A US Air Force Valkyrie drone launched another drone from its internal bay for the first time during a test flight last month, the service revealed in a statement.
It was the sixth test flight of the stealthy subsonic unmanned aerial system (UAS) developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions under the USAF Research Laboratory’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology project.
The project was initiated with the goal of building a cheaper alternative to manned aircraft capable of performing all the functions of a manned aircraft, as well as being able to fly with one as a wingman.
Flies Alongside F-35, F-22
In December of last year, the Valkyrie was tested to stealthily translate and send data between F-35 and F-22 fighter jets while in flight.
The USAF stated that the drone achieved 80 percent of test objectives. However, a December 2020 statement reported that nine out of 18 test objectives remained incomplete during the test because “shortly after takeoff, the communications payloads lost connectivity.”
C4ISRNET magazine quoted Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper that, “We think we had a connector that came loose during it because the gateway itself was fine when the Valkyrie landed. So [it’s] a thing we’ve learned from and we’ll fix next time.”
Launches ALTIUS-600 Small Drone
For the March flight, Kratos and another drone manufacturer, Area-I, constructed the UAS launch system and installed software to make the release of an ALTIUS-600 small, unmanned aircraft system (SUAS) possible during the flight.
The ALTIUS-600 weighs 20-27 pounds (9 kilograms -12 kilogram) and is capable of flying for up to four hours at a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles).
The small drone can carry a payload of up to seven pounds (three kilograms), allowing it to execute an array of missions including intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, counter-drone operations, electronic warfare, and striking enemy targets, Georgia-based manufacturer Area-I states on its website.
“In addition to this first SUAS separation demonstration, the XQ-58A flew higher and faster than previous flights,” Air Force Research Laboratory demonstration program manager Alyson Turri said.
“This test further demonstrates the utility of affordable, high-performance unmanned air vehicles.”
Steve Fendley, President of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, said in another statement that the flight “success adds an exclamation point to the 30-month development of the Valkyrie system.”
Contender for USAF Skyborg Project
Kratos is also in a race with two other competitors for the USAF Skyborg program, which calls for building low-cost unmanned combat systems capable of teaming up with manned aircraft.
In December, Kratos, Boeing, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems were awarded contracts to build prototypes that can fly in tandem with manned aircraft.