The U.S. Air Force recently has announced a new Artificial Intelligence program, Skyborg. For this program, the Air Force Office of Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working on piloting a prototype Autonomous, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle as an Early Operational Capability by early 2023. According to the report, the SDPE office released a request for information to industry to conduct market research and concept of operations analysis to learn what is commercially available now as high technology readiness level capabilities which can meet the needs and timeline of the Skyborg program.
The Skyborg program manager, Ben Tran said that Skyborg officially stood up as a fiscal year 2019 funded pathfinder program through SDPE in October 2018. He noted that there was a lot of analysis that determined what was put into the CRFI. In addition, Tran says that we’ve been given the overall objective to have an early operational capability prototype fielded by the end of the calendar year 2023, so this is our first step in determining what the current state of the art is from a technology perspective and from a systems engineering perspective to provide that EOC capability in 2023. According to Tran, low cost, attritable, unmanned air vehicles are one way to bring mass to the fight when it comes to addressing potential near-peer engagements in the future.
Ahead of this program, an AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate engineer, Matt Duquette brings a background in UAV control, autonomy, and modeling and simulation of UAVs, especially teams of UAVs to the effort while helping the Skyborg program with formulating its approach to the autonomy system and some of the behaviors that the UAVs will have. In this regard, Duquette said that Skyborg is a vessel for AI technologies that could range from rather simple algorithms to fly the aircraft and control them in the airspace to the introduction of more complicated levels of AI to accomplish certain tasks or subtasks of the mission.