Two manufacturers have been selected by the US Air Force (USAF) to advance in the competition to develop an autonomous fighter aircraft.

The service on 24 April announced that designs from two California-based companies – defence start-up Anduril Industries and uncrewed aircraft pioneer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems – were chosen for the next round of the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) programme.

That effort aims to expand the USA’s fighter capacity at lower cost and faster than could be achieved solely with crewed aircraft.


Source: US Air Force

General Atomics has already completed three flights with its XQ-67A, which is the basis for the company’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft bid

Under the next stage, both General Atomics and Anduril will receive funding to design, manufacture and test “production representative test articles”, according to the USAF. This includes flight testing the prototype aircraft.

Firms not selected to advance, which include aerospace heavyweights Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, “will continue to be part of the broader industry partner vendor pool”, the air force says.

In addition to the possibility of supplying prime contractors in the first increment of CCAs, that vendor pool will also have the opportunity to bid on the second increment of autonomous fighters, which the USAF says it will begin work on later this year.

“All current and potential future industry partners from the CCA vendor pool will compete for this follow-on effort,” the air force says.

 The service notes that vendor pool includes more than 20 manufacturers.

“As we navigate the next phase of CCA development, our collaboration with both current and potential industry partners remains pivotal,” says assistant air force secretary Andrew Hunter, who oversees procurement for the service.

Little is known about the CCA designs, which are intended to pair with the highly-classified Next Generation Air Dominance sixth-generation fighter aircraft currently under development.

Anduril’s submission is likely based around the Fury autonomous jet, which the company acquired with its 2023 acquisition of start-up Blue Force Technologies. A model of the jet displayed by Anduril shows a streamlined design with a single air intake below the fuselage and one vertical stabiliser.

In the original Blue Force design, Fury was powered by a single commercially available business jet engine. Anduril has declined to discuss its propulsion plans.

“Anduril is proud to pave the way for other non-traditional defence companies to compete and deliver on large scale programmes,” chief executive Brian Schimpf said on 24 April.

The company did not offer any details of its CCA bid.

Fury side profile

Source: Anduril Industries

Anduril is believed to developing the Fury as its CCA platform, a design the company acquired in its takeover of Blue Force Technologies

Competitor General Atomics is providing more clues as to the nature of its submission, confirming on 24 April that the recently revealed XQ-67A Off-Board Sensing Station formed the basis for its CCA prototype.

That aircraft made its first flight in February in a remotely piloted configuration, as part of an Air Force Research Laboratory programme to develop low-cost autonomous air vehicles.

“Since then, this prototype for CCA has successfully completed two additional test flights, laying the groundwork for a successful production and flight test programme,” General Atomics says.

CCA testing will also incorporate General Atomics’ MQ-20 Avenger uncrewed jet – the latest iteration of the Predator UAV line – to more quickly advance autonomy and mission systems technology.

Company president David Alexander says General Atomics offers “unmatched experience” in the development and production of uncrewed combat aircraft.

General Atomics has numerous UAVs in active service, including the MQ-9A Reaper, MQ-9B SkyGuardian, MQ-1C Gray Eagle and RQ-1 Predator.

The USAF says it currently expects to make a competitive production decision for the first increment of CCAs in fiscal year 2026, with plans to field a fully operational capability before the end of the decade.

While the programme is initially intended to develop aircraft for the USAF, overseas allies may also get a procurement opportunity.

“The Department of the Air Force is exploring international partnerships, to include potential foreign military sales, as part of the CCA programme,” the USAF says. “These partnerships will help provide further affordable mass at scale while driving horizontal integration and interoperability across our international partnerships.”

The USAF aims for the CCA programme to deliver at least 1,000 autonomous aircraft, which could fill a variety of combat roles, including electronic warfare, air-to-air and air-to-ground strikes.