Three companies will move on to flight experiments as part of the Air Force’s Skyborg drone program, the service said Dec. 7.
Kratos earned $37.8 million, Boeing earned $25.7 million, and General Atomics earned $14.3 million to continue on in the program, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center said. Each contract will last two years.
The announcement indicates Northrop Grumman did not make the cut after receiving a contract to become part of the vendor pool in July.
“This award is a major step forward for our game-changing Skyborg capability—this award supporting our operational experimentation is truly where concepts become realities,” Brig. Gen. Dale R. White, program executive officer for fighters and advanced aircraft, said in the release. “We will aggressively test and fly to get this capability into the hands of our warfighters.”
The initiative seeks to field an artificial intelligence-powered aircraft that can assist fighter jets in combat, acting as a munitions truck, decoy, or surveillance plane. The unmanned systems should also be relatively inexpensive so the military can easily replace them if they are destroyed.
Skyborg is one of the Air Force’s top-priority technology development programs known as “vanguards,” which pull resources from across the service to speed their progress. Drone designs could be ready for regular operations by 2023.
Prototypes should be delivered to the Air Force by May, and flight experiments are slated to start in July. They will serve as a testbed for the software that will eventually direct their moves on the battlefield.
The Air Force has said it wants to take the best aspects from each design to create an optimal system “that adapts, orients, and decides at machine speed for a wide variety of increasingly complex mission sets.”
Air Force Magazine previously reported that USAF has considered deploying up to 10 squadrons of low-cost, attritable aircraft. They could also pair two such platforms with each F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in units known as “air dominance squadrons.”