The U.S. Is Investing in Low-Cost, Unmanned "Disposable" Warplanes

The U.S. Air Force is investing heavily on pilot-free aircraft that can be sent on riskier missions.
Chris Young

One thing you wouldn't usually associate with disposables is a warplane. And yet, Air Force officials at the 2019 Defense News conference have said that the U.S. is investing in "low-cost, single-use aircraft."

Unmanned aircraft can be sent on missions too dangerous for crewed aircraft to go on. They are also more affordable, making them an attractive proposition as a way to bolster the U.S. Air Force's existing fleet.


Reusable aircraft

As Popular Mechanics reports, Air Force officials made the recent comments at this year's Defence News Conference.

As per Fighter Jets World, Stephen Trimble, Defense Editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology, also pointed out on Twitter that the Air Force now uses the term “reusable” and “disposable” when referring to unmanned aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force already owns large fleets of such type of aircraft. These are mainly used for intelligence and surveillance missions — for example, the MQ-9 Reaper and the RQ-4 Global Hawk. Though the Reaper does have the ability to fire anti-tank missiles, these are largely non-combat aircraft.

Fighter planes are extremely expensive. An F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, for example, will cost a government $89.5 million. Not only that, the jet costs $44,000 per hour to operate during flight.

A new B-21 Raider bomber, Popular Mechanics says, will cost about $640 million in today’s dollars.

Low-cost war machines

The Air Force has invested heavily into the development of the XQ-58A Valkyrie, in hopes that it will make this money back by saving costs on aircraft.

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The XQ-58A Valkyrie is a stealthy, subsonic unmanned aircraft with a payload of 600 pounds

It has a range of 1,500 nautical miles (1,726 miles or 2777.7 kilometers) and has no need for pilot space or a life support system. The aircraft is expected to be able to fly for 12,000 hours.

The Valkyrie is expected to cost approximately $3 million, making it thirty times cheaper than an F-35, Popular Mechanics says.

The U.S. Air Force will soon be adding it to its fleet with a set of aircraft that can carry out missions manned aircraft might not be able to — and at a fraction of the cost.

“The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DOD endorsement.”

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