WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force awarded Kratos and General Atomics contracts worth a combined $20 million to further development of the autonomous Skyborg drone wingman, the service announced Monday.

Kratos received $13.2 million to continue work on its XQ-58A, while General Atomics got $7 million for its MQ-20 Avenger.

The funding will allow the companies to continue integrating their air vehicles with the Leidos-built Autonomous Core System, which acts as the Skyborg’s brain. It also pays for continued flight testing and experimentation, which will inform the Air Force whether the Skyborg drone is ready to move to a program of record in fiscal 2023, the service said in a news release.

“These contract actions, while tactical in nature, are strategically important to this [program] as we continue to discover and learn how we will employ this advance technology in the fight,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, the program executive for fighters and advanced aircraft.

“The team has always been committed to transitioning Skyborg to a program of record, and we’ll be ready in 2023 as the Air Force prepares its FY23 president’s budget submission early next year.”

General Atomics, Kratos and Boeing were tapped to build Skyborg air vehicle prototypes in December 2020.

After integrating the UTAP-22 Mako drone with the autonomy core, Kratos conducted the first Skyborg test flight in April. A General Atomics Avenger equipped with the autonomy core took to the skies in the second Skyborg flight test in June.

So far, Boeing’s Skyborg prototype has not flown.

The next operational exercise will take place during fall 2021, the Air Force stated in the news release.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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