The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has successfully demonstrated the inflight release of a small unmanned air system (SUAS) from the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie UAS. The demonstration took place at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on March 26.
The Valkyrie UAS opened its weapons bay doors for the first time in flight to drop an Area-I Altius-600 SUAS. The trial—the XQ-58A’s sixth flight—was conducted by AFRL in partnership with Kratos and Area-I. The team had co-developed the SUAS carrier for installation in the bay and devised the necessary software to effect the release. Following the drop, the XQ-58A continued to achieve various pre-planned test points that saw it fly higher and faster than it had previously.
The Altius-600 was developed as a tube-launched SUAS that weighs up to 27 pounds, of which between three and seven pounds can be payload. A variety of sensors can be carried, as well as kinetic effectors. The vehicle has been successfully test-launched from the Lockheed Martin C-130 and P-3 turboprops and in August 2018 from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. The manufacturer, Georgia-based Area-I, was acquired by Anduril Industries on April 1 but continues to operate under its own name as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
Meanwhile, Kratos Unmanned Air Systems is one of three companies—along with General Atomics and Boeing—that are contracted for development associated with the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg program. The company was awarded a $37.8 million Delivery Order 2 contract in December 2020 to integrate, test, and deliver XQ-58As for the Skyborg evaluation of so-called “attritable” unmanned air systems that can act on their own, in swarms, or—most importantly—as “loyal wingmen” to manned aircraft. The XQ-58A first flew on March 5, 2019. In December 2020 the UAS was tested in the communications node role to link F-22 and F-35 manned fighters. Skyborg trials are due to begin this summer.
Kratos is also a partner in the X-61A Gremlins team, which is led by Leidos-owned Dynetics. Gremlins is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program to evaluate a system in which multiple air vehicles can be launched and retrieved in flight by large aircraft. Trials have been conducted using a civilian C-130A Hercules “mothership.”