First official photo of BALP Air Wolf, 2021
A few years ago, the American company Kratos Defense & Security Solutions began developing a promising multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicle Air Wolf. The aim of the project was to create on the basis of the existing platform a new "true wingman" with reconnaissance and strike functions. To date, part of the design work has been completed and even some commercial successes have been reported. At the same time, the developer company is still in no hurry to disclose all the details.
Based on the target
History The current Air Wolf project dates back to the 178s when Composite Engineering Inc. (CEI) developed the MQM-XNUMX Firejet unmanned target. It was a medium-sized UAV designed to train SAM crews and fighter pilots. aviation. In 2012, Kreitos bought CEI and transformed it into its UAV division. At the same time, the release of Firejet targets for the Pentagon was continued.
In a 2020 report to investors, Kratos first mentioned a combat variant of an existing target called the Tactical Firejet. It was reported that this project is being developed jointly with AeroVironment. It was planned to turn the target into a drone-carrier of loitering ammunition of the Switchblade series.
Later, the name Air Wolf appeared for the first time in published documents. For some time, the two names were mentioned in parallel, and then the Tactical Firejet was abandoned. Apparently, the project of a promising UAV during the development decided to rename. At the moment, in all messages it is referred to as "Air Wolfe", and the first name is no longer used.
At the end of August 2021, Kreitos showed for the first time a prototype of the Air Wolf UAV. A black-and-white photograph of such a product was published on a rail launcher - probably just before takeoff. At the same time, a specific angle was chosen, which did not allow to consider the aircraft in all details. However, the use of a ready-made air platform made it possible to imagine what the Air Wolf turned out to be.
New drone image
The photo showed the aircraft registration number issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. According to it, it was possible to establish that the drone was built and registered back in 2019 - a few months before the first mention of the project and almost two years before the publication of the first photo.
Last fall, the development company reported that the Air Wolf was already undergoing flight tests. By that time, the total flight time had exceeded 80 hours. In addition, the development of weapons began. An experienced UAV for the first time flew with an unnamed Switchblade ammunition on an external sling. It was expected to carry out launches and defeat training targets.
Also in September 2021, it became known that the Air Wolf UAV was of interest to customers. By that time, the manufacturing company had received several orders for serial equipment. Customers, the volume of future deliveries and the cost of products remained unknown.
New information about the Air Wolfe project appeared only a few days ago. On September 19, Kratos published a press release in which they talked about their success in the field of unmanned systems. Along with its other projects, the Air Wolf UAV was also mentioned, although details of the work on it were not given. A new photo of such a drone was attached to the press release.
The aircraft was again shown incompletely and from a specific angle. The product in black with orange elements was removed from the front-left. A part of the fuselage, engine nacelle, plane and tail unit fell into the frame. The nose of the item is not shown.
For the first time, the Air Wolf is shown with a payload placed on a pylon under the wing. It is designated as a "system for tactical missions" Tactical Mission System Payload and is made in a cylindrical body. There is a security check on the front cover. The purpose of this product is not specified.
MQM-178 target on launcher
Probably, the new photo shows the second prototype. It is reported that in March of this year, Kreitos registered another new type of UAV. The two prototypes can now be used to test the grouping capabilities of the Air Wolf.
The Air Wolf UAV is based on the MQM-178 Firejet unmanned target. The airframe, propulsion system and a number of other systems were borrowed from the latter without significant changes. The finished platform was equipped with new controls, communications, navigation, etc. In addition, we have developed new options for suspended loads.
The chosen approach to the development of a new drone is of particular interest. Kratos has saved time and effort to create a platform with the right features. At the same time, it was possible to free up forces for the development of control devices and target equipment, on which successful combat use depends.
From the MQM-178, the new UAV received a glider built according to a normal aerodynamic configuration. A spindle-shaped fuselage with an engine nacelle under the bottom is used. A swept wing and a V-tail are provided. The length of such a product reaches 3,3 m, the wingspan is 1,9 m. The dry weight of the Firejet is 59 kg, the maximum take-off is 145 kg.
In the tail section of the lower nacelle, two JetCat C81 turbojet engines with a thrust of 37 kgf each, equipped with a common air intake, are placed. Such a propulsion system provides speeds up to Mach 0,69 and a ceiling of approx. 10,7 km. The takeoff of the target and the UAV based on it is carried out from a rail launcher due to a pneumatic catapult.
The Air Wolf UAV is positioned as another representative of the "faithful wingman" class. The use of a highly automated control system with elements of artificial intelligence has been reported. Depending on the situation and the assigned tasks, the device can fly and use the payload independently or under the supervision of the operator, as well as under his direct control.
XQ-58A - another "faithful wingman" from Kratos
Not only ground stations, but also manned aircraft can act as a control center. It is assumed that Air Wolf will accompany tactical aviation and act in its interests. In addition, issues of group use of several such devices are being worked out.
There is no exact data on payloads for Air Wolf yet. Accordingly, there is no data on its operational or combat capabilities. Probably, the standard equipment of the UAV includes an optical-electronic station. In addition, under the wing there are two places for suspended modules. Apparently, radio engineering or other systems are planned to be installed on the pylons.
Perhaps the Air Wolfe is similar in terms of carrying capacity to the base product MQM-178. The carrying capacity of such a target is 32 kg. It can carry instruments weighing 16 kg on the underwing pylons or 9 kg each on the wingtips. Not only devices for simulating air targets, but also radio-electronic or other equipment can fit into such weight restrictions.
In closed mode
Currently, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions is developing several promising UAVs at once, incl. class "faithful follower". In particular, quite a long time ago she launched the Air Wolf project, and by now it has come to flight tests, weapons testing and testing of group use. At the same time, development and testing are going on behind closed doors, and the development company rarely mentions this project.
The reasons for this are unclear. Perhaps the fact is that Air Wolf is testing the latest solutions and technologies, which should not be talked about yet. Another explanation cannot be ruled out: this UAV is not considered worthy of wide publicity, because in all respects it is inferior to other, more daring developments.
However, even without advertising, the Air Wolf project is successfully developing and gradually giving the desired results. It helps to create and improve control systems with fundamentally new capabilities, which will later find application in current and future projects. In addition, Kratos has already received the first orders and will be able to make money on serial equipment.