The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has awarded a contract to American firm Blue Force Technologies to supply drones for adversary air training.
As part of the “Bandit” program, the agreement requires the company to design and produce up to four high-performance aerial vehicles for an initial $9 million.
The vehicles will act as an opposing force for US fighter pilot training.
“The air vehicle is a part of a proposed autonomy-based system providing adversary air training for Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighter crews at greatly reduced costs compared to current manned capabilities,” the AFRL said in a press release.
AFRL subject matter experts will reportedly provide technical guidance for Blue Force engine ground testing and validation of adversary simulator drones.
The contract is expected to be completed within 12 months.
Features and Capabilities
As early as August 2021, Blue Force Technologies had been expecting a US Air Force contract to develop unmanned aircraft for fifth-generation fighter training.
Chief Executive Officer Scott Bledsoe told Air Force Magazine that the new drones will feature modular payloads and open-systems architecture to allow the simulation of a wide variety of threats.
The drones will have a maximum takeoff weight of 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms) and a speed of up to Mach .95 (728 miles per hour).
“As a Raptor guy, I need to practice manned-unmanned teaming in a non-lethal environment before going to war with such a system,” Blue Force adviser Andrew Van Timmeren told the media outlet. “Fighter pilots need to be able to trust an unmanned system not to crash into me or crash into the ground.”
The Bandit Program
AFRL explained that its ongoing Bandit program seeks an air vehicle solution to enhance pilot aerial capabilities.
The Blue Force contract is expected to “revolutionize” adversary air training, providing “key opportunities” to interact and formulate strategies against unmanned systems.
AFRL Bandit program manager Alyson Turri said that the unmanned platform must look like fifth-generation adversaries with similar capabilities.
“These small, unmanned adversary air systems can be flown in training scenarios so that fighter pilots can train against tactically relevant adversaries in threat representative numbers,” she explained.