The first prototype of 5GAT, a 5th generation aerial target drone, crashed during its first flight on October 23, 2020, a report reveals.

The incident was caused by “an in-flight mishap”, the cause of which is set to be determined by a safety investigation. 

The aircraft was developed and manufactured by Sierra Technical Services, which has not publicized any details of the crash. All information regarding the outcome of the testing came from a Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) 2020 Annual Report. DOT&E is an adviser for the US Secretary of Defense on testing and evaluation of weapons systems. 

The report does not state which flight it was for the aircraft, yet it details that the prototype successfully completed low-speed and high-speed taxi testing prior to it. Based on that, and the fact that the report does not mention a completion of the maiden flight, it is safe to assume that the mishap happened on the drone's first flight.

5th generation aerial target, or 5GAT, is intended to imitate a fighter jet of the latest generation in simulated combat. It is designed to be cheap and expendable by using surplus parts of older aircraft in its construction.

Sierra Technical Services was one of the entrants in the US Air Force Skyborg program, intended to create a loyal wingman – an AI-controlled drone that would accompany fighter jets into combat. Despite 5GAT having the potential to be modified into a full-fledged armed platform, it was not selected in favor of designs by Boeing, Kratos and General Atomics.

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A swarm of small, fast, cockpitless fighter jets are flying in a tight circle around an F-22 Raptor, reacting to its every move, waiting for a command. They will scout ahead, attack or sacrifice themselves if needed, relying on their superhuman reaction time and precision to execute manoeuvres that human pilots would never manage to do. This is the way many nations envision the air combat of the future. But why?
 

According to the report, the development of 5GAT has continued, and the second prototype is currently under construction. The US Department of Defense (DOD) has requested $32.7 Million in FY21 for the program, and the DOT&E report recommends full funding, so the US military could acquire an aerial target that could fully represent characteristics of current and future aircraft.