Drone maker Kratos says a recent test flight successfully demonstrated that its stealthy XQ-58A Valkyrie drone can fly longer, at higher altitudes, and at heavier weights than ever before demonstrated. The news comes as the company says it expects to receive contract awards for multiple Valkyries from two new customers and is also in talks with another client about a potential sale of the drones.

Image of the XQ-58A launch that Kratos released along with the recent test flight announcement. Kratos

Kratos’ press release did not specifically say when the recent envelope-expanding test flight took place, but said it took place at the US Army’s Extended Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) in Arizona. A new Block 2 XQ-58A of 12 new-production airframes, which the company initially began building on its own initiative, was used for testing and was the first time the specific drone was flown. The last Valkyrie in production is expected to be completed next year.

The recent flight “proved and demonstrated the extended capability of the XQ-58A by flying longer, higher, heavier, and at greater distances than the platform (based on previous government limits),” according to Kratos, according to Kratos, the duration of the sortie, how high the drone flew, No specific details about the total distance traveled or its weight were given.

The XQ-58A has a maximum launch weight of 6,000 pounds, can fly at an altitude of 45,000 feet above sea level and has a maximum range of approximately 3,000 miles, according to the company’s website. The Valkyrie uses a rocket-assisted takeoff method that involves a stationary launcher on the ground and is recovered at the end of the flight by parachute.

This runway independence offers some advantages, especially for conducting forward operations near designed target areas, but may not be available at all where there are no runways. The caption to an image from Kratos’ press release yesterday noted that runway-less launch and recovery methods could also help keep “runways available for human maneuvering.” The company says the XQ-58A is rapidly deployable and can be operated from austere locations with a relatively small footprint. A containerized launch system concept has been demonstrated in the past that can be used to support this type of forward deployment.

An XQ-58A landing under its parachute after a mission. Lower-inflatable airbags also appear for further cushioning when hitting the ground. Kratos

The XQ-58A was designed with attention to what is now commonly called attritability, i.e. a balance of cost and capabilities that would allow their use in high-risk situations that would avoid the use of more expensive and complex ‘superior’ items. ‘ Property. war zone Kratos has been interviewed in depth in the past about his views on the attritibility and affordability of uncrewed aircraft designs.

The quality of the XQ-58A has already been demonstrated by the Air Force, which has already delivered the first Valkyrie acquired to its main museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The service said it made the decision after the drone’s extensive use because it never intended to receive “extensive upgrades or overhauls.”

Additionally, “encrypted communications were conducted and demonstrated with redundant radio/communications (‘Comms’) packages for range and operational missions far away from government ranges. For the final test point, the aircraft navigated to a landing site in simulated loss of communications conditions,” press release Explained. “It landed in the target area, demonstrating key autonomous capabilities for the end of the mission phase of the flight and recovery of the aircraft without RF. [radiofrequency] This comms capability will help reduce the likelihood of enemy detection and tracking of RF comms emissions as the system returns to ‘base’.”

As Kratos points out here, the XQ-58A’s ability to operate autonomously in ‘radio silent’ mode has potential advantages when it comes to penetrating or at least avoiding threats. This of course enables the drone to continue its mission, or at least attempt to safely return to base in an environment where the risk of electronic warfare jamming is high, something the US military, among others, would expect in virtually any situation. Future high-end conflicts. Such drone swarms would have the added benefit of being able to operate a distributed ‘mesh’ data-sharing network to provide additional resilience against electronic warfare attacks and to operate cooperatively as a team.

Kratos’ press release also noted that this particular test flight was to support an AFRL effort called Autonomous Collaborative Enabling Technology (ACET), which is “focused on developing an autonomous collaborative platform (ACP) similar to the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA).” The CCA is part of the Air Force’s over-arching Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) future air combat initiative and is expected to operate around multiple levels with high autonomy, aiming to work together with crewed aircraft at various levels. A host of different missions, as you can read more about here. NGAD also includes work on developing a stealthy crewed sixth-generation fighter jet, as well as advanced sensors, weapons, engines, networking and battle management systems and more, all of which will create a whole new air combat ‘ecosystem’.

“I’m sure we read about digital simulation and modeling regularly, I’m sure how our target system aircraft support military training and weapons development with real flights and shots, Kratos’ regular and envelope-pushing development flights and mission preparation. The flights will ultimately deter our adversaries and increase the readiness of our military,” Eric DeMarco, president and CEO of Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, said in a statement.

The video below shows the XQ-58A’s first flight in 2019, which also took place at the Yuma Proving Ground.

“The Kratos/AFRL team is pushing the envelope in these truly uncharted waters, continuing to develop capabilities and affordability to operate in the CCA class where mission capability and effectiveness are achieved through a combination of individual and distributed CCA capabilities and large numbers of aircraft,” said Kratos of the Unmanned Systems Division. President Steve Fendley said in a statement regarding the recent test flight. “War games and analytics consistently report that there is mass The Solutions to enable winning in today’s conflict zones and reduce the number of outstanding systems to consistently fail. Kratos is laser-focused on disruptive, affordable (enabled by simple and elegant) solution sets.”

war zone As previously detailed, war games conducted by the US military and contract think tanks have repeatedly shown that networked swarms of relatively low-cost drones with significant levels of autonomy can be a distinct game changer in a conflict. With China over Taiwan.

It is not just the US military that sees multiple layers of unproven systems, capable of operating as part of networked autonomous swarms, as key assets in future high-end air combat. This is reflected in the revelations Kratos made yesterday about expected new and potential future customers.

“We now anticipate two new Valkyrie-related tactical drone system contract awards for multiple aircraft from two separate new customers,” said DeMarco, the company’s president and CEO, during an earnings call yesterday. “And we’ve also recently started discussions with a potential fourth new customer, multiple Valkyrie systems.”

DeMarco declined to say who any of those future or potential customers might be, and it’s possible that one or more could be other components of the U.S. military outside of just the Air Force. Although U.S. officials have sought to lower some of the barriers to more significant military drone exports in recent years, the process of obtaining U.S. government approval for sales of more advanced uncrewed aircraft to foreign countries has long been notorious.

Kratos specifically announced in 2018 that his UTAP-22, or Mako, a former Loyalty Wingman design, had been approved for export by US authorities. The company has extensive experience in selling a variety of aerial target drones used for training and various other purposes to foreign customers including military forces in the United Kingdom, Sweden, South Korea and Taiwan.

At the same time, several major US allies could easily meet more stringent export control requirements and have publicly expressed interest in future unrecognized capabilities that something like the XQ-58A could provide. For example, just on October 31st, the UK Ministry of Defense announced a new follow-on effort to the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) program, called the Low-Cost Uncrewed Air System. In June, Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) very publicly canceled a planned launch of the Mosquito, which was part of the larger LANCA effort and focused on the development of a loyal wingman-type drone. The RAF said at the time that it already expected to follow up that work with a new project.

Regardless, the Valkyrie’s performance envelope and capabilities seem to be expanding, and new customers are taking notice.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com