The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) on March 26 conducted the sixth flight test of the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie drone at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.–a demonstration that featured the launching of an Area-I ALTIUS-600 small unmanned aircraft system (SUAS) from the Valkyrie’s internal weapons bay in what AFRL said was the first opening of the Valkyrie’s weapons bay.
“In addition to this first SUAS separation demonstration, the XQ-58A flew higher and faster than previous flights,” Alyson Turri, AFRL’s demonstration program manager, said in a statement.
AFRL said that Kratos, Area-I and AFRL designed and fabricated the SUAS carriage and developed software to enable the release of the ALTIUS-600.
“After successful release of the SUAS, the XQ-58A completed additional test points to expand its demonstrated operating envelope,” per AFRL.
Marietta, Ga.-based SUAS maker Area-I, recently acquired by Anduril Industries, has made strides in gaining U.S. Army acceptance in that service’s Project Convergence effort
In December, the Air Force awarded more than $76 million to Kratos, Boeing, and General Atomics to build prototypes for the service’s Skyborg Vanguard program and fly them in teaming with manned aircraft.
The Air Force has said that it expects to receive the first prototypes by May for initial flight tests and to begin experimentation in July.
Skyborg is to develop a family of attritable aircraft systems with a common artificial intelligence (AI) backbone that can train alongside manned aircraft and eventually help complete tasks, fly ahead of Air Force pilots in non-permissive environments, and frustrate adversaries.
AFRL has used Kratos’ XQ-58A Valkyrie as an example of what a Skyborg prototype could look like.
In a Skyborg test last Dec. 9 at Yuma, a Valkyrie flew in formation with a Lockheed Martin F-22 and an F-35 fighter and served as a gatewayONE communications translator between the two fighters.
Northrop Grumman builds gatewayONE, which is to link fourth and fifth generation fighters and attritables as part of the Air Force Advanced Battle Management System.
The rocket-assisted takeoff of the Valkyrie shook the aircraft and prevented the establishment of the communication gateway, but the F-22, F-35, and Valkyrie were able to share information over a ground backup system, Air Force officials said.
AFRL Commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle and Air Force program executive officer for aircraft and advanced weapons Brig. Gen. Dale White are leading an effort this year to test multiple prototypes for Skyborg, one of three Air Force Vanguard programs intended to field advanced capabilities rapidly. The Air Force is eyeing an initial operational capability for Skyborg in 2023.