Blue Force Technologies is expecting a United States Air Force contract next month to develop an unmanned stealth aircraft for the air force’s fifth-generation fighters to train against, Air Force Magazine revealed.
The aircraft is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Autonomous Attritable Aircraft Experimentation campaign to build a cheaper alternative to manned aircraft capable of performing all the same functions, including flying as a “wingman.”
Gen. Mark D. Kelly, head of Air Combat Command (ACC), revealed at a conference that “the program could yield aircraft that provide high-level adversary training at only 25 percent of the cost of manned systems.”
The North Carolina-based aerospace and defense manufacturing firm anticipates the cost per flying hour would be around $4,000 versus $50,000 per hour for an F-22.
The firm’s founder and president, Scott Bledsoe, told the outlet that the craft, named “Red Medium,” will have a 5,000-pound (2,268-kilogram) maximum takeoff weight and include “modular payloads and open-systems architecture, allowing a wide array of threats to be simulated.”
Additionally, the 20-foot (six-meter) long, 17-foot (five-meter) wide carbon-fiber unmanned jet is capable of Mach .95 and turning at up to 9Gs (gravitational force), with a 4G sustained turn.
The company has cleared the preliminary design review and will begin the critical design review in June 2022 if the next-phase contract is issued.
Bledsoe said that Blue Force has built a ground test model to verify and integrate systems with a ground control station, which allows “burning down as much systems integration risk as possible,” helping get more ACC endorsements.
He further revealed that the aircraft will have an “open architecture” nose that could be reconfigured to make it look like an adversary aircraft.
Opportunity for Pilots to Train With Unmanned Aircraft
Former F-22 pilot and current adviser to Blue Force Technologies Andrew Van Timmeren told Air Force Magazine that the aircraft would “allow the pilots to get comfortable operating with an unmanned aircraft.”
“As a Raptor guy,” he explained, “I need to practice” manned/unmanned teaming in a non-lethal environment before going to war with such a system. Fighter pilots need to be able to trust an unmanned system not to “crash into me or crash into the ground.”
Without that trust, “I’m actually going to ask you to just leave it at home — I don’t want it to go to war with me.”