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US Air Force’s AI-controlled Drone Completes First Long-haul Flight

The XQ-58 is designed to accomplish tasks such as scouting, defensive fire, or even absorbing enemy fire to keep human-piloted

The U.S. Air Force has successfully flown their “loyal wingman” stealth drone entirely under the control of artificial intelligence for three hours.

The sortie demonstrated the first-ever flight of AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) -developed, machine-learning trained, artificial intelligence algorithms on an XQ-58A Valkyrie.

The XQ-58 is designed to accomplish tasks such as scouting, defensive fire, or even absorbing enemy fire to keep human-piloted jets safe.

The flight, part of the so-called Skyborg program, took place at the Eglin Test and Training Complex in Florida on July 25, but was announced this week.

Col. Tucker Hamilton, chief, AI Test and Operations, for the Department of the Air Force, explained the Valkyrie had to solve a problem during the test.

He said: “The mission proved out a multi-layer safety framework on an AI/ML-flown uncrewed aircraft and demonstrated an AI/ML agent solving a tactically relevant “challenge problem” during airborne operations.

“This sortie officially enables the ability to develop AI/ML agents that will execute modern air-to-air and air-to-surface skills that are immediately transferrable to other autonomy programs.”

AI/ML refers to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The XQ-58A Valkyrie AI-controlled drone taking off.The sortie demonstrated the first-ever flight of AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) -developed, machine-learning trained, artificial intelligence algorithms on an XQ-58A Valkyrie. PHOTO BY USAF/SWNS 

The algorithms were developed by AFRL’s Autonomous Air Combat Operations team, who say the algorithms matured during millions of hours in high-fidelity simulation events, sorties on the X-62 VISTA (experimental aircraft), Hardware-in-the-Loop events with the XQ-58A, and ground test operations.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) stated they are committed to the responsible employment of AI explaining: “To achieve responsible use of AI requires teaming of developers and users of AI enabled autonomy working in collaboration with acquisition specialists.”

“AI will be a critical element to future warfighting and the speed at which we’re going to have to understand the operational picture and make decisions,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, AFRL commander. “AI, Autonomous Operations, and Human-Machine Teaming continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace and we need the coordinated efforts of our government, academia, and industry partners to keep pace.”

The Skyborg project is a United States Air Force Vanguard program developing unmanned combat aerial vehicles intended to accompany a manned fighter aircraft.

 

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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