Kratos, the aerospace firm behind the XQ-58A Valkyrie drone, has hit a new milestone with its drone program. What could shape up to be one of Kratos’ most important drones is getting faster, stronger, and better overall.
“The test flight performed at Yuma Proving Ground proved XQ-58A’s extended capabilities by flying longer, higher, at a heavier mission weight, and at a longer range than the platform has previously been approved for (based on prior government range limitations) and demonstrated,” the company explained in a statement.
“This flight was conducted with another of the Block 2 Valkyrie aircraft produced in the company-initiated 12-lot build and was the first flight for this tail number.”
The statement continued: “The flight was conducted with and demonstrated encrypted communications with redundant radios/communications … packages for range and operational missions remote from government ranges. For the final test point, the aircraft navigated to the landing site in a simulated loss of communications scenario.”
The advanced drone “landed within the target zone, demonstrating key autonomous capability for the end of mission phase of flight and recovery of the aircraft without RF comms. This capability will help mitigate the possibility of enemy detection and tracking of RF comms emissions as the system returns to ‘base.’”
Imagery released by the company shows the Valkyrie slowly drifting down to earth, suspended in the air by a trio of parachutes.
Though not yet a reality, in the future, pilots could fly in tandem with unmanned drones like the Valkyrie, staying out of dangerous areas and instead sending unmanned vehicles to take on complex challenges.
“This flight test was a key milestone in Kratos’ support of AFRL’s Autonomous Collaborative Enabling Technologies (ACET) portfolio,” the company explained.
It added that “ACET is focused on developing Autonomous Collaborative Platforms (ACP) such as Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA). The advanced capabilities proven on this flight make the XQ-58 ready for future ACP experimentation.”
During a quarterly earnings call, Kratos explained that its drone has been extraordinarily successful and forecasted new growth for the company.
“As we reported today Block 2 Kratos Valkyrie production aircraft recently demonstrated extended capabilities by flying longer, higher at a heavier mission weight and a longer range than ever before, with the flight achieving a key milestone of the AFRL autonomous collaborative enabling technologies portfolio.”
“Simply stated, Kratos' tactical drones continue to mature and progress. We remain on track to complete the initial Valkyrie 12 production lot next year, and we are in process of deciding on a subsequent Valkyrie serial production run, including things are definitive sized with our three new customer opportunities over the next few months.”
So, while American pilots do not yet fly alongside unmanned drones, that future reality is coming closer to fruition.
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.