Senate authorizers seek $128M add, new plan for USAF's attritable drone program

By Sara Sirota / June 24, 2020 at 3:52 PM

The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to give the Air Force an additional $128 million for low-cost attritable aircraft technology and is calling on the service to come up with a plan to advance the program.

LCAAT is an Air Force Research Laboratory effort that conducts experiments with small drones whose affordability can enable warfighters to deploy them in mass and either reuse them or leave them behind if they break. AFRL also seeks to integrate the systems with artificial intelligence to enable greater levels of autonomy.

The senators' funding boost is intended to purchase more of Kratos' XQ-58A Valkyrie drones, a demonstrator that LCAAT researchers use during experimentation, according to a summary of the panel's fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill that was released June 11.

Funding tables supporting the legislation, published today, state the added $128 million will help accelerate the program.

The bill also has a provision that would direct the Air Force's acquisition executive to submit a strategy to conduct operational tests and evaluate the utility of LCAAT systems. The plan would be due to the congressional defense committees by Oct. 1.

These proposals reflect growing interest by Senate authorizers to invest in LCAAT technology and assert oversight of the Air Force's plans to push the program forward.

While crafting the FY-20 defense policy bill, the panel recommended giving the service an extra $100 million to further development of LCAAT systems -- an addition that ultimately made it into the FY-20 Defense Appropriations Act.

However, the committee didn't pursue any reporting on the program. The House Armed Services Committee had sought a provision in the FY-20 defense policy bill to require the Air Force acquisition executive to prepare a report on the design, test and integration of LCAAT drones, but it was not included in the final legislation.