The US Air Force has awarded contracts to Boeing, General Atomics, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems and Northrop Grumman for work on delivering the service’s Skyborg autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle.
These initial awards will establish a vendor pool that will continue to compete for up to $400 million in subsequent delivery orders in support of the Skyborg Vanguard Program.
Skyborg is envisioned as an autonomous attritable aircraft capable of achieving a diverse set of missions to generate massed combat power.
The Skyborg prototyping, experimentation and autonomy development contract will be used to deliver missionized prototypes in support of operational experimentation and develop the first Skyborg air platform with modular hardware and software payloads that will incorporate the Skyborg autonomy core system and enable manned/unmanned teaming.
Work under the contract is expected to be completed by July 2026.
The prototyping contract comes after the service issued a solicitation in May this year, for prototypes of the system that would leverage artificial intelligence to operate as part of a larger group of drones and in unison with manned platforms.
“Because autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews, Skyborg can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the Air Force,” Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, commented. “We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power.”
The program has been designated as an Air Force Vanguard program to rapidly deliver transformational capabilities to the Department of Defense by marrying technology from the Air Force Research Laboratory and industry with a transition partner from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
An early operational capability is envisioned for as early as 2023.
The solicitation comes after last year’s “capability request for information” to industry to conduct market research and concept of operations analysis to learn what is commercially available now as high technology readiness level capabilities which can meet the requirements and timeline of the Skyborg program.
Skyborg officially stood up as an FY19 funded pathfinder program through SDPE in October 2018.
The US Air Force is already working with Kratos on the XQ-58 Valkyrie demonstrator, which is designed to serve as an escort for the F-22 or F-35 as a runway-independent, reusable “wingman” UAS controlled by the parent aircraft for a range of missions.