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US Air Force contracts two for development of new Off Board Sensing Station UAS

Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie
Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie deploys the ALTIUS-600 small UAS in a test at the Yuma Proving Ground test range, Arizona on March 26, 2021. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force has awarded two companies contracts for the development of a new Off Board Sensing Station (OBSS) unmanned aerial system (UAS) which will focus on fast development and affordability.

According to two separate contract announcements from the Pentagon, Kratos and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) both received $17.7 million for the phase of work on the new program, which remains scant on details.

In earlier releases, the US Air Force said it was looking for an open-architecture system that would offer a “rapid time-to-market and low acquisition cost.” It was also noted that OBSS would be the second attritable aircraft development, with the first likely being the Skyborg attritable UAS. Interestingly, the same two contractors have been downselected for that program too.

According to the Kratos statement on the contract award, the OBSS vehicle is intended to be an affordable, highly modular conventional takeoff and landing jet-powered UAS.

Kratos says its OBSS solution would provide sensor extension missions for manned jet aircraft, in addition to accommodating significant offensive weapons volume that would see OBSS act as a weapons bay extension for manned aircraft.

“OBSS is a new addition to the Kratos family of low-cost autonomous collaborative platforms (ACP) designed to employ weapons, sensors, and other effects that generate affordable, force multiplier combat power with a forward force posture,” the company statement read.

The first phase of the contract has a 12-month performance period with an optional subsequent 15-month manufacture and demonstration period.

Should the options be exercised, the total value of the contracts would be $49 million for each company.

None of the companies shared photos of their OBSS designs, and GA-ASI is yet to respond to the contract announcement.

“Kratos is committed to disrupting the government contractor national security market by providing rapid, agile, affordable, and relevant systems to our defense customers. The recent selection of Kratos to develop next-generation OBSS aircraft for our partner, the US Air Force, re-affirms our approach to treat affordability as a technology,” Eric DeMarco, president and CEO of Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, said.

“Kratos Ghost Works, which played a significant role in the design of our OBSS system, has once again demonstrated that our real, proven, digital engineering process, methodology, assets, and infrastructure are optimized for affordable system development.”

Kratos is heavily involved in US Air Force UAS experimentation programs, with its XQ-58A Valkyrie low cost, high performance UAS demonstrator being the first aircraft developed in partnership between Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos as part of AFRL’s low cost attritable aircraft technology portfolio. One of the Valkyries is now in a museum, having previously supported tests related to the deployment of smaller UAS from the platform as well as serving as a “digital language” a translator between the F-22 and F-35.