Two US defence manufacturers have been awarded funding to develop drones that act as sensor extensions as well as secondary weapons bays for manned fighter jets.
Kratos and General Atomics have both been awarded matching $17.7m contracts to develop an ‘off-board sensing station’ unmanned fighter aircraft.
The Air Force Research Laboratory programme includes an optional subsequent 15-month Manufacture and Demonstration period. With the base and option awards, total contract would be $49m.
The off-board sensing station vehicle is intended to be an affordable, highly modular conventional takeoff and landing jet-powered drone.
Kratos says in a press release its solution incorporates innovative manufacturing techniques that enhance its ability to not only provide significant performance for sensor extension missions for manned jet aircraft.
The fighter aircraft will also accommodate significant offensive weapons volume to act as a weapons bay extension for manned aircraft.
OBSS is a new addition to the Kratos family of low-cost Autonomous Collaborative Platforms (ACP) designed to employ weapons, sensors, and other effects that generate affordable, force multiplier combat power with a forward force posture.
Steve Fendley, president of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, said: “Our industry leading high performance per cost family of tactical and target unmanned aerial systems continues to grow, further enabling our economies of scale across the life cycle of our entire unmanned systems portfolio.
"Kratos’ range of UAS and quantities (mass to the fight) will help to maintain American dominance in the air by bending the cost curve to enable the US to acquire and employ large numbers of aircraft that challenge our adversary and force them to recalculate their options. Our team is extremely proud to be selected to design and develop the OBSS platform.”
Eric DeMarco, president and CEO of Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, added: “Kratos is committed to disrupting the government contractor national security market by providing rapid, agile, affordable, and relevant systems to our defense customers. The recent selection of Kratos to develop next-generation OBSS aircraft for our partner, the US Air Force, re-affirms our approach to treat affordability as a technology.
Kratos Ghost Works, which played a significant role in the design of our OBSS system, has once again demonstrated that our real, proven, digital engineering process, methodology, assets, and infrastructure are optimized for affordable system development.”
General Atomics has not released any more information on its contract award.