posted on Jul, 11 2018 @ 09:19 AM
The Air Force Research Lab has been pursuing the concept of an 'attritable' UCAV. This is the idea an air force can build armed UAVs that are meant
to be reused, but are not so expensive as they cannot be sent off to possibly, even probably suicide missions. They are meant to be used as the air
frame, if the AFRL gets its way, for the Loyal Wingman program. The original program name is the "low cost attritable strike demonstrator."
In July 2016, Kratos won the competition to produce the UCAV. In May 2017, the AFRL released an image of an
" of what the LCASD could look like.
And, now, the AFRL has stated the Kratos bird is named the XQ-58A Valkyrie and will take to the skies for its first flight this fall. Sadly, there's
no picture released. However, there are some details that have been:
Details fo the XQ-58A design have not been released. The AFRL is careful to describe a rendering of the aircraft released last year as an
“artistic concept” that may not accurately reflect the real vehicle. Full details of the configuration remain secret, but the AFRL confirms the
XQ-58A is 9.14m (30ft) long with an 8.23m wingspan. It also can carry a 272kg (600lb) payload internally or mid-wing, the AFRL says.
The total payload is not much. That's really just enough for two small diameter bombs.
What's interesting, to me, is the wingspan vs length. This sucker is fairly big, but not huge: an F-35A is 50 ft long and 35 ft wingspan, a MQ-9
Reaper is 36 ft long and a wingspan of 65 ft, and the X-47B was 38 ft long and a wingspan of 62 ft. The Valkyrie is clearing NOT a flying wing. if
anything it seems like a delta wing shape, based on the ratios. But that's borderline wild speculation there.
As a note, the USAF is signaling they don't want to turn the F-16s and other 4th gen fighters into Loyal Wingmen. I suspect its for multiple
reasons. The maintenance issue for those aircraft is going to get worse: they are old airframes already by and large for those already had. And the
cost of building new airframes just about compares to the F-35. Additionally, the new Valkyrie probably also has some better stealth characteristics,
allowing the UCAV to get closer before detection than the old 4th gens have, but not so much as to drive the cost through the roof. So, while the
Falcons and Eagles are going to be sent to the boneyard and the USAF will almost assuredly develop the tech for converting them into strike UAVs if
needed, its clear preference is for new airframes that are much cheaper than the F-35 for the Loyal Wingman.