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‘Loyal wingman’: All you need to know about US Valkyrie drones

Published:

NEW DELHI: The expansion of the

XQ-58 Valkyrie drone

family by

US firm

Kratos to five variants marks a significant shift toward more affordable, mass-produced

combat drones

in the modern era of warfare, heavily influenced by the rapid development of

autonomous warfare technologies

. This expansion underscores the effort to craft cost-effective solutions in an age where autonomous systems are becoming increasingly central to military strategies.
As per an Asia Times report, the XQ-58 is envisioned as a “loyal wingman” to manned aircraft, equipped for scouting, defense, and enemy engagement, capable of operating within a drone swarm without direct human piloting.

The Valkyrie family now boasts several versions, including the Valkyrie A (Increment 1) along with B, C, and D models, each designed for specific operational flexibilities and capabilities.
Kratos is focused on achieving a balance between affordability and performance for the XQ-58, with an aim to lower the unit cost to around $2 million per drone, a price point that is competitive with, or even lower than, some missile systems. The initiative reflects a broader trend in

modern warfare

where drones have transitioned from specialized counterterrorism instruments to staple components of military arsenals, as evidenced by their extensive use in conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.
The use of drones, coupled with artificial intelligence (AI), has been recognized for increasing the lethality of these systems. Both Russia and Ukraine have utilized AI-enhanced drones, highlighting the ongoing evolution and increased autonomy in warfare technology. This development is particularly relevant in scenarios like the Pacific theater, where advanced drones capable of overcoming sophisticated defense systems are deemed crucial.

Furthermore, the United States has launched initiatives like the Replicator and AMASS projects to exploit the tactical advantages of

drone swarms

that are cost-effective, expendable, and rapidly replaceable. These projects aim to bolster the US’s ability to deploy autonomous platforms across multiple domains, signaling a strategic shift towards integrating human-operated and autonomous systems to maintain a competitive edge in modern conflict arenas, the Asia Times report said.

However, challenges remain in integrating drone swarms into established military frameworks, balancing computational power with operational efficiency, and ensuring reliable communication among swarming units in complex environments. The bureaucratic and technical hurdles, alongside strategic dependencies on adversarial nations for components, present ongoing obstacles to the full realization of these advanced military capabilities.
What are the technical specifications of the XQ-58 Valkyrie drone?
The XQ-58 Valkyrie drone, developed by Kratos, features several technical specifications designed to enhance its role as a versatile and autonomous component of modern aerial warfare. Here are its key specifications:
Variant: The family includes the Increment 1 (Valkyrie A) along with B, C, and D versions, each tailored for specific missions and capabilities.
Speed: It has a cruising speed of Mach 0.72, allowing it to swiftly maneuver across different theatres of operations.
Altitude: The drone can operate at altitudes up to 45,000 feet above sea level, enabling high-altitude reconnaissance and engagement missions.
Range: With a maximum range of approximately 3,000 miles, the XQ-58 offers substantial operational flexibility without the need for frequent refueling or repositioning.
Runway Independence: Its design allows for operation without the need for traditional runways, increasing its deployment capabilities across diverse environments.
Designed as a “loyal wingman” to manned aircraft, the XQ-58 can perform a variety of roles including scouting, defensive fire, or absorbing enemy fire. It can operate as part of a swarm without direct pilot control, showcasing the advancements in autonomous warfare technology.

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