Air Force Betting on New Robotic Wingman

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The next year will be pivotal for the Air Force's effort to acquire a new class of autonomous drones, as industry teams compete for a chance to build a fleet of robotic wingmen that will soon undergo operational experimentation. The "Skyborg" program is one of the service's top science-and-technology priorities under the "Vanguard" initiative to deliver game-changing capabilities to its warfighters. The aim is to acquire relatively inexpensive, attritable unmanned aircraft that can leverage artificial intelligence and accompany manned fighter jets into battle. "I expect that we will do sorties where a set number are expected to fly with the manned systems, and we'll have crazy new [concepts of operation] for how they'll be used," Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper said during an online event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. The platforms might even be called upon to conduct kamikaze missions.