The United States Air Force Research Laboratory, the world’s premier aviation research and development group, will soon offer the United States military what is likely the world’s most advanced aggressor aircraft: a simulated enemy airplane.
“The Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate has awarded a Small Business Innovation Research contract to Blue Force Technologies to develop an unmanned air vehicle that supports adversary air (ADAIR) training missions,” a statement from the Air Force Research Laboratory explained.
“The Bandit program contract was awarded as the result of a Strategic Financing (STRATFI) proposal selected by AFWERX with a $9 million initial value and options to complete the design and build of up to four air vehicles.”
Aggressor aircraft, traditionally manned platforms, play the role of an adversary and help pilots train against an enemy that is close to real-world conditions.
“Under the Bandit program, Blue Force Technologies, a small aerospace and defense company based in North Carolina, will mature a high-performance unmanned air vehicle design that pilots of Air Force fighter aircraft can use to train against,” the Air Force Research Laboratory statement explained.
“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 Bandit vehicle is a sleek, unmanned aircraft with a pair of stubby wings and a canted V-tail, features that would be likely to reduce the aircraft’s signature and simulate a fifth-generation fighter jet.
“These small unmanned ADAIR systems can be flown in training scenarios so that fighter pilots can train against tactically relevant adversaries in threat representative numbers,” the AFRL Bandit program manager Alyson Turri explained.
She added that “the goal is to develop an unmanned platform that looks like a fifth-generation adversary with similar vehicle capabilities.”
The world’s most prolific and successful fifth-generation fighter jet is the F-35 series. Though the United States military is by far the airplane’s most significant operator, the aircraft has been exported widely to U.S. allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The most recent country to acquire the jet is Germany, which decided to acquire thirty-five F-35s.
Given the advanced nature of the Bandit, American allies who operate the F-35 could make use of the aggressor and reduce the number of flight hours their own F-35’s acquire. However, it remains unclear if the Bandit will be available for export and if so, in what quantities. Regardless, the U.S. aggressor squadrons are poised to field a potent new resource.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.
Image: Flickr/U.S. Air Force.