The Marine XQ-58 Valkyries will be the electronic warfare platform for the F-35 (2023)

Kratos has updated his stealthXQ-58A ValkyrieDrones, including new unit prices for its flagship tactical product and details on the U.S. Marine Corps, which owns the drones, are clearly aimed at electronic warfare. The company also announced the existence of a new, previously secret drone program called Dark Fury, and another mysterious, unnamed new drone that is already undergoing flight tests.

Eric DeMarco, president and CEO of Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, comments on these plans on a quarterly basisPublication of the company's financial reportthis week.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie already flies F-35A and F-22A stealth fighters.US Air Force

Not surprisingly, the development of the XQ-58A Valkyrie program has been the subject of debate. DeMarco noted that the tactical jet drones the company operates today "are considered the best performing and most affordable in their class."

Overall, despite the low price, Valkyrie is at the top of the Kratos portfolio. DeMarco's are about $6.5 million each, while each is $450,000plinski vuk, a tactical drone based on the Firejet, the company's smallest aerial target model.

First official image of Air Wolf released by Kratos.Kratos

DeMarco added that the $6.5 million unit cost is based on current low production, although Kratos' total production is about 150 jet drones per year. Data Kratospublished last yearValkyrie will cost about $4 million per unit if 50 drones are produced a year, the company has said in the past, but the company has said in the past that producing 100 or more drones could cost less than $2 million. The dollar may be lying.

The first Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, serial number 15-8001.US Air Force

As for current Valkyrie production, the company is currently completing the first mass production of 12 Block 1 XQ-58A dronesOklahoma CityDeMarco confirmed that second production of 12 Block 2 drones has begun. In addition, the Luftwaffe has completed at least three prototypes, the first of which is now completemove to a museum.

Block 2 Valkyries are capable of longer missions at higher altitudes and with larger payloads than previous examples. However, further changes are planned for the release of Block 2 B. "It now appears that at least half of Block 2 will be Block 2B, which includes new additional features based on recent specific user input," DeMarco said, without providing further details on the changes.

Valkyrie was quickly developed by Kratos Ghost Works. The company said it took just 30 months to go from a "blank slate" to a successful first flight. According to DeMarco, this gives Kratos an advantage over potential competitors in the same space, as others can take "at least three to four years" to make their first flight, "and who knows how much customers will spend."

While the US Air Force was busy testing the Valkyrie, includingData link between F-22 and F-35, even asSmall UAV launch platformDeMarco used his weapon and took the opportunity to provide more details about the Marine Corps' drone program. Additionally, the arrival of two drones last year at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida to join the test squadron there will begin a new phase of autonomous aircraft testing at our existing facility.discussed in the past.

The XQ-58A launches the ALTIUS-600 drone from a common launch tube.US Air Force

"As of our last report, one of the concerns of the Marine Corps Valkyries reportedly includes integrating electronic warfare effects with the F-35 to improve attack support platforms as part of the Penetrating Affordable Autonomous Collaborative Killer program. part."

Das Penetrating accessible autonomous collaborative killer programjust exposedAt the end of last year, the navy announced the purchase of two Valkyries. It was later revealed that they would actually be assigned to the Marine Corps, a separate branch of the Navy Department.

Combining the Valkyrie with the USMC F-35 makes perfect sense and directly supports the Marine Corps priority of conducting advanced, flexible and ever-changing operations in barren terrain. This is known as Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO).

Kratos' invisible drone is designed to be runway-independent, takes off from a booster pod, and can be ejected by parachute. This means it can work where there are no airports, or at least no major airports.

An XQ-58A from the 40th Flight Test Squadron during a launch on December 15, 2022.US Air Force

Combining this capability with the F-35B andThe F-35C has a short field of view capabilityThe mission -- and the F-35B in particular -- offers a big leap in performance without increasing the footprint or infrastructure requirements of the Navy's forward air combat forces. You can read all about the scenario written for the EABO F-35B missionin our exclusive capacity.

