The Future Top Gun’s Wingman Will be a Drone
Andrew Wheeler posted on July 03, 2020 |
USAF Skyborg video has fighter jets accompanied by lethal UAVs.
Skyborg drone releases an air-to-air missile in this video released by the US Air Force Research Lab.

The United States Air Force has posted a video about its Skyborg program. First revealed in March 2019, Skyborg was borne of an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) notion that drones outfitted with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities could give fighter pilots an advantage.

Skyborg is meant to free unmanned drones from their human controllers on the ground.

Military drones are usually flown for reconnaissance, rather than in combat missions. When first disclosed to the public, the unmanned AI Skyborg was not to fly combat missions or venture into conflict areas—even for reconnaissance.

That seems to have changed. Skyborg drones are now portrayed as aerial combat partners for fighter pilots on missions to disrupt enemy air defense networks or take out targets in defended airspace. It is shown flying with the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as an aerial saddlebag, full of weapons and munitions, including air-to-air missiles.

The cost of Skyborg drones is expected to be minimal compared to the cost of modern air superiority fighter aircraft, which can cost as much as $80 million.

Skyborg will be like Luke Skywalker’s R2-D2, says Will Roper, acquisition executive of the USAF in Defense News. Skyborg AI will collect data and learn while working off the wings of fighter pilots. It will analyze its performance and with each mission make better decisions.

We can separate the sensor [drones] and the shooter [pilot], says Roper. “Right now, they’re collocated on a single platform with a person in it.” In the future, we can have our sensors out front ahead of the shooters.

Several aircraft companies are expected to bid on a USAF $158 million program that includes Skyborg. USAF will be requesting an extra $25 million to integrate AI in Skyborg. Both General

Atomics and Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works will submit proposals for Skyborg, according to Air Force magazine.


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