The second of these drones, 15-8002, has been used to explore attritable drone concepts of operation, as well as a testbed for new communications gateways to help different stealthy aircraft “talk” to each other.
Meanwhile, the third, 15-8003, was used for the first stores release from the drone’s internal payload bay, dropping an example of the much smaller ALTIUS-600 drone during a flight at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in March this year. That was only the sixth flight in total for the XQ-58A program and you can read more about its implications here.
At the same time, the XQ-58A fleet has been used to expand the type’s operating envelope, flying increasingly faster and higher, while Kratos is engaged in building at least another nine Valkyries.
In the past, The War Zone has looked at the kinds of missions that a production version of the XQ-58A, or a further evolved stealthy, attritable drone might perform. As well as flying more hazardous sorties, such as those pertaining to electronic warfare, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), within contested airspace, there is scope for the drones to work as loyal wingmen or even as networked swarms in a host of other scenarios. They could even be used as advanced cruise missiles. With the ability to launch payloads including other drones, the scope of its potential missions is increased even further.
It’s also worth noting that the XQ-58A is being developed to be runway independent, further boosting the utility of any future production versions of the drone. Kratos has, in the past, shown a model of a launcher for the Valkyrie that can be accommodated inside a standard shipping container. That would make the drone even more suitable for distributed operations of the kind that are growing in importance under the Pentagon’s emerging warfighting strategy.
As already noted, the Valkyrie was designed from the outset to be a low-cost yet advanced drone, ensuring that, in the future, unmanned loyal wingmen can not only venture into more hostile environments from which they may well not return but also serve to increase the “mass” brought to bear on a potential enemy. This would be especially important when drones are being used to overwhelm or confuse hostile air defenses, for example.
With that in mind, it’s perhaps fitting that the first of the XQ-58As — representing what could well be a paradigm shift in air combat — will now see out its days on public display at the National Air Force Museum.
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