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The US Air Force will seek funding to develop a pair of classified combat drone programs next year that are designed to operate alongside fighter planes and bombers, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told POLITICO, the latter reported.

“I’ve got two that I’m going to have in the ‘23 budget in some form,” Kendall said in an interview. “They’re both unmanned air combat vehicles, unmanned platforms that are designed to work in conjunction with fighter aircraft like [the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter] or F-22 or the F-35. On the other hand they work in conjunction with bombers like the B-21.”

He said the existence of the programs will be disclosed formally in the budget request, which will go to Congress early next year, but the details will be secret.

“These will be acknowledged classified programs,” Kendall explained, “but I am going to try to get them started in ‘23.”

“Investing in unique and highly capable unmanned aerial vehicles is something people not only expect, but is indicative of the fact that the Air Force is exploiting the technologies out there to give it a decisive technology edge,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, the former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance who now runs the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, an industry-backed think tank.

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