China doesn’t sweat America’s new stealth drone

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Chinese engineers say they have identified critical weaknesses in a future state-of-the-art US stealth combat drone.

An article published in the peer-reviewed Chinese journal Aircraft design gave an in-depth evaluation of the XQ-58A Valkyrie Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions. As first reported by the South China Morning Post, the paper was not impressed with the drone’s aerodynamic performance, noting that the Valkyrie can withstand traction of “only” 1.7 that of gravity. This is a major handicap in typical aerial combat scenarios because, depending on the South China Morning Post’s summary of the report, “most fighter jets have to brake against a force seven times greater than or greater than gravity.”

A separate study conducted by the National University of Defense Technology of China came to a similar conclusion. “Under the principle of effective detection, the poorer maneuverability of the XQ-58A can lead to its destruction by ground-based medium-range anti-aircraft guns, over-the-horizon aerial missiles or close combat by aircraft. hunting, “noted Professor Guo Zheng and his colleagues. Guo said the drone is vulnerable to electronic countermeasures (ECM) tools that could sever the connection between the Valkyrie and its human operators, or disable it outright with a “powerful electromagnetic pulse weapon.”

The conclusions of Chinese experts come with several major caveats. Their analysis relies entirely on open source information and “reverse engineering software,” however, the XQ-58A is still under development and could undergo a number of specification changes before going into mass production. More fundamentally, the analysis of these two articles seems to try to lock the Valkyrie into a role she was not designed for. The XQ-58A is not an aerial combat drone. Rather, it is a trusty wingman UCAV intended to support and escort the fifth generation F-35 and F-22 fighter jets. The Valkyrie’s mission parameters involve spotting, reconnaissance, surveillance, and long-range strikes against ground targets with its on-board payload of 250 kilograms of Joint Direct Attack Ammunition (JDAM) spread over eight dots. ‘carry. The Valkyrie doesn’t have to be quick or nimble to accomplish these goals.

In accordance with the requirements of the US Air Force, the Valkyrie must be largely autonomous. Even if, as Chinese researchers speculate, a hypothetical ECM attack were to sever communications between the Valkyrie and its human operators, the drone would still be guided by its on-board sensors and algorithms to perform tasks on the battlefield. The newspaper added that while the Valkyrie is touted as a low-cost reusable drone, it is actually intended for “suicide” missions. While not primarily or exclusively designed to perform suicide sorties, there’s no doubt that the Valkyrie’s scalability will be factored into its use case; the fact that it is both unmanned and inexpensive makes it an obvious candidate for absorbing enemy fire or performing high-risk strike missions deep in enemy airspace.

Despite its sharp criticisms, the Chinese research paper claims that the XQ-58A’s networking capabilities could make it a mainstay of US air power. “Through the reversal of the design process of the XQ-58A, it can be seen that with continued breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and networked data transmission technology, the ‘loyal wingman’ represented by the XQ- 58A will gradually become the main force on the battlefield and become a leading new power in the transformation of the coordinated human-machine combat model, ”according to the research paper.

The Valkyrie completed its sixth flight test earlier in 2021. The project for which the XQ-58A is under development, Skyborg, is expected to become a record program in 2023.

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National interest.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


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