Four Companies to Design Air Force Enterprise Test Drone Prototypes

A computer generated rendering of an Enterprise Test Vehicle (ETV) prototype designed by Integrated Solutions for Systems, Inc., one of four companies selected to design prototype versions of affordable high rate production drone test vehicles for a new Air Force program. (Image: Integrated Solutions for Systems, Inc.)

The U.S. Air Force Armament Directorate (AFLCMC/EB) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) have partnered to identify and prototype commercial and dual-use technology solutions for an enterprise test vehicle that demonstrates modularity for subsystem upgrade testing. The technology will also serve as a foundation for affordable high-rate production.

Initial flight demonstrations will occur within seven months from the agreement award dates, after which one or multiple of the most promising prototypes will continue development toward a production variant capable of rapidly scalable manufacture.

“We are excited to partner with DIU. The ETV presents an opportunity to leverage promising ideas from industry to create and refine affordable designs for test capabilities that can be produced on a relevant timeline,” said Andrew Hunter, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

Vendors are incorporating commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components wherever possible to mitigate supply chain bottlenecks and to keep costs low. Vendors will also leverage modern design for manufacturing approaches, ensuring air vehicles are not over-engineered for their intended mission, minimize use of expensive materials, and enable on-call high-rate production that is not possible with more exquisite counterparts.

“While the Armament Directorate remains committed to our highly-capable legacy products, we have become convinced that widening the aperture to include more non-traditional aerospace companies offers the best chance at accomplishing our cost-per-unit goals, project timeline, and production quantity goals,” said Cassie Johnson, the Armament Directorate’s ETV Program Manager. “We eagerly anticipate bringing respectable capability to our warfighters.”

To enable future design improvements and rapid integration of subsystems, prototypes are utilizing an open systems architecture reference. Capable of deployment en masse through multiple launch methods, ETVs create an overwhelming dilemma for any defending adversary.

“This award is a great example of how we are partnered closely with the Air Force to drive innovation for the warfighter, with the focus, speed, and scale necessary to achieve strategic impact. Together, we are harnessing the power of commercial technology to meet a critical operational need for straightforward, affordable, and quickly scalable autonomous systems in the air,” said Doug Beck, Director, Defense Innovation Unit. “DIU is committed to pursuing a number of initiatives to accelerate autonomy within the Department including the adoption and scaling of trusted commercial autonomy and improving our ability to counter adversarial systems.”

DIU and EB selected Anduril Industries, Integrated Solutions for Systems, Inc., Leidos Dynetics, and Zone 5 Technologies to develop prototype solutions for flight demonstration in late summer/fall 2024. These vendors were selected from a highly competitive field of more than 100 commercial and dual-use technology company applicants.

Additional ETV government project collaborators and evaluators include Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM).