A U.S. Marine Corps XQ-58A Valkyrie, highly autonomous, low-cost tactical unmanned air vehicle, conducts its second test flight with two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to 33rd Fighter Wing, 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 23, 2023. The XQ-58A Valkyrie test flight and the data collected inform future requirements for the Marine Corps in a rapidly evolving security environment, while successfully fueling joint innovation and experimentation opportunities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John McRell)

Marine Corps Tests Unmanned Jet of the Future at Eglin Air Force Base

Eglin Test Range witnessed the second test of the Marine Corps foray into unmanned, AI-Driven aviation.

The Marine Corps’ cutting-edge XQ-58A Valkyrie achieved a significant milestone with its successful second test flight on February 23, 2024, at Eglin Air Force Base. The jet hopes to fill a role as a low-cost tactical unmanned air vehicle as a component of Project Eagle, the Marine Corps’ aviation modernization strategy.

Lt. Col. Bradley Buick, the future capabilities officer for the Cunningham Group, an internal working group responsible for planning and implementing Project Eagle, emphasized the importance of embracing new aviation platforms that thrive in austere environments and can engage the enemy strategically. He says the success of the XQ-58A test flight is a pivotal step in realizing this vision. “The future battlespace demands new aviation platforms that embrace the austere environment and bring the fight to the enemy at a place of our choosing,” Buick added.ย 

Eglin’s test flight facility hosted both test flights, with the 40th Flight Test Squadron engineers providing support to facilitate testing for both the Air Force and Marine Corps’ XQ-58A. The XQ-58A’s developers want the jet to serve as a versatile testbed platform for developing technologies and exploring innovative concepts, including autonomous flight and unmanned teaming with crewed aircraft, in support of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.

The Marine Corps plans six test flights for the XQ-58A Valkyrie, which will assess its effectiveness in providing autonomous electronic support to crewed platforms like the USMC F-35B Lightning II. The tests will also evaluate the potential of AI-enabled platforms to enhance combat air patrols.

Ryan Bowers, a 40th Flight Test Squadron engineer, highlighted the importance of combining new and traditional test and evaluation techniques in AI testing. “AI testing requires combining new and traditional test and evaluation techniques. The team has a lot of lessons learned that will be used to inform future programs,” Bowers said.

The Department of Defense said it is committed to the responsible use of AI, emphasizing collaboration between developers, AI-enabled autonomy users, and acquisition specialists.ย Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, Air Force Research Lab commander, emphasized the critical role of AI in future warfighting, highlighting the need for coordinated efforts between the government, academia, and industry partners to keep pace with the evolving landscape of AI, autonomous operations, and human-machine teaming.

As the Marine Corps advances its efforts to modernize and enhance capabilities in a rapidly evolving security environment, the successful test flights of the XQ-58A Valkyrie mark a significant step toward realizing the potential of autonomous technologies in shaping the future of military aviation.

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