AFRL plans new round of low-cost attritable aircraft testing

By Sara Sirota / February 23, 2021 at 12:33 PM

The Air Force Research Laboratory released a call for proposals Monday inviting companies to participate in a new low-cost attritable aircraft program focused on reducing life-cycle and maintenance needs.

AFRL already showed the ability to achieve affordability and swift production in this class of air vehicles under the low-cost attritable strike demonstration program, according to a statement of objectives. That effort informed the Skyborg manned-unmanned teaming experiments the Air Force is planning with prototypes from Boeing, General Atomics and Kratos.

AFRL now wants to flight test an "off board sensing station" (OBSS) attritable aircraft variant that's "designed for limited life in terms of years, not decades, with no depot maintenance and limited field maintenance considerations," according to the notice.

"The design and manufacturing of OBSS will incorporate scalable and responsive manufacturing technologies," the notice states. "This program will continue to validate low-cost design and manufacturing approaches for the attritable class of aircraft through flight demonstration."

AFRL expects to award $18 million contracts in August to two companies for a one-year base effort, according to the solicitation. Both deals will include a $31.5 million, 15-month option effort, but the lab only plans to exercise this additional work on one of the contracts.

Meanwhile, the Air Force imagines future variants deriving from a common, government-owned system architecture, enabling the service to quickly evolve in response to changing requirements. This vision demands an efficient acquisition model that allows different aircraft to use the same hardware and software components, which AFRL already explored under the low-cost attritable platform sharing program.