US Navy to procure XQ-58A Valkyrie for Killer Drone Project

The U.S. Navy is looking to build a killer drone to counter air defenses in the future.
Ameya Paleja

The U.S. Navy has confirmed the purchase of two XQ-58A Valkyrie drones as part of its Penetrating Affordable Autonomous Collaborative Killer, the Department of Defense said in its press release about awarded contracts. So far, the U.S. Air Force was the only service that used the XQ-58A drones.

The decision by the U.S. Navy is in line with the global shift in warfare where low-cost uncrewed aircraft are being trialed for expendable missions, thereby ensuring that high-cost advanced fighters and highly trained crew stay away from harm.

In the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russia, too, has deployed cheaply imported drones from Iran, which, when deployed in large swarms, can easily overwhelm the most advanced air defense systems. While the details of the penetrating affordable autonomous collaborative killer project remain scanty, it is likely that the U.S. Navy is also thinking on similar lines and looking to finish off the adversarial air defense with a killer drone.

Why does the XQ-58A make for a great drone?

Manufactured by Kratos Defense, the XQ-58 A Valkyrie is an experimental stealth unmanned combat aerial vehicle that can cruise at over 650 miles (1,046 km) an hour and has a range of 3,500 miles (5,600 km). The unmanned aircraft was designed and built for the U.S. Air Force as part of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)'s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) project.

The XQ-58A has the capability to deliver a mix of lethal weapons that can be carried either in its internal bomb bay or under the wings. What makes the drone highly effective is the ability to take off using a rocket-assisted static launcher and the use of a parachute to return when the sortie is completed. Completely runway independent, the drone can be used even in the most contested battlegrounds with quite some ease. At the same time, its low price allows it to be used as an expendable aerial vehicle.

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The U.S. Navy's mission

The U.S. Navy's contract includes two XQ-58A Valkyrie drones with sensor and weapons payloads and includes technical details such as non-recurring engineering, system/subsystem integration, logistics, and maintenance of the drones, as well as contractor-operated operations at government test ranges.

More importantly, this contract was awarded under 10 U.S. Code 4023, which allows for non-competitive awards only for experimental purposes. Since the contract work needs to be completed by September 2023, whatever the U.S. Navy has in mind with these drones can be expected to be executed before the year's end.

According to The Drive, a single unit of the Valkyrie drone can cost as much as $4 million. In the past, the U.S. Air Force retired its Valkyrie drones after just three test flights without any upgrades. The U.S. Navy has previous experience in flying crewed-uncrewed missions with Kratos' UTAP-22 Mako Drone, and it is likely that it could try out similar missions with the Valkyrie but in a killer drone format.

Irrespective of what is attempted, the U.S. Navy has a plethora of options available for the actual deployment of its plans, with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Atomics, and Boeing all offering similar options for drones from their stables.