Valkyrie coming down after a mission. (US Air Force)

The electronic warfare aspect is also interesting because we know that improvements to the F-35's electronic warfare system play a big roleAbsolutely supreme desire to serve.The use of collaborative drones as a dedicated electronic warfare platform opens a new book of potential tactics and capabilities to help the F-35 survive an enemy's air defense screen. Valkyries can do it toolaunch their own alternative jamming dronesand weapons that can even serve as decoys in front of manned installations. It is also possible that the weapons bay can be converted to fuel and electronic warfare systems.

We also know that the XQ-58 is suitable for testing with the F-35's Multipurpose Data Link (MADL), which is highly directed and difficult to jam or intercept, so the two being as seamless as the F-35, it won't be a problem. Even if the drones are just "chaining" critical MADL data around the battlefield, that would be a huge asset to the F-35 Valkyrie's mission. It will also enable more resilient data flow, especially in environments where electronic warfare is being fought intensely and where space communication assets are at risk.

The F-35B's ability to operate at very short and increasingly narrow ranges makes them an excellent match for the Q-58. (James DeBoer)

Of course, the EW focus could be just the beginning of USMC XQ-58 and F-35 joint cooperation, more roles will surely be added, Kratos may already be doing it. DeMarco confirmed that Kratos also recently received an additional Valkyrie contract from the Marine Corps "which includes sensor payloads, mission systems and subsystem integration, and that Kratos now also has a customer-funded contract related to Valkyrie for development and testing." and the vehicle controller interface, ground and flight operations, and additional Valkyrie flight test events. "

It's worth noting that we don't know exactly which block version of the Valkyrie the Marines will get, but it's probably no coincidence that De Marco's mention of Block 2B's "new additional capabilities" is based on a specific unnamed customer request.

Both the US Navy and Marine Corps are increasingly exploring the potential of high-performance jet-powered drones like the Valkyrie. In particular, the Navy is now envisioning a future carrier-based air wing that could consist of as much as 60 percent drones. that's somethingratna zonedetailed reviewthis current story.

Artwork showing an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter flying various drones.lockheed martinLockheed Martin Skunk Works

Of course, the Air Force is already planning to field a new generation of advanced drones, especially in theSynergy fighter(CCA) and seeks highly autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles for close cooperation with manned platforms, initially primarily for air-to-air combat. This is part of the total assortmentThe next generation of air dominance(NGAD), which also includes a new sixth-generation stealth fighter and various other advanced systems, including new weapons, sensors, networking and combat management packages, advanced jet engines and more. There is also increasing evidence that the Air Force and Navy are cooperating on CCA, and this is the caseseemingly parallelin their NGAD programs.

In the field of unmanned aerial vehicles, DeMarco noted that the Air Force has requested about $6 billion in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), and that the service eventually plans to "acquire as many as 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles" as part of its modernization efforts. Air Force Frank KendallTo show offThe Service is considering an initial fleet of 1,000 CCA and 200 NGAD fighters for planning purposes. The 1,000 CCA figure is based on an expected ratio of two drones to 200 NGAD fighters and 300 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. Kendall said the amount is CCAmaybe more, which could bring the totals more in line with DeMarco's predictions.

A photo from a Lockheed Martin presentation showing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter taking on an advanced unmanned aerial vehicle.lockheed martin

Regardless of the final numbers, Kratos clearly sees great potential for new contracts here, especially as it positions itself as a low-cost drone supplier. DeMarco noted that the Air Force wants to spend "approximately $20 million" per new advanced drone to achieve affordable combat qualities. That last point is certainly a growing issue in related Air Force discussions and seems to trump earlier expectations of "vulnerable" drones, and so do we.detailed reviewin the past.

DeMarco briefly explained how he sees advanced unmanned aerial vehicles eventually fitting into the Air Force's order of battle, painting a picture of "a high-performance jet drone with extended autonomy, or if you prefer, an artificial weapon capable of carrying Smart Weapons, SEAD." " [Suppression of enemy air defenses], can lead to TOT [destruction of enemy air defenses], some of which can perform electronic attack -- different tasks.

