Navy asks Kratos to build 15 unmanned target drones to help crews practice against anti-ship cruise missiles

May 1, 2023
BQM-177A is a high-subsonic aerial target that mimics the behaviors and radar cross sections of high-subsonic sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles.

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – High-performance target drones experts at Kratos Defense & Security Solutions Inc. are building another 15 subsonic aerial targets that will help Navy aircraft and surface warship crews learn to defeat enemy anti-ship cruise missiles.

Officials of the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced an $11.1 million order in late March to the Kratos Unmanned Systems segment in Sacramento, Calif. (formerly Composite Engineering Inc.), for 15 full-rate-production lot-4 BQM-177A surface-launched aerial targets.

The order includes rocket-assisted takeoff kits, research data, fleet gunnery and missile training exercises, and fleet air-to-air missile and surface-to-air missile training exercises for the Navy.

The BQM-177A is the Navy’s next-generation subsonic aerial target that mimics the behaviors and radar cross sections of high-subsonic sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles to help naval personnel practice air-to-air engagements.

Related: Northrop Grumman to build 28 supersonic target drones to help train ship crews to defeat anti-ship missiles

The contract includes 55 rocket-assisted takeoff attachment kits, 277 mission kits, and data for the U.S. Navy and the militaries of Canada and Australia.

The BQM-177A unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program is designed to meet the U.S. Navy's requirements for a high fidelity target to replicate subsonic anti-cruise missile threats in direct support of fleet training and weapon system testing and evaluation.

In November 2016 Kratos Unmanned Systems officials announced they had achieved the final development program milestone for the BQM-177A target drone leading up to low-rate initial production (LRIP). In June 2018 Kratos began LRIP on the BQM-177A with a Navy order for 45 of the high-performance target drones. Last January Kratos moved to full-rate production of the target drones with a $49.6 million contract to build 55 new BQM-177As.

Capable of speeds in excess of 730 miles per hour and a sea-skimming altitude as low as 10 feet above the surface of the water, the BQM-177A carries internal and external payloads including proximity scoring, identification friend or foe (IFF), passive and active RF augmentation, electronic countermeasures, infrared plume pods, chaff and flare dispensers, and towed targets.

Related: Navy places order with Kratos for another 34 unmanned target drones to train against enemy cruise missiles

The BQM-177A is based on the Kratos BQM-167X aircraft, a derivative of the U.S. Air Force BQM-167A Skeeter target. The BQM-177A introduces a new fuselage with area ruling, high-mounted wings, and an internally integrated MicroTurbo TR-60-5+ turbo jet engine for reduced transonic drag.

The BQM-177A will augment and later replace existing BQM-74E aerial targets, and will deliver longer range, lower cruise altitudes, and greater maneuverability than previous-generation target drones.

The BQM-177A is 17 feet long, has a 7 -foot wingspan, and weighs 620 pounds with fuel or payloads. It can fly at altitudes as low as 6.6 feet above the ground or water, and as high as 40,000 feet above sea level.

On this order Kratos will do the work Sacramento, Santa Ana, Concord, and Chatsworth, Calif.; Dallas; Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; Blacksburg, Va.; Newton, Kan.; and Milwaukie, Ore., and should be finished by May 2024. For more information contact Kratos Unmanned Systems online at, or Naval Air Systems Command at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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