America Wants Its Robot Warrior XQ-58A Valkyrie To Fight Alongside The F-35

America Wants Its Robot Warrior XQ-58A Valkyrie To Fight Alongside The F-35

David Axe


Drones will improve pilots’ ability to locate targets.

Key point: Wingman drones could change the way major air forces fight.

The U.S. Air Force could be months away from deciding whether to put into production its first, fighter-style “wingman drone.”

But California unmanned aerial vehicle-maker Kratos, builder of the Air Force’s prototype XQ-58A Valkyrie wingman UAV, is confident the flying branch will decide to proceed.

Kratos has begun placing engine orders in anticipation of receiving first series production contracts for the XQ-58, Jane’s reported.

“Reporting the company’s second-quarter 2019 results in a [July 31, 2019] earnings call, Kratos president and CEO Eric DeMarco said that the company was confident that Valkyrie was “on track for initial production and a programme of record,” according to Jane’s.

The company has begun ordering engines “for expected Valkyrie production to meet anticipated future customer delivery requirements,” DeMarco said.

“The XQ-58A demonstrator is powered by an off-the-shelf Williams International FJ33 twin-spool turbofan,” Jane’s noted. “It has not been confirmed if this engine type is being retained for follow-on production.”

The Air Force’s wingman drone initiative is moving quickly. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program is developing artificial intelligence for the wider wingman-drone effort. To develop the hardware, AFRL is experimenting with copies of the subsonic XQ-58.

The Air Force wants an early version of a wingman drone to be ready for combat by 2023. Kratos is betting that the service will tap the XQ-58 as the basis for a combat-ready wingman ‘bot.

The Valkyrie’s first flight took place in March 2019. The 29-feet-long, jet-powered XQ-58 on June 11, 2019 took off for its second test flight over Yuma, Arizona. The Air Force and Kratos plan to conduct five test sorties during this phase of the XQ-58’s development.

The Air Force also has begun testing software that could help its future robot wingmen pull hard maneuvers in aerial combat.

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