In an announcement from the Pentagon, the U.S. Navy has joined the USAF as a user of the XQ-58A Valkyrie autonomous demonstration drone. Like the USAF, the Navy is looking to use two of these UAVs to conduct research to develop its future system of systems, to accompany its sixth-generation naval aircraft.
The U.S. Naval Aviation System of Systems
On December 30, 2022, the Pentagon released a list of new contracts. Among these, general attention focused on the $7.8 billion contract to Lockheed Martin for F-35 fighter jets.
However, another contract was also of interest as it concerned the US Navy''s research into its future system of systems, itself centered around the future 6th generation naval aircraft. With this in mind, the US Navy notified US company Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc. of its desire to use two XQ-58A Valkyrie autonomous demonstration drones (§5 of the December 30, 2022 contracts). The estimated value is approximately $15.5 billion. In addition to the two drones, the contract also includes:
- delivery and integration of sensors (unspecified)
- delivery and integration of payloads for the weapon system (unspecified)
- technical and logistical support, ground and flight operations
- performing demonstrations and test flights within Armed Forces test areas
In fact, Kratos will have to manage a lot of points for these tests, but time is clearly of the essence as the various work to complete the contract must be done by September 2023.
It should be noted that no public competition has been opened by the U.S. Navy to meet this contract. The Pentagon's announcement specifically states that it can dispense with this step only from an experimental perspective.
The Valkyrie in the US Armed Forces
Prior to this decision, only the US Air Force (USAF) was using Valkyrie drones, and for the same purpose as the US Navy: research and development of its system of systems (Combat Collaborative Aircraft), centered around the NGAD (more info in this article). Incidentally, the USAF recently moved the first of its two XQ-58A Valkyrie drones to its Eglin Air Force Base (Florida, USA) to test it in real-world conditions (article on the subject).
The US Navy will also use its two future Valkyrie drones for its future systems of systems and specifically on these features:
- airspace penetration capability
- low-cost system
- autonomous aerial drone
- drone with offensive capabilities
It must be emphasized that this drone is first and foremost a technology demonstrator, it must be possible to rethink everything from the beginning: these must demonstrate the capabilities that an intelligent swarm of autonomous drones can provide. They should also allow us to rethink logistics and technical support.
On the other hand, there is no question of putting XQ-58As on the front line for the time being. Moreover, this drone is absolutely not capable of landing on Navy aircraft carriers. However, it should be added that it is independent of runways for its takeoff (possibility of positioning it on a ramp and taking off thanks to booster rockets).
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