WASHINGTON — The testing of sophisticated software on an XQ-58A Valkyrie drone will affect how the U.S. Air Force develops and deploys autonomous technology in the near future, according to a service official.
The Kratos-built UAV flew a three-hour flight in July near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, relying on artificial intelligence algorithms for the first time. His programming matured over millions of hours in simulation and digital environments. on flights with an experimental F-16 jet known as the X-62 VISTA. and other events, according to the service.
Col. Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton, chief of artificial intelligence testing and operations, on Jan. 16 said Valkyrie proved to be “an excellent test bed” and capable of illuminating new approaches to traditional tasks.
“We have to give it some space as it maneuvers and just recognize that it’s a computer-controlled aircraft that can do things differently than a human,” Hamilton said during a live event hosted by C4ISRNET . “We have to recognize that there’s a huge benefit there — some of the things we’re doing right now may not be the most effective and efficient way to do things.”
The Valkyrie partnership builds on the Air Force’s Skyborg program years and is closely related to its more recent cooperative combat aircraft, or CCA, effort. The agency in the coming years wants to combine human pilots with CCAs to provide more flexibility and firepower.
The unmanned aircraft could perform a variety of missions: conducting reconnaissance, gathering intelligence, jamming signals, serving as a decoy and hitting targets with its own missiles. Officials said CCAs could range in cost and complexity, with some being expensive and valuable, while others could easily be sacrificed in battle.
“If I’m flying my fighter jet, I can imagine a world where I have multiple drones capable of performing some missions,” Hamilton said. “The key, however, is that we need to get human-machine teaming right. That’s all. Artificial intelligence and that autonomy – it has to empower the decision maker.”
Robert Winkler, vice president of Kratos, said in September that the Air Force and the Department of Defense have communicated their desires for a fleet of robotic wings. David Alexander, the president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which makes the Gray Eagle and Reaper drones, has said the same thing.
The Air Force budget plan for 2024 included at least $392 million for CCA work. Billions of dollars are projected to be spent in the long term.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration – specifically Cold War decommissioning and nuclear weapons development – for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award winning photographer.
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