Air Force can now deploy drones from other drones

The Air Force Research Lab successfully launched a small unmanned system from a larger drone mid-flight, the lab said.
The Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos Defense; Security Solutions, Inc., completed the successful fourth flight of the XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle, at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, on Jan. 23, 2020. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

The Air Force‘s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) capabilities took a step forward with new test flights that launched a small UAS out of a larger drone.

The test, conducted in late March by the Air Force Research Lab, showed that a larger Valkyrie UAS can release a smaller UAS through its weapons bay door, a new capability that could lead to the use of drone networks being deployed during battle.

“This is the sixth flight of the Valkyrie and the first time the payload bay doors have been opened in flight,” Alyson Turri, demonstration program manager, said in a release.

The Valkyrie XQ-58A is an “attritable” system, meaning it is cheap enough to easily replace it if destroyed or lost. The Valkyrie drone hardware is being developed for use in multiple Air Force emerging technology programs, including the Skyborg program, which plans to network attritable drones as “loyal wingmen” to human-piloted fighters, and the Advanced Battle Management System that will serve as the backbone of the military’s Internet of Things concept.


Nesting a smaller drone into the Valkyrie system that can be deployed mid-air could give the Air Force enhanced surveillance, counter-drone and even explosive-delivery capabilities. The smaller drones were developed by Kratos and Area-I — the latter of which was recently acquired by Anduril Industries.

Other parts of the military are also investing in research on how to build networks of drones and how to counter enemy systems. Turning single drones into systems of networked drones has also been a priority for Anduril, the new owner of Area-I, which specializes in mid-air launch systems.

“We believe that to really enable these technologies to go, you have to solve the autonomy side,” Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf told FedScoop when the purchase was announced.

The tests in late March also increased the altitude and speed at which the Valkyrie flew, giving it enhanced military capability.

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