The future of air combat is small, cheap and disposable. That is, if a bunch of US Air Force scientists get their way.
In early May 2017, the Air Force Research Laboratories—the flying branch’s Ohio-based science wing—released the first photo of a stealthy, weapons-capable robotic jet that just might become America’s next major warplane.
The Low Cost Attritable Aircraft, or LCAA, has been in a development since July 2016. That’s when AFRL awarded Kratos, a San Diego drone-maker, a $41-million contract to work alongside the labs to design and demonstrate what the government described as a “high-speed, long-range, low-cost, limited-life strike unmanned aerial system.”
Less than a year later, Kratos had produced at least one copy of the new drone, using its existing XQ-222 concept as a starting point. AFRL first began talking about the LCAA during a May 9, 2017 conference at the labs’ headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. A little over a week later, the Defense Department circulated the first public photo of the roughly 30-foot-long drone.