WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force awarded defense technology firm Anduril Industries contracts totaling $8 million to refine the autonomous capabilities on two drone aircraft.

Anduril will work to hone the autonomy on its helicopter-like Ghost reconnaissance, security and force protection uncrewed aircraft and the recently unveiled enhanced version dubbed Ghost-X under these contracts, the company said Friday.

Anduril spokeswoman Sofia Haft said that the Air Force will also buy some Ghost aircraft as part of this contract, but the company would not say how many. The contracts will also allow Anduril to further refine Ghost’s hardware, she said, and develop specific autonomous behaviors for the aircraft to perform.

The Ghost contract will be for 12 months, and the Ghost-X contract will be for 18 months, Haft said.

Ghost-X made its debut Sept. 12 at the DSEI defense conference in London. Anduril said at the time that Ghost-X’s upgrades will allow it to fly longer than its predecessor, or up to 75 minutes, and carry a payload of up to 20 pounds, which would be roughly twice as much weight as the original Ghost.

Anduril said Ghost-X was created using feedback from a range of customers who have flown the original Ghost for more than 1,000 hours in a variety of environments, including combat theaters.

One of those combat zones is Ukraine, Haft said, though the company would not say anything else about how Ghost has been used there citing security concerns.

Ghost-X’s upgrades will give it a modular carriage that is able to carry multiple payloads, and more resilience to operate in more challenging operational environments, Anduril said.

Ghost uses Anduril’s Lattice software to control its autonomous capabilities and fly largely on its own, the company said, allowing it to automate mission planning, manage its airspace, and conduct flight operations, lessening the burden on operators.

Anduril’s work with the Ghost drones under this contract will support the Air Force’s AFWERX innovation unit, which aims to help industry develop technologies that can help counter threats worldwide. AFWERX in fall 2022 launched a new program called Autonomy Prime to collaborate with defense firms to push autonomous technologies forward and try to turn them into official programs of record.

As the Air Force and Anduril work to further develop the Ghost aircraft, the company said airmen will modify government software, integrate it into Ghost’s open architecture autonomous programming, and then test how well it performs. Anduril said the open architecture structure would allow Ghost to be quickly modified to meet a commander’s needs and adjust to changes on the battlefield.

“The Ghost platform adapts to user needs with a flexible design that allows operators to integrate sensors, communications, navigation and other modular mission payloads,” Anduril said.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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