The Air Force just demonstrated the ability to launch a drone from another drone, a step forward in complex aerial warfare without a human pilot.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie successfully released a small unmanned aerial vehicle from its internal weapons bay at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on March 26, according to a service release. The test was conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Valkyrie's maker, Kratos Defense.
The launched drone was the ALTIUS-600, a small, cylindrical UAV made by Area-I, the release states.
That system was modified with software custom-developed to enable its release from the Valkyrie.The autonomous tube-launched drone can incorporate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads, electronic jamming and signals intelligence, and also can take out other drones, according to Area-I.
"After the successful release of the SUAS, the XQ-58A completed additional test points to expand its demonstrated operating envelope," the release states.
"This unique and key mission function success adds an exclamation point to the 30-month development of the Valkyrie system by the Kratos and AFRL team, which resulted in a pre-production system with substantial operational capability, not simply a proof-of-concept flight demonstrator," Steve Fendley, president of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, said in a separate statement.
While the Air Force has not publicly stated its long-range plans with this newly demonstrated capability, it increases options for the Valkyrie, which figures prominently in the service's strategies for manned-unmanned teaming.
The long-range, high-subsonic Valkyrie is part of a larger effort to develop unmanned attack aircraft that are intended to be reusable but cheap enough that they can be destroyed without significant cost.
The Air Force is evaluating Valkyrie for an artificial intelligence "R2-D2" role, to be paired with a human piloting a fighter jet. It's also looking to use Valkyrie as a platform to host a communications node that would transfer data between advanced stealth fighters.
In December, the service selected three defense companies, including Kratos, to produce UAV prototypes for the effort, known as Skyborg.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.