The US Air Force (USAF) plans to downselect vendors in a likely 60-90 days to develop prototype air platforms for its Skyborg autonomous attritable aircraft programme with the goal of flying the aircraft in 2021, according to a key official.
Brigadier General Dale White, programme executive officer (PEO) for fighters and advanced aircraft, told reporters on 28 July that the service will first host a kickoff meeting for the four initial qualifying companies to explain the service’s expectations for the programme. Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), and Kratos were awarded indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contracts on 23 July.
Companies not selected by the US Air Force for initial Skyborg ID/IQ contracts remain eligible for future work with the programme. (Getty Images)
These initial awards establish a vendor pool that will compete for up to USD400 million in subsequent delivery orders. These Skyborg prototyping, experimentation, and autonomy development contracts will be used to deliver missionised prototypes in support of operational experimentation.
The USAF, as part of the downselect, will award contracts for companies to provide operational experimentation prototypes to demonstrate that autonomy is a viable capability. USAF spokesman Daryl Mayer said on 30 July that the programme will begin the effort to design the operational vehicle with a larger vendor pool shortly after the upcoming contracts are awarded.
This operational vehicle, Mayer said, will receive input from the experimentation campaign, the system design agent that is designing the autonomous core, as well as the operator. Brig Gen White did not provide firm details on how many companies, perhaps one, none, or all, could be selected to deliver aircraft, but said that this would be dependent on the pricing and the amount of aircraft that the USAF chooses to acquire.