The US Air Force UU It has successfully tested an advanced drone aircraft with jet propulsion called the XQ58-A Valkyrie, which could one day accompany combat aircraft piloted by humans on missions. The concept is a bit like something we've seen in video games, a drone (or swarm of drones) can fight alongside a human pilot or absorb enemy fire instead.
The vehicle was developed as an association between the Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems as a relatively cheap platform that can play a role of electronic warfare, attack and surveillance on the battlefield, controlled by a piloted airplane on its own. or as part of a swarm group. It can carry a small payload of bombs, and can use a conventional track or can be launched through a rocket.
The prototype completed its first test flight (of five planned missions) on March 5 at the Yuma test grounds in Arizona, and the Air Force says it "behaved as expected" in the course of its flight of 76 minutes. The battery of test flights it will pass through will evaluate how well the drone systems worked and how well it takes off, flies and lands.
The interesting thing about this particular plan is that it is an early demonstration of a concept called "wing of the loyal wing". While this test saw the drone fly alone, not next to the fighter plane that is designed to accompany in the future, the idea is that it could fly next to a piloted vehicle, which would control it. From there, he could do anything from providing a bit of extra strength in the air, flying forward to explore the terrain, or even taking enemy fire instead of his fellow man-piloted humans.
According to New Atlas the Valkyrie can carry a small payload of intelligent bombs, and has a range of almost 2,500 miles. That's comparable to what existing fighters have: the F-16 Fighting Falcon reaches a maximum of just over 2,600 miles, while the F-22 Raptor has a range of just over 1,800 miles. However, it is a bit slower, while both the F-16 and the F-22 can travel at about 1,500 mph, the Valkyrie is designed as a subsonic vehicle, which reaches 652 kilometers per hour. At an estimated cost of $ 2-3 million per vehicle (around the cost of a Patriot missile), it is vastly cheaper than the fighters it could accompany, which can cost more than $ 100 million each. It is much more profitable that something like a drone receives an impact than for a fighter with a crew.
The concept of "loyal pilot" is not limited to combat aircraft, the same principle can also be applied to land and marine vehicles. The Pentagon has been increasingly seeking to add automation to the battlefield in recent years, and sees it as an opportunity to keep soldiers and personnel out of harm's way. This covers everything from the automation of supply vehicles operating in hostile territory, to autonomous submarines that can gather information or eliminate naval mines.
The Washington Post says that the Pentagon "has yet to commit to" the Valkyrie XQ58-A, but it is one of two similar systems that exist. Last month, Boeing unveiled its own "loyal wing" vehicle, the Airpower Teaming System, in Australia. Like the Valkyrie, it could be used to escort a fighter plane, or controlled from the ground. As Tyler Rogoway pointed out in The Drive such a vehicle could increase the capabilities of the air force by deploying additional (less expensive) non-pilot vehicles, without having to bring additional pilots to operate them.