Air Force’s Future Stealthy Combat Drone Could Use AI to Learn

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high-subsonic, unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019, at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high-subsonic, unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019, at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. (U.S. Air Force photo)

July 2, 2019 | Source: Military, Oriana Pawlyk. 20 June 2019

SALON DU BOURGET, PARIS -- The company working with the U.S. Air Force to create what may be the Service's first artificial intelligence drone is gearing up for the final few demo tests, according to an industry official.

Kratos Defense completed its second test flight of the XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aerial vehicle -- which, in the near future, could accommodate AI -- on June 11 at test ranges in Yuma, Arizona. And "the final three flights are going to occur over the next several months before the end of 2019, [possibly] into early 2020," Kratos Defense CEO and President Eric DeMarco told Military.com here at the Paris Air Show.

The latest news comes as the Air Force is looking to expedite the prototype program. Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said Monday there's potential to field some Valkyrie drones faster -- roughly 20 to 30 -- for experimentation before the Service syncs manned fighters with the drone by 2023.

DeMarco said Roper's idea doesn't come as a surprise. 

That way, "the operator can start experimenting with them and utilizing them, and that would tie right into a path for 2023 operational capability," DeMarco said. Kratos said each expendable drone runs between $2 million to $3 million. Valkyrie completed its 76-minute maiden flight in March.

Parallel to Kratos' work, the Air Force Research Lab is working on the "Skyborg" program, aimed at pairing AI with a human in the cockpit. "The Air Force Research Lab has been nothing short of an incredible partner. It's their brainpower, it's their facilities, their capability. They're A-plus," DeMarco said.

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