The Air Force selects General Atomics' Anduril for the next round of CCA work

Air war

SecAF Kendall speaks at SLOC

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall speaks with students and guests during a senior leader orientation course at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Nov. 13, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Eric Dietrich)

Updated 04/24/24 at 5:48 PM ET with details from an Air Force press release and comments from CCA suppliers.

WASHINGTON – Defense startup Anduril and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) have been selected by the Air Force to build and test drone prototypes for the next phase of service. Cooperative combat aircraft The program was announced by the Air Force tonight.

The Air Force's decision winnows a group of five competitors down to two. As a result, three other vendors – Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman – were excluded from the race.

“Companies that are not selected to build representative production CCA vehicles and execute the flight test program will continue to be part of the industry's broader partner vendor pool of more than 20 companies to compete for future efforts, including future production contracts.” The Air Force said.

He also broke the defence Reported for the first timeThe five contractors were pre-selected by the Air Force for the first phase of the program, which focused largely on design work. Today's selection narrows down the vendors who will take their designs from the drawing board into the real world. As Air Force Acquisition Chief Andrew Hunter recently told lawmakers at a congressional hearing, the upcoming CCA phase will see these vendors “complete detailed designs, build prototypes, and test representative test articles for production.”

The CCA effort, which the Service unveiled as a major multi-billion-dollar program in the fiscal year 2024 budget, is intended to initially focus on Up to 1000 drones. According to the service's press release today, officials plan to make a “competitive production decision” by FY26 for the first round of CCA work and “have full operational capability available before the end of the decade.”

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At the Association of Air Forces and Space Forces War Symposium in February, Kendall revealed The CCA competition now underway will be the first “surge” for the program, and a second will follow in the FY25 budget. This second surge will eliminate today's vendors as well New oneAnother shot at the CCA contract. International cooperation Kendall said the service could also appear in a second installment, and today's release of the service suggests foreign military sales may be on the table for the program.

During the February roundtable, Kendall also revealed the “possibility” that more than one vendor could see their drone offering enter service for the first increment. He also floated the opportunity to move up to three vendors through the earlier testing phase if the industry helped share some of the cost.

With only two sellers making the sale today, it's unclear whether this idea has come to fruition. When asked recently whether the industry was content to bear some of the costs, Hunter told reporters that “cost-sharing is not core to our approach to CCA.”

The service's press release today said the chosen decision “does not exclude any vendors from competing for a future Increment 1 production contract” — likely indicating that the companies will have to spend internal funds to push their designs forward and compete for the final production agreement.

What companies have offered, and what comes next

When it comes to specific designs, GA-ASI has it advertiser The company's Gambit drone family will be its entry, while Acquisition of Anduril Last year, Blue Force, the self-driving aircraft vendor, positioned the Fury drone as Anduril's offering. In photos today promoting the company's win, Anduril showed off the Fury drone, appearing to confirm that the drone is the company's offering.

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“There's no time to waste on business as usual. Through the CCA program, Secretary Kendall and the Air Force have adopted an agile, forward-looking approach to autonomous systems at speed and scale,” Brian Schimpf, CEO and co-founder of Anduril, said in a statement. We are being selected for this unprecedented opportunity, which signals demand for continued expansion of the defense industrial base. Anduril is proud to pave the way for other non-traditional defense companies to compete and deliver large-scale programs.

“Throughout our 30-year history, GA-ASI has been at the forefront of rapidly advancing unmanned aircraft systems that support our warfighters,” GA-ASI President David Alexander said in a statement. “The USAF is moving forward with GA-ASI due to our focused commitment to unmanned air-to-air combat operations and unparalleled UAS expertise, ensuring CCA aircraft are produced at scale to provide affordable combat mass to warfighters.”

Boeing said in a statement today that the aerospace giant offered “a proprietary solution tailored to the USAF's unique first-stage requirements” and did not display the MQ-25 Stingray or MQ-28 Ghost Bat.

“Although we are disappointed that we will not be moving forward with this phase of the Air Force’s CCA program, we are undeterred in our commitment to providing the next generation of autonomous fighter aircraft to U.S. and global military customers. Work continues on our strong and growing family,” Boeing said. “Self-driving vehicles, including the MQ-25 Stingray and its future derivatives, the MQ-28 Ghost Bat, and a number of special programs that we cannot disclose.”

Lockheed and Northrop have also not confirmed their candidates.

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Lockheed said in a statement The company “remains committed to advancing the state-of-the-art autonomous systems for air and ground missions. Our work continues to develop and integrate open pathfinding infrastructures and ground control systems such as Multi-Domain Combat System™, human factors interfaces, and mission systems. For some time, we have been focused on bringing the transformative power of operations to life.” “Autonomous and artificial intelligence/machine learning capabilities in DoD manned and unmanned systems, with a particular focus on integrating CCA with the F-35 and F-22.”

A Northrop representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A second parallel effort under the CCA is also known to be working on autonomous drone programs, although it is unclear which companies are involved. Hunter He said last year The service already had between 20 and 30 vendors working on this element of CCA's work, and said as recently as February that the autonomy portion would continue independent of progress on the hardware side.

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