USAF, DOD Engaged on New Goal Drones to Simulate Fifth-Gen Threats

The Division of Protection and the Military final month revived a dormant effort to construct a goal drone that may mimic cutting-edge adversary plane—and maybe breathe new life into the Air Power’s plans for a “Subsequent Era Aerial Goal.” 

Military Contracting Command and DOD’s Check Assets Administration Middle introduced a contract award Aug. 4 to Superior Expertise Worldwide Inc. and Sierra Technical Providers on the Fifth Era Aerial Goal prototype venture, or 5GAT. 

5GAT improvement started in 2017, when Sierra Technical Providers gained its preliminary contract. By 2020, the stealthy unmanned plane was prepared for first flight—however the the plane crashed on its maiden voyage. The Military then issued a second solicitation to business in April 2022, then went darkish as soon as till the August 2023 contract announcement. 

In the meantime, the Air Power launched its “Subsequent Era Aerial Goal” program, asking business in August 2021 for concepts on fielding unmanned, autonomous programs that might replicate threats posed by fifth-generation fighters, comparable to China’s J-20 and Russia’s Su-57. 

A 12 months later, USAF went again to business, this time upping its ask to incorporate a requirement for goal drones to fly at supersonic speeds. Just a few months after that, the Air Power inquired about concepts to function NGAT a service—so that personal firms would personal and function the goal drones, similar to they do with some “pink” air aggressors. 

Little has occurred since, in accordance with the Air Power Life Cycle Administration Middle. “All AFLCMC efforts associated to future aerial targets stay within the pre-acquisition part,” mentioned a spokeswoman for the 96th Check Wing at Eglin Air Power Base, Fla.

In its fiscal 2024 finances request, the Air Power requested for $42.2 million in procurement and $6.9 million for analysis and improvement for goal drones, however none of that funding would go to NGAT. Price range paperwork point out no exercise beneath that program identify in 2024. 

In 2023, nonetheless, this system continued to “conduct engineering evaluation to establish candidate configurations and ideas that result in early identification of technical dangers in integrating superior digital assault programs in prototype airframes,” finances paperwork state. “Outcomes of those research shall be used to pick probably the most promising ideas for additional analysis and follow-on detailed design, integration, floor and flight check of the candidate configurations.” 

These research possible performed a task within the improvement of the 5GAT program. The Air Power referred all questions on that program to the Workplace of the Secretary of Protection. A spokesperson on the Pentagon instructed Air & House Forces Journal that the Check Assets Administration Middle “is coordinating with the Air Power” on 5GAT. 

The 5GAT program “is a know-how pathfinder for the long run Subsequent Era Aerial Goal,” the spokesperson mentioned. “The Fifth Era Aerial Goal doesn’t change the necessity for the long run Subsequent Era Aerial Goal.” 

Returning to Sierra Technical Providers for the 5GAT program, the Pentagon indicated that the unique “plane configuration and general design remains to be thought of to be sound,” regardless of the 2020 crash. If the plane’s efficacy and affordability are confirmed, DOD acknowledged it anticipates a follow-on manufacturing contract. 

“The venture could also be transitioned on to the person service branches to finish vary integration and transition the plane into manufacturing,” the prototype contract award states. 

Different potential rivals are ready within the wings. In 2022, the Air Power Analysis Laboratory awarded a small enterprise contract to Blue Power Applied sciences to develop a high-performance drone for adversary air coaching missions. That program got here to be generally known as “Fury.” Protection software program contractor Anduril introduced Sept. 7 that it had acquired Blue Power and introduced it might make “vital investments” in Fury, together with its autonomous capabilities.  

The low-cost attritable Fury, an plane constructed by Blue Power Applied sciences, is anticipated for use for unmanned adversary air coaching in opposition to Air Power F-22s and F-35s. Screenshot from Blue Power Applied sciences.

Unmanned goal plane usually are not precisely a brand new thought. The Air Power has a subscale aerial goal within the BQM-167 and has for years operated a fleet of 74 unmanned QF-16s—modified, older-model F-16s—that may act as full-scale targets.