During the next few months the U.S. Air Force will test a new concept drone designed to act like a sidekick to combat planes with human pilots. Codename of this project is “loyal wingman”. Such a drone or, to be more specific, entire “drone fleet” will give huge advantage to more precious manned aircraft operating in the hostile areas. “Loyal Wingman” it is a drone wingman that 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.
Mane drones were proposed to fulfill this role, but the USAF sees he XQ-58A “Valkyrie” or something very much like it, as a cost-effective way to augment the service’s current aircraft fleet.
The XQ-58A manufactured by Kratos company is 30 feet (c. 9.14 m) long with a 27-foot (c. 8.23 m) wingspan. It can carry a 600-lb. (about 272 kilos) payload internally on its wings. The two GBU-39 bombs (250 lbs./113 kilos 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 Air Force Research lab launched the XQ-58A out of the larger Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) program. In perspective of the next decade the LCASD program has the potential to strengthen the overall power of the USAF by adding more airframes, firepower, and capability to the Air Force without building crazy-expensive new fighter jets. Moreover the loyal wingman technology could be ported back to older Air Force aircraft, creating unmanned airplanes, so even the formerly retired planes could be restored to service – now as fully operational combat support drones.
Author: Daniel Kasprzycki
Source: Popular Mechanics (www.popularmechanics.com)
Photo: A visualization of the XQ-58A “Valkyrie” drones formation attacking enemy targets (Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc.)