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Drones serving as sensor extensions can increase the situational awareness of manned aircraft. 

US defense manufacturers Kratos and General Atomics have been awarded funding to develop drones that act as sensor extensions as well as secondary weapons bays for manned fighter jets.

The companies have both been awarded matching $17.7m contracts to develop an ‘off-board sensing station’ (OBSS) unmanned fighter aircraft. The off-board sensing station vehicle is intended to be an affordable, highly modular conventional takeoff and landing jet-powered drone.

AFRL is developing an open architecture concept Autonomous Collaborative Platform (ACP) to achieve its goals of rapid time-to-market and low acquisition cost, while extending and enhancing the sensing volume of manned platforms.

According to Kratos, its solution incorporates innovative manufacturing techniques that enhance its ability to not only provide significant performance for sensor extension missions for manned jet aircraft. The fighter aircraft will also accommodate significant offensive weapons volume to act as a weapons bay extension for manned aircraft.

OBSS is a new addition to the Kratos family of low-cost ACPs designed to employ weapons, sensors, and other effects that generate affordable, force multiplier combat power with a forward force posture, according to the companies’ announcements.