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US Air Force taps start up to develop new adversary air training drone

Blue Force Technologies Bandit UAV
Blue Force Technologies graphic of the Bandit UAV that will support adversary air (ADAIR) training missions for pilots of Air Force fighter aircraft.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate has awarded a contract to Blue Force Technologies to develop an unmanned air vehicle that will support adversary air (ADAIR) training missions.

The Bandit program contract was awarded as the result of a Strategic Financing (STRATFI) proposal selected by AFWERX with a $9 million initial value and options to complete the design and build of up to four air vehicles.

Under the Bandit program, Blue Force Technologies, a small aerospace and defense company based in North Carolina, will mature a high-performance unmanned air vehicle design that pilots of Air Force fighter aircraft can use to train against.

The Air Force said the air vehicle is a part of a proposed autonomy-based system providing adversary air training for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter crews at reduced costs compared to current manned capabilities.

The 12-month effort will mature the vehicle design to critical design level, perform engine ground testing and validate the design of the engine installation under the technical guidance of AFRL subject matter experts. Options under this contract, if exercised, will complete the design and engineering tasks, produce up to four air vehicles and complete initial flight testing.

Alyson Turri, the AFRL Bandit program manager, said “these small unmanned ADAIR systems can be flown in training scenarios so that fighter pilots can train against tactically relevant adversaries in threat representative numbers. The goal is to develop an unmanned platform that looks like a fifth-generation adversary with similar vehicle capabilities.”

The Bandit program aims to provide an air vehicle solution for the unmanned ADAIR capability which, when integrated with autonomy, mission payloads and sensors, will revolutionize the adversary air training mission and provide key opportunities for pilots to interact with the unmanned systems in a training environment.

SBIR work with Blue Force Technologies began in 2019 and covered the initial requirements development, vehicle design, analysis and build of a structural test article supporting unmanned ADAIR.

AFRL is coordinating the Bandit program with Air Combat Command and has aligned the vehicle development effort in support of the unmanned ADAIR capability. ACC Commander Gen. Mark Kelly addressed the need for alternate approaches to costly adversary air sorties at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Life Cycle Industry Days in August 2021.

Bandit is the latest in a series of US Air Force programs to develop unmanned aerial systems capable of interacting with pilots for various missions. Projects already underway include the Skyborg low-cost, attritable unmanned air vehicle with manned-unmanned teaming capabilities, as well as the Off Board Sensing Station (OBSS) UAS which will focus on fast development and affordability.