Later this year, the U.S. Air Force will test a new concept drone designed to act like a sidekick to combat planes with human pilots. The service sees the XQ-58A “Valkyrie,” or something very much like it, as a cost-effective way to augment the service’s current aircraft fleet.
Kratos, a builder of target drones, has been developing the XQ-58A. Under the Air Force’s “loyal wingman” concept, a drone wingman could act in concert with its crewed partner to shoot down enemy fighters, run interference for the crewed airplane as it carries out an attack, or suppress and destroy enemy air defenses before the crewed plane enters range.
The Air Force Research lab launched the XQ-58A out of the larger Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) program, which was envisioned as a way of adding more airframes, firepower, and capability to the Air Force without building crazy-expensive new fighter jets. After all, not every mission needs a fully functional aircraft with pilot onboard.
In 2016, when the Air Force awarded the LCASD contract to Kratos, Seniorhelpline reported: “The drone will be capable of Mach 0.9 speeds for short periods of time, have a 1,500-nautical-mile range, and be able to carry at least two small diameter bombs. It will feature ‘extreme agility’ for missile avoidance.”
According to the latest information from Flight International, the XQ-58A is 30 feet long with a 27-foot wingspan. It can carry a 600-lb. payload internally on its wings. The two GBU-39 bombs (250 lbs. each) would indeed be consistent with the stated 600 pound payload. The internal payload capability hints that the unmanned aircraft is designed to minimize its radar signature.
The XQ-58A is meant as a technology demonstrator, but it sure sounds like something that could become an operational aircraft. Alternately, as Flight International points out, the loyal wingman technology could be ported back to older Air Force aircraft, creating unmanned airplanes.
The revelation that the Valkyrie drone is named XQ-58C ends speculation as to which mystery aircraft had received the X-58 designation. The Quiet Super Sonic Technology aircraft, , was recently revealed with the designation X-59, prompting questions as to what unknown aviation project had been named X-58.