BAE Systems to design expendable Skyborg drone for US Air Force
BAE Systems has won an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract worth up to US$400 million to compete to develop a digital design for a low-cost, autonomous robotic combat drone that can partner with piloted warplanes under the US Air Force's Skyborg program.
The latest 5th- and the coming 6th-generation fighters may be remarkable feats of engineering but, for all their capabilities, they share two drawbacks. First, they can cost over US$120 million each, and second, they can take so long from first sketch to entering service that they end up being obsolete before the last one rolls off the assembly line.
For this reason, the Skyborg project is seeking an "attritable" drone to complement conventional piloted aircraft. In other words, it would be an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that is low-cost enough to be expendable, playing a similar role to the escort destroyers and aircraft carriers built fast and cheap during the Second World War to protect Allied battleships and merchant convoys.
The Skyborg program aims to produce a low-cost drone that is not only an autonomous vehicle, but one that can networked for manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T), which will allow it to use its sensors and payloads to protect the piloted fighter while providing reconnaissance data to magnify the fighter's capabilities.
To achieve this, BAE will use the company's autonomous systems as well as modular and common systems designs that will allow the aircraft to be quickly modified and updated.
"The need to generate combat power faster than our adversaries is critical to address near-peer threats," says Ehtisham Siddiqui, vice president and general manager of Controls and Avionics Solutions at BAE Systems. "This award will accelerate the development and deployment of manned-unmanned teaming technologies to give the U.S. Air Force a decisive edge in the battle space."
Source: BAE Systems