The US Air Force is planning on creating attack drones capable of being shipped in containers and sailed around the world- or more specifically, to small islands in the Pacific theater.
Sponsored by the USAF and spearheaded by Kratos Defense, the concept revolves around the XQ-58A Valkyrie, a combat-ready drone that is capable of deploying precision-guided bombs and is even capable of air-to-air combat.
The Valkyries would be set up with all their equipment in a “stored ready” state and placed into special shipping containers, which could then be transported on a variety of cargo vessels, be it openly or discretely.
Designed to take off from rails instead of runways, the Valkyrie utilizes a rocket booster to get airborne, gaining enough speed that its turbofan engine eventually takes over. The entire rail, booster and drone could be fitted into a single shipping container.
In the event of conflict with China, the USAF could deploy the containers by air or sea, set them up, and have a near-zero risk (to human personnel, anyway) strike package ready to go in short notice.
The XQ-58A has around 3,000 nautical-mile range and can carry all sorts of ordnance, including two 250 pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.
According to Popular Mechanics, XQ-58As deployed to US-controlled Guam could theoretically reach Hong Kong, Shanghai, and even Beijing, all while the Navy pounds the Chinese mainland with cruise missiles.
The sweetest part of the deal is the cost, with each unit costing about $2-3 million, versus an $352 million F-35 and a human pilot.
In the end, there will always be manned aircraft on the battlefield- but being able to supplement the pilots of the aforementioned aircraft with unmanned wingmen at low cost is an attractive concept.
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