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US Air Force picks three companies to deliver Skyborg AI drone prototypes by 2021

XQ-58A Valkyrie
Illustration: Kratos is already working with USAF on the XQ-58A Valkyrie “wingman UAS” demonstrator

The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center has downselected three companies to deliver missionized prototypes of the Skyborg autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle prototypes by May 2021.

The prototypes will need to be capable of flying in experimentation events while teaming with manned aircraft.

The three selected companies include Boeing, who received $25,748,180 for the work, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems with a $14,317,933 contract award, and Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc. with $37,771,577.

Northrop Grumman, who was part of the initial vendor pool has not been awarded a contract at this phase.

The aim of the Skyborg Vanguard program is to integrate autonomous attritable unmanned air vehicle (UAV) technology with open missions systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. Skyborg will provide the foundation on which the Air Force can build an airborne autonomous ‘best of breed’ system that adapts, orients, and decides at machine speed for a wide variety of increasingly complex mission sets.

“This award is a major step forward for our game-changing Skyborg capability—this award supporting our operational experimentation is truly where concepts become realities. We will experiment to prove out this technology and to do that we will aggressively test and fly to get this capability into the hands of our warfighters,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft. He, along with Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), serves as the leadership for the Skyborg program.

Initial vehicles are anticipated to be delivered no later than May 2021 to conduct initial flight test prior to proceeding into experimentation events beginning in July 2021.

There will be competition throughout the entire period of performance of these awards. The effort will consist of multiple phases, meant to continue evaluation of the performance of the vendors. These vehicles will not only serve as platforms to test the Skyborg Autonomous Core System but will also help to demonstrate the competitive advantage of autonomous attritable aircraft by participating in user focused and influenced experimentation events.

Skyborg is one of three Vanguard programs identified in 2019 as part of the Air Force Science and Technology (S&T) 2030 initiative. These high priority development efforts are meant to rapidly field systems, by pairing technology development under AFRL with the acquisitions capabilities found in AFLCMC.