US Valkyrie drone swarms taking clearer, cheaper shape – Asia Times

US Valkyrie drone swarms taking clearer, cheaper shape - Asia Times

US company Kratos is expanding its XQ- 58 Valkyrie drone family to five variants, underscoring the shift toward more cost- powerful, mass- useable combat drones in a fresh age of conflict extremely driven by rapid advancements in intelligent warfare technologies, The Warzone reported.

The XQ- 58 is designed as a faithful wingman controlled by a parent aircraft, worthy of scouting, protective fire or releasing enemy fire and can also run as part of a swarm without strong pilot control.

The perfect XQ- 58 home today includes an Increment 1 or Valkyrie A version with B, C and D types. The Warzone notes that the XQ- 58A has a cruising speed of Mach 0.72, can fly off to 45, 000 feet above sea level, has a peak range of around 3, 000 miles and is runway- independent, offering further operational flexibility.

Kratos has been working to strike an affordable balance between costs and capabilities for mass production as it bids on the next round of the US Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA ) program.

The company aims to reduce the XQ- 58’s price to US$ 2 million per unit, comparable or even less than some missiles. It notes that the XQ- 58A’s current unit cost is approximately$ 5.5 million, including all required test, launch and support equipment. Kratos has estimated the cost of the Valkyrie Version B at$ 4 million per aircraft, with a total cost estimate of 100 aircraft.

However, Kratos CEO Eric DeMarco says he could not provide cost information about the C and D variants for competitive reasons, the Warzone reported. The report says Kratos is also working toward a cost of approximately$ 800 per pound for an Off- Board Sensing Station System type configuration.

The Warzone says military aircraft typically cost$ 2, 500 per pound, meaning the XQ- 58 can be comparatively cheaper. This cost refers to everything that goes into the aircraft, including materials, engines and mission systems divided by its gross weight.

The wars in Ukraine and Gaza have cemented drones as a mainstay of modern warfare, transforming them from bespoke counterterrorism tools to a ubiquitous feature of the modern battlefield.

In a Vox article this month, Joshua Keating points out that the key US takeaway from the Ukraine and Gaza wars is that with drones, the advantage does n’t necessarily go to the one with the more advanced models but to the side that can cheaply build, field and replace them in mass.

Keating mentions that both sides in the Ukraine war are using artificial intelligence ( AI ) to increase the lethality of their drones. He notes both Russia and Ukraine are fielding autonomous weapons on a limited level while the conflict is accelerating their development. &nbsp,

He also says the Pacific theater would require more advanced and expendable drones with greater range, autonomy and endurance to penetrate China’s anti- access/area denial ( A2/AD ) systems at standoff ranges.

Keating states that large fleets of drones will likely accelerate the US military’s adoption of AI for potentially thousands of autonomous drones to operate in a contested electromagnetic and cyber environment.

In line with those developments, the US has unveiled initiatives to harness the military advantage of swarms of cheap, expendable and easily replaceable drones. Such endeavors include the Replicator and Autonomous Multi- Domain Adaptive Swarms- of- Swarms ( AMASS) projects.

In September 2023, Asia Times reported that the US Department of Defense ( DOD ) had unveiled the Replicator Program, a strategy to rapidly advance the fielding of attritable autonomous platforms in air, land and sea domains. The program aims to counter China’s rising military capabilities and is expected to have an aggressive 18 to 24- month deployment timeline.

The program envisions a shift towards human- operated systems working in concert with autonomous systems. Recent advancements in AI, mesh networks and grand networking capabilities will facilitate autonomous, decentralized functioning, even in limited bandwidth conditions.

In February 2023, Asia Times reported on the US DOD’s AMASS project to develop autonomous drone swarms capable of being launched from sea, air and land to overwhelm enemy air defenses.

The project aims to create the ability to deploy and control many independent drones to eliminate an adversary’s defensive systems, such as air defense, artillery, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance ( ISR ) equipment.

AMASS is expected to utilize autonomous drone swarms with diverse sensors and weapons to perform military actions in contested environments. The primary focus of the project is apparently to deter or defeat a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The project has been granted a budget of$ 78 million and a single private contractor is expected to be awarded the project.

However, adopting drone swarms as an established combat arm presents various technical and bureaucratic challenges.

This month, Asia Times noted that drone technology faces a significant challenge in balancing computing power with payload size and mission duration. If drones ‘ computing capabilities are increased, it might reduce the mission time or increase the payload capacity.

It is essential to balance accurate ground stations and fast data processing to make sense of the information gathered by drone sensors. As the number of drones in a swarm increases, too many signals competing for the same bandwidth can cause problems, making it difficult to operate efficiently.

Drone swarms may also encounter difficulties operating in unpredictable and dynamic surroundings such as cities or mountainous regions due to the limitations of their sensors.

It is vital to have a reliable design for drones since one failing unit can cause the entire swarm to fail. As drone swarms get larger and reach further, significant communication delays could undermine mission success.

In a December 2023 Defense News article, Noah Robertson points out that the US defense establishment is a labyrinth of bureaucracy that only changes with top- level leadership impetus. Robertson says it is difficult to change the institutional mindset without a crisis.

He states that while the US defense establishment is adept at responding to short- term contingencies, the” spark” that would trigger the full- scale adoption of drone swarms, as conceptualized by Replicator and AMASS, has yet to emerge. &nbsp,

Robertson also mentions that while the Replicator budget is already disbursed, most of the money is reserved for research, development and testing instead of procurement. He says budget reallocation and other military projects could divert funds from Replicator’s budget in the future.

He also points out Replicator’s dependence on China’s manufacturing for drone components, potentially breaking the project’s logic by depending on the country it is designed to counter.