) and the Block 2 Valkyrie Maturation programs.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie is an experimental stealth unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) – essentially, a drone – that was built under the AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio. The project’s aim is to develop vehicles to escort Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting IIs and F-22 Raptors on combat missions and to deploy surveillance systems and weapons.
With the XQ-58A, in particular, the goal was to design an unmanned vehicle to conduct light strike missions through the use of precision-guided munitions. The drone can be operated autonomously or under the control of a “parent” aircraft, and can be deployed as part of drone swarms, with a range of 3,500 miles and a cruising speed of 548 MPH. Additionally, it can hold up to 550 pounds of internal and external bombs.
Along with conventional takeoffs and landings via a rocket-assisted method, it can also be launched from “nondescript launch modules,” such as shipping containers, support ships and tractor trailers. Recovery of the XQ-58A is achieved via parachute.
The first successful test flight of the drone took place at Yuma Proving Ground on March 5, 2019. A number of trials have since taken place, with the sixth on March 26, 2021 seeing the drone open its internal weapons bay doors and drop a 12 kg Area-I Altius-600 unmanned aircraft system (UAS).
On the most recent test flight, the XQ-58A’s team was tasked with conducting “encrypted communications with redundant radios/communications (‘comms’) packages for range and operational missions remote from government ranges.” The drone then “landed within the target zone, demonstrating key autonomous capability for the end of mission phase of flight and recovery of the aircraft without RF comms.”
When all was said and done, the XQ-58A showed a capability to fly for longer, at higher altitudes and with a heavier overall weight than previously demonstrated. Its ability to operate and land autonomously also showed the drone’s benefits when it comes to evading enemy detection. As the press release from Kratos read, “It of course also enables the drone to continue its mission or at least attempt to safely return to base in an environment where the threat of electronic warfare jamming is high.”
Speaking about the XQ-58A, Steve Fendley, President of Kratos’ Unmanned Systems Division, said:
“The Kratos/AFRL team is pushing the envelope in these truly uncharted waters, continuing to evolve the capability and drive affordability in the CCA class where mission capability and effectiveness is achieved through a combination of individual and distributed CCA capability plus mass of aircraft.
“Wargames and analyses consistently report that mass is the solution to enable winning in today’s conflict arena and that a lower count of exquisite systems consistently fails. Kratos is laser-focused on the disruptive, affordable (enabled by simple and elegant) solution set.”
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At present, the US Air Force is the only known organization to have purchased the XQ-58A, with the aim being to support research and development, as well as test and evolution efforts. Kratos is currently in talks to receive contracts from two new customers, who have yet to be named.