The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) detailed plans on Wednesday (July 5) for autonomous drones to fly alongside jets.
These “future battle spaces” would see unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) of the Collaborative combat aircraft (CCA) program acting as an AI-controlled wingmen.
Unmanned combat aircraft include the stealthy Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie experimental vehicle designed to escort the F-22 or F-35 during combat missions and to deploy weapons or surveillance systems.
AFRL’s Strategic Development, Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office say they are working with other partners across the Air Force to perform operational experimentation in support of the so-called Skyborg Vanguard project.
An Air Force statement reports the effort has been able to successfully “demonstrate the scope and scale of work which will be necessary to operationalize artificial intelligence or AI.”
The plan is to transition a process to “mature autonomy concepts through digital simulation, surrogate human-on-the-loop testing with tactical platforms, and prototype uncrewed platform flight test.”
Members of the Autonomous Aircraft Experiment Team explained how they are taking autonomous research concepts that exist in a lab and “turning them into operational realities for our nation’s warfighters.”
Air Force Col. Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton, Chief of AI and Test and Operations, said: “We need to recognize that AI is here. It’s here to stay. It’s a powerful tool.
“Collaborative Combat Aircraft and that type of autonomy is revolutionary. And will be the future battle space.”
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall spoke in May about the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) air superiority initiative.
The NGAD goal would be to field a “family of systems” to replace the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. A manned fighter aircraft would be supported by uncrewed collaborative combat aircraft (CCA), or loyal wingman platforms, through manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).
Secretary Kendall said: “The NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) Platform is a vital element of the Air Dominance family of systems which represents a generational leap in technology over the F-22, which it will replace.
“NGAD will include attributes such as enhanced lethality and the ability to survive, persist, interoperate, and adapt in the air domain, all within highly contested operational environments.
“No one does this better than the U.S. Air Force, but we will lose that edge if we don’t move forward now.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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