The first of two XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) for the USMC successfully completed its first test flight at Eglin AFB, Florida, on October 2, closely followed by an F-16CM Fighting Falcon (88-0441/ET) from the 40th Flight Test Squadron – a component of the USAF’s 96th Test Wing – that was flying as the ‘chase’ aircraft.
This was the first of six planned test flights, which aimed to evaluate the XQ-58A’s ability to support a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, as well as its effectiveness in providing autonomous electronic support to crewed platforms. The potential for AI-enabled platforms to augment Combat Air Patrols and other manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capability objectives were also explored.
Developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, the Valkyrie is closely associated with the USAF’s Loyal Wingman program, but it is also being closely examined by the Marines. The USMC has explored a number of UAVs under the service’s extensive experimentation that is being undertaken as part of the Force Design 2030 effort. The XQ-58A is a highly autonomous, low-cost tactical UCAV that can operate at ranges of approximately 3,000nmi (5,556km) with a payload of sensors or weaponry. It does not need a runway, making it potentially useful in agile expeditionary operations.
It is being examined as part of the USMC’s Penetrating Affordable Autonomous Collaborative Killer-Portfolio (PAACK-P) programme, which is expected to inform the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Unmanned Aerial System Expeditionary (MUX) Tactical Aircraft (TACAIR) requirement. The US Navy has also ordered two Valkyries for its own experimentation purposes, which are understood to be broadly similar to those of the USMC. The Navy’s XQ-58As will carry similar sensor and weapon system payloads.