Kratos UAS Unveils First Drone Design for US Air Force's Off-Board Sensing Station Programme

© KratosShown is a Kratos rendering of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Off-Board Sensing Station low-cost attritable unmanned aircraft system.
Shown is a Kratos rendering of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Off-Board Sensing Station low-cost attritable unmanned aircraft system.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.12.2021
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In October, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) issued $17 million contracts to both Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc. and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. for the design and development of an unmanned Off-Board Sensing Station (OBSS) aircraft. The contracts call for the delivery of a "base effort" within a year.
As General Atomics and Kratos UAS prepare their respective OBSS aircraft prototypes for a late 2022 debut, an executive from latter company is already providing an artist's rendering of the drone, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the drone's development for the secretive USAF programme, which seeks to use unmanned aircraft to extend the sensing range of a manned fighter jet.
In a recent Q&A interview with Breaking Defence, Kratos UAS President Steve Fendley lifted the OBSS programme's veil and revealed that the company is seeking to build an "attritable" aircraft in an effort to optimise capability and affordability while reducing potential loss of life.
This, the executive explained, requires Kratos UAS to make a number of "design and manufacturing tradeoffs".

"The [US Department of Defence] has identified two cost ranges for attritables: $2 million to $20 million per copy and $2 million to $10 million per copy", Fendley detailed.

Kratos UAS, which has already been developing low-cost attritable drones on its own dime, has a number of aircraft that fall within the lower cost ranges, including its XQ-58A Valkyrie, UTAP-22 Mako, Air Wolf, and "several" classified systems.
The proposed OBSS aircraft prototype also fits "at the very low cost end of those ranges", the executive asserted.
Kratos' Ghost Works, a unit which assisted in designing the company's Air Wolf Tactical Drone System, is "intimately" involved in the OBSS project, Fendley revealed.
"The [Pentagon's] idea is to have a similar combat or mission effect at a much lower cost and a lower risk than it would be for more conventional or legacy systems", which are designed to last decades, he explained.
Fendley highlighted that while an attritable aircraft is cost-effective, they also offer flexibility for various non-attritable missions, as they can be fitted with "exquisite" payloads, such as $5 to $10 million sensors.
Additionally, deploying a swarm of attritable aircraft with non-exquisite systems can give a user a better reading on a situation on the ground through the use of multiple data readings at different locations.

"You're fusing the data you get from those aircraft remotely, and the picture you get is very precise", Fendley said, noting that one would be able to gather intelligence even if a few attritable aircraft are shot down.

Without divulging details about the US' OBSS mission, the Kratos UAS executive highlighted that primary goal for attritable aircraft is to assist in extending the range of a manned aircraft's sensor, such as a Electro-Optical/Infra-Red sensor, as well as the manned jet's standoff range against a potential threat.
General Atomics and Kratos UAS are slated to produce their prototypes by late October 2022, which marks the end of the initial phase. The USAF is expected to then select one company to receive the contract's optional 15-month "Manufacture and Demonstration period", bringing the total contract award to $49 million.
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