Kratos Defence & Security Solutions Inc. was contracted on July 11, 2016, by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for the LCASD (Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System Demonstration). With funding of 40.8 million US dollars, of which 7.3 million will be funded by the government, and 33.5 million will be invested internally by Kratos itself, the contract will have a 30-month period of performance. The company will hold the right to access technological and hard assets from the government (including aircraft, software, and data related to the contract with a value of 100 million US dollars). This has allowed the private company to take its first steps to the production of the first drones that approximately meet the requirements set in the LCASD agreement.
Kratos XQ-222 UAS / Picture Credit: Kratos
The Air Force Research Laboratory has stated the following requirements for Kratos:
- The Unmanned Aerial System must reach speeds of Mach 0.9 or more.
- High offense and defense maneuverability that will allow it to be a “wingman” to US military fighter jets.
- The cost of the Unmanned Aerial Systems must not exceed 3 million US dollars per vehicle for a 99-unit purchase. In the case of 100 or more units, the cost must not exceed the 2 million US dollar per vehicle value. This confirms that these aerial systems will be disposable if the operation requires it.
- 1500-mile operation radius, or 3000-mile in case the vehicle does not need to return to base.
- 500-lb payload, which allows the vehicle to transport surveillance technologies or weapons
- Easy independent take-off and landing procedures
- A 24- month period for demonstrating the first successful product.
Kratos Advancement in the Program
The possibility of such an unmanned vehicle had been already demonstrated by Kratos with the UTAP-22 Tornado drone. This drone that mimics the features of a real military jet can reach speeds of Mach 0.91. It has a 1400-mile radius of operation. In fact, it was thought that Kratos would probably simply upgrade the design of the Tornado model to meet the requirements. However, the company has invested a large sum in creating the new XQ-222 model from the ground-up. The Kratos Unmanned Systems Division explained how the requirements describe a specific vehicle shifting the focus from the durability of the drone to a low-cost and agile product. This could not be achieved with simple adjustments on existing vehicles.
The XQ-222 drone was created with the above specifications in mind. Its radius of operation reaches the 1500-mile requirement. The payload of 500 lb allows the drone to carry up to two Small Diameter Bombs. Its load can be increased by decreasing the fuel and lowering this way the radius of operation. This model includes stealth technology thanks to the V-tails, the trapezoidal fuselage and the wings similar to the Avenger model. Its takeoff is assisted by a rocket, while the landing is done through a parachute. This allows the drone to be used in any terrain. Its speed reaches the Mach 0.9 threshold. The XQ-222 model is still being tested and improved using the UTAP-22 as a reference. The latter one has already been used as a “wingman” to a military carrier.
These products showcase that though the program is still in its early phases, Kratos has already taken several significant steps forward.