Even the existing Valkyrie seems to have great potential in this case as it will benefit from its cargo spacetrack independent(for example, providing additional flexibility when defending against an enemy) and the potential value of unmanned aerial vehicles in support of SEAD/DEAD missions. The electronic attack that DeMarco mentioned is also interesting here, especially since the Marine Corps seems interested in this role for the Valkyrie. A single piece is worth millions, not tens of millions of dollars, and even sacrificing a Valkyrie for broader battlefield goals could make perfect sense. Some standoff missiles cost more, especially hypersonic missiles.

Boeing concept drawings used by the US Air Force in the past as examples of fictional future drones designed to work closely with manned aircraft.Boeing

DeMarco also mentioned "additional tactical drone contract awards," including some related to the Valkyrie, as well as ongoing negotiations for additional contract awards that the company expects to win "in the coming months." No details were provided about clients or potential clients, although DeMarco did mention that Kratos is "a prime contractor for another client that we haven't discussed yet."

The XQ-58A Valkyrie takes off at the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in 2020.USAF/SSgt. Joshua King

Outside of the famous Valkyrie program, Kratos is also working on more stealthy drones, including "a new, undisclosed system that is the focus of Kratos' Ghost Works, unknown to the competition and others." DeMarco The mystery drone was tested in the company's flight tests,Burns Flat Range property, also in Oklahoma.

"Just this week, Kratos ran a very successful test campaign at the Burns Flat Test Range using the new system, and I'm sure neither our competitors nor our colleagues are aware of it in any way," added DeMarco.

An unnamed drone may even be in production. DeMarco points to three systems currently in production in Oklahoma, but can name only two: Valkyrie and Firejet. He further mentioned, "We have another project that we haven't talked about, I can't talk about it, it's in production right now," which could refer to the same car.

Another new drone initiative from KratosreachThe name in the earnings report is the domestic company Dark Fury, which should launch next year. No further details have been revealed, but Kratos has a long history with secret drone programs. Meanwhile, DeMarco's statement at least makes it clear that this is a separate effort from the Air Force's classifiedsProgram t-shirt, Kratos is also included.

The Mayhem is an experimental design that demonstrates the ability to carry various payloads in support of attack and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and could eventually lead to an operational platform.

Renderings from Leidos show what the Mayhem test vehicle could look like.Leidos

one seaPress releaseFrom then-Kratos, the company, in partnership with Leidos, "will serve as part of the Mayhem Project Systems Design Agent (SDA) team, which also includes Calspan and Draper." Expertise and capabilities of various partners in the industry. SDA's role in the program will also be to bring together the best minds in the industry to conduct the research and development necessary to produce prototype hypersonic air-breathing systems for multiple missions. SDA will oversee design, prototyping and testing, ultimately creating and delivering technical data packages for relevant high-performance hypersonic weapon systems. "

Last year, Leidos was awarded a $334 million Mayhem R&D contract. Kratos is known to be one of the companies the company is working with on the project.

A technical description of the Mayhem program was included in a contract document released by the Air Force Research Laboratory in December 2021.US Air Force

Additionally, Kratos is also one of the beneficiaries of the Air Force's up to $400 million Infinite Supply/Infinite Quantity (IDIQ) research and development contract. DeMarco described this as the primary objective: "To conduct research to develop, demonstrate, integrate and transition new technologies, designs and integrated systems for aircraft that will provide the Department of the Air Force with advanced capabilities."

With his Valkyrie, Kratos gained an advantage in quickly building and flying advanced tactical jet drones, including those with stealth capabilities. With the Valkyrie now attracting interest from services outside the Air Force as well, the company appears poised for the next step, both in terms of domestic programs and potential customers overseas.

With few details on the Dark Fury drone, let alone the more mysterious unnamed drone currently being tested, these are certainly exciting times for Kratos and the drone universe in general.

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