Defense firm lands contract worth more than $37M for drone made in Oklahoma
By JACK MONEY | The Oklahoman | Published: December 9, 2020
OKLAHOMA CITY (Tribune News Service) — Kratos Defense & Security Solutions' Valkyrie XQ-58A is helping Oklahoma's growing aerospace industry soar.
On Tuesday, Kratos officials announced the company had secured a contract worth about $37.8 million to provide Valkyrie aircraft to the U.S. Air Force as part of its Skyborg program.
News of the contract award comes just months after officials with the San Diego Company announced they had increased the size of their Oklahoma City operation by 50%, using more than 150,000 square feet at the Will Rogers Business Park.
At the time, Steve Fendley, president of Kratos' unmanned systems division, said the expansion was to be used for manufacturing and testing of the Valkyrie, as well as for ongoing development of two other classified projects.
The Valkyrie is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that operates much like a fighter aircraft, designed to fly in tandem with a crewed fighter jet as a "loyal wingman."
Kratos pitched the aircraft for the U.S. Air Force's $400 million Skyborg program, and it competed against legacy contractors General Atomics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman to fill first orders.
"Kratos is excited to announce the receipt of the Skyborg contract, meeting a long-term strategic objective," Fendley said this week. "The Skyborg Program, one of three USAF Vanguard programs, is focused on expanding the envelope of the application of unmanned aircraft use, particularly with respect to artificial intelligence.
"Kratos XQ-58A has been flying since March of 2019, approximately 30 months after aircraft conception, and was designed specifically for these applications and the ability to support missions from ISR to Strike in manned-unmanned teaming scenarios or in unmanned only mission sets. These capabilities are intended to substantially increase the effectiveness of our country's military mission sets, while at the same time reducing risk to the exquisite assets and manned elements — saving resources and, most importantly, lives."
Fendley also said this week the contract award includes three phases of design, integration, and flight testing of the Valkyrie system, integrating multiple customer-defined mission payloads and customer-defined autonomy in coordination/cooperation with the Skyborg System Design Agent company, Leidos. Kratos currently works in partnership with Leidos' Dynetics on the Gremlins Program.
Kratos first opened its Oklahoma City facility in 2018, using the wide, open space at Will Rogers Business Park to manufacture its "target" drones, which are advanced UAVs that can be programmed to mimic hostile aircraft and missiles. The company added Valkyrie production last year after announcing all of its tactical drones would be built in Oklahoma.
Some testing takes place in Oklahoma, and Kratos has expressed interest in using the state-owned Clinton-Sherman Airport near Burns Flat for some of its operations. Technicians already conduct final engine tests at the production facility before packing the drones into a crate and shipping them off to customers.
Fendley said in September that Kratos had hired 50 employees this year and plans to add another 50 to 100 next year.
To compete with the larger, more well-known defense contractors for the Skyborg project, Fendley said Kratos focused on providing low-cost platforms, enabling Kratos to compete with larger manufacturers of tactical drones.
"It's really what has allowed us to move so rapidly and so effectively into that area and be competitive against tier-one (prime contractors)," Fendley previously said. "I believe it's a whole philosophy difference."