Thanatos | Kratos’ advanced stealth UCAV design
Defence Redefined
Published on 06/11/2023 at 17:30

The company Kratos has provided a rendering of its Thanatos Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) for the first time. 

The company says that it hopes to have a contract by next year related to the most advanced design the company has unveiled to date. Though the potential customer remains unnamed, the conception includes a US Air Force logo, suggesting this could be tied to the service’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft program or other advanced drone projects.

The Thanatos rendering was released the other day as part of the announcement of Kratos’ financial results for the third quarter of 2023. Thanatos was named as one of several “new program opportunities” that would require additional investment in 2024, but could then lead to significant growth from the company in 2025.

Kratos already has a diverse drone portfolio, including the stealthy XQ-58A Valkyrie, more of which you can read below.

Also read: USAF | AI-enabled XQ-58A Valkyrie completes tactical testing

Information about Thanatos, the name of a Greek mythological figure who is the personification of death, remains limited.

The rendering does show a tailless uncrewed air vehicle with a number of low-observable (stealth) elements, including a shovel nose design, deep chine line, blended and recessed inlets, and a platypus-like trailing edge extension concealing a recessed exhaust. 

A tail design like this helps significantly reduce an aircraft’s infrared signature on top of its Radio Cross Section (RCS) stealth features. Thanatos also has diamond-shaped wings, which can offer reduced drag at high subsonic and supersonic speeds.

Altogether, Thanatos is by far the most advanced UCAV concept ever publicly put forward by Kratos, which started out making target drones for use in test and training as well as research and development activities.

The US Air Force is very actively pursuing a future fleet of advanced drones with high degrees of autonomy intended, at least at first, to primarily operate in close cooperation with crewed combat jets as part of its Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program. 

The service has defined three key mission areas:

  • Serving as weapon trucks loaded with air-to-air missiles to support crewed fighters
  • Acting as additional sensing nodes 
  • Providing electronic warfare capabilities.

CCAs, or variants or derivatives thereof, could eventually take on other missions and work with a broader array of crewed platforms, including B-21 Raider stealth bombers, as well as operate on their own.

The US Air Force is still refining its CCA requirements and its vision for how it will employ these uncrewed aircraft, but has already said that it wants to acquire at least 1,000 of them, if not many more. 

The 1,000-drone figure was based on a concept of operations that would see two CCAs paired with each of 200 new sixth-generation crewed stealth combat jets and 300 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. The CCA effort and the sixth-generation stealth jet project are both part of the US Air Force’s Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) initiative.

All the above are in line with Kratos’ comments so far that the stealth-designed Thanatos is aimed at an opportunity in the coming year that could potentially begin to bear real fruit financially the year after. Competition over CCA program contracts is expected to be fierce and many companies – both large and small – are already preparing their own proposals.

Also read: LOTUS | Next generation UAVs from the Greek IDE for effective border surveillance




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