The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has revealed it intends starting flight trials of a new unmanned combat system later this year.
Designated the XQ-58A Valkyrie and built by Kratos, the system is designed to be employed as a low-cost unmanned “loyal wingman” combat aircraft. It was developed under the AFRL’s low cost attritable strike demonstrator (LCASD) program to be a capable combat aircraft which is reusable, but is not considered prohibitively expensive if lost in combat.
“The basic idea is can we make a capable combat aircraft very low cost by using modern manufacturing techniques and drive the cost as low as possible,” AFRL Commander Maj Gen William Cooley told Flightglobal in early July.
It is unlikely the XQ-58A would operate independently, and instead would be ‘teamed’ with manned combat aircraft such as the F-35 and F-22 to augment a strike or air combat package.
The air vehicle itself is about 30ft long, has a 27ft wingspan, and an internal and/or wing mounted payload of about 600lbs. But Flightglobal says the longer term goal for the program may be to adapt the XQ-58A’s concept and flight control systems to retired manned aircraft, thousands of which are parked in the US DoD’s Aerospace Maintenance Regeneration Group ‘boneyard’ at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona.