United States-based startup Exosonic was awarded a contract by the US Air Force (USAF) to develop a low-boom supersonic uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) demonstrator. The purpose of the drone would be to act as an adversary in pilot training missions.
The contract was awarded in the framework of the AFWERX program, which funds innovations for future Air Force applications.
“The supersonic UAV work is critical to our company’s strategy due to how much we’ll learn about designing, manufacturing, and maintaining supersonic airplanes with our first UAV products,” commented Norris Tie, the CEO of Exosonic, in a statement. “It will provide profits that we can funnel back into our company and give investors, suppliers, and customers confidence that we can deliver supersonic aircraft to the market before anyone needs to make a multi-billion dollar investment.”
Exosonic is currently developing an airliner capable of reaching Mach 1.8 while transporting 70 passengers. In August 2020, the company was also awarded a contract to use its airliner as a supersonic Air Force One to transport the President of the United States.
In order to train its fighter pilots, the USAF needs more capability and capacity than it is able to generate internally. Using unmanned aircraft as the aggressor in combat training should reduce the cost and manpower needed to maintain a fighter fleet for this role.
“This could save taxpayers millions in training dollars and reduce wear-and-tear on existing USAF operational aircraft that serve as aggressors,” Exosonic explained. “Supersonic UAVs will also enable fighter pilots to focus their flight time on blue air training [in their regular role – ed. note] instead of flying as the enemy for their fellow pilots.”
In recent years, the USAF States also relied on private contractors to provide adversary air services (ADAIR) to its pilots. In October 2019, $6.4 billion in contracts were awarded to seven companies capable of offering a diversified fleet of adversary aircraft acquired from foreign air forces around the world.