Stealthy Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie taking off in slow motion video

On October 2 at Eglin Air Force Base, the US Marine Corps conducted the first successful flight test of the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aerial vehicle. The test comes just under a year after two prototypes were ordered by the US Marine Corps.

In an intriguing video shared on social media, the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie takes off in slow motion. The unmanned vehicle takes its first seconds in the air by taking off from a ground launch pad, leaving fire and smoke in its wake.

Valkyrie would enhance the Corps

First Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie test flight in slow-motion video
Video screenshot

The latest test flight carried out by the Marine Corps, in collaboration with the Air Force and Navy, is a stride further in the transition towards new strategies presented by prior Commandant Gen. David Berger in Force Design 2030. These service-wide initiatives involve executing Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations across vast distances against formidable opponents akin to the caliber of near-peer competitors. 

Through the evaluation of the XQ-58 Valkyrie, the Corps is examining prerequisites for an extremely autonomous, cost-efficient tactical Unmanned Aerial System [UAS]. Such a system would enhance the Corps’ agility, expeditionary, and lethal abilities, serving both the Marine Corps’ operations in rugged terrains and the comprehensive Joint Force, according to Lt. Col. Donald Kelly, based at the Headquarters Marine Corps Aviation Cunningham Group and Advanced Development Team, as quoted in a press release. 

The Valkyrie underwent six test flights, which scrutinized the UAV’s capacity to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR]. They explored using AI platforms to support air patrols and studied manned-unmanned teaming capabilities.

Flight test data helps set future standards and shows the experimental potential achievable through collaborations. Scott Bey, portfolio manager at the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering office, highlights the progress possible through teamwork.

LCAAT will escort F-22/F-35

The XQ-58 Valkyrie is a key component of the USAF Research Laboratory’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology [LCAAT] project. The laboratory’s mission is to expedite the design and construction of unmanned combat aerial vehicles [UCAVs] via the cultivation of enhanced design tools and the incorporation of advanced commercial manufacturing procedures. Such advancements aim to significantly curtail production time and costs. 

The LCAAT project envisions the XQ-58 Valkyrie as playing a pivotal supportive role during combat operations involving the F-22 or F-35. Its tasks may include deploying weaponry or surveillance systems, among others. 

The unique selling point of the XQ-58 stems from its potential role as a loyal wingman. The XQ-58, under the command of a parent aircraft, can perform tasks like reconnaissance, providing defensive firepower, or serving as a decoy.

In terms of design, the XQ-58 touts stealth capabilities, courtesy of a trapezoidal fuselage featuring a chined edge, as well as a V-tail, and an S-shaped air intake. It can operate within a drone swarm, with or without direct pilot control. Moreover, the XQ-58 is capable of executing conventional take-offs and landings. Alternatively, it can be launched from nondescript modules, encompassing support ships, shipping containers, or semi-trailer trucks. 

According to representatives from Kratos, the company has the potential to produce between 250 and 500 Valkyries every year. With an annual production rate of 50 aircraft, each Valkyrie could be produced for approximately $4 million. This unit cost could potentially drop below the $2 million mark if the yearly production exceeds 100 airframes.

XQ-58 Valkyrie technical characteristics

One of the key technical characteristics of the XQ-58 Valkyrie is its size. It has a length of approximately 28 feet and a wingspan of about 22 feet, making it a relatively compact aircraft.

The Valkyrie is driven by a Pratt & Whitney F100-229 turbofan engine, reaching top speeds of Mach 0.85. This engine is commonly used in fighter aircraft and gives the Valkyrie the ability to fly at high subsonic speeds.

Another important technical feature of the XQ-58 Valkyrie is its modular design. It has a payload bay that can accommodate various mission-specific payloads, such as sensors, weapons, or additional fuel tanks. This modularity allows for flexibility and adaptability, enabling the Valkyrie to be customized for different mission requirements.

The XQ-58 Valkyrie also incorporates advanced avionics and autonomous capabilities. It is equipped with a suite of sensors, including radar and electro-optical/infrared [EO/IR] systems, which provide situational awareness and target detection capabilities. Additionally, it has autonomous flight capabilities, allowing it to operate with minimal human intervention.

The Valkyrie can operate for around 2,500 nautical miles and function for over 6 hours. It can operate at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet, giving it the ability to perform a wide range of missions, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike missions.

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