Blue Force Technologies has been awarded a contract by the Aerospace Systems Directorate of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to develop its unmanned air vehicle—known as Bandit—for the adversary air (ADAIR) training mission. The Small Business Innovation Research contract was awarded after Blue Force’s strategic financing (STRATFI) proposal was selected by the AFWERX, AFRL’s innovation directorate.
With an initial value of $9 million, the 12-month contract is intended to mature the Bandit to critical design level and to perform engine ground testing and validation of the engine installation, under guidance from AFRL specialists. The contract has options to complete the design and engineering process, produce up to four air vehicles, and undertake initial flight tests. It follows earlier SBIR work to develop initial requirements, design an air vehicle, and to build a structural test article, which began in 2019.
Bandit is intended to be a high-performance UAV against which U.S. fighter pilots can train in air combat, and is part of a proposal for an autonomy-based system that can provide adversary training at much-reduced cost compared to the manned aircraft currently in use. The autonomous air vehicle is intended to carry various mission payloads and sensors to meet specific ADAIR training needs.
“These small unmanned ADAIR systems can be flown in training scenarios so that fighter pilots can train against tactically relevant adversaries in threat-representative numbers,” said Alyson Turri, AFRL’s Bandit program manager. “The goal is to develop an unmanned platform that looks like a fifth-generation adversary with similar vehicle capabilities.”
AFRL is coordinating closely with the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command, whose commander, General Mark Kelly, highlighted a need for alternate approaches to costly adversary air sorties in August 2021.
Blue Force Technologies, based in Morrisville, NC, offers a range of advanced design, analysis, tooling, and manufacturing solutions, including rapid prototyping. Since 2013 it has supplied structural components into the Boeing CH-47 Chinook program, receiving the OEM’s Supplier of the Year award in 2018. It has also delivered space structures and worked on an eVTOL prototype.