General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has announced that on October 28, the firm tested one of its artificial intelligence (AI) driven Avenger drones. The release did not indicate where the test took place but it did emphasize that the drones were built in cooperation with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). GA-ASI further noted that it used a government-supplied Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) autonomy engine, which was installed on the Avenger drone, in order to support air-to-air targeting missions. CODE was developed by DARPA to deal with the scalability and cost-effectiveness issues concerning unmanned aircraft systems operations. "DARPA's CODE program aims to overcome these limitations with new algorithms and software for existing unmanned aircraft that would extend mission capabilities and improve U.S. forces' ability to conduct operations in denied or contested airspace," read the project's webpage.
However, in this more recent test, General Atomics did develop additional algorithms for CODE to support "behavioral functions for a coordinated air-to-air search." During the demonstration, a human operator then instructed the Avenger and its five virtual wingmen to carry out the aerial search mission, which they then performed autonomously. The CODE "engine" flew the physical Avenger drone for more than two hours, according to the company's press release. It's interesting to note that the instructions from the human operator were sent to the drone using a Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) radio via the well-established Link16 waveform. The Navy developed TTNT first for the EA-18G Growler and it is now a key component of the service's Block III upgrade package for its F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to develop enhanced autonomous sensing capabilities for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The JAIC Smart Sensor project aims to advance drone-based AI technology by demonstrating object recognition algorithms and employing onboard AI to automatically control UAV sensors and direct autonomous flight. GA-ASI will deploy these new capabilities on a MQ-9 Reaper UAV equipped with a variety of sensors, including GA-ASI's Reaper Defense Electronic Support System (RDESS) and Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). GA-ASI's Metis Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) tasking and intelligence-sharing application, which enables operators to specify effects-based mission objectives and receive automatic notification of actionable intelligence, will be used to command the unmanned aircraft. J.R. Reid, GA-ASI Vice President of Strategic Development, commented: "GA-ASI is excited to leverage the considerable investment we have made to advance the JAIC's autonomous sensing objective. This will bring a tremendous increase in unmanned systems capabilities for applications across the full-range of military operations."
General Atomics' new predator drone has broken a company endurance record for non-stop hours in flight. The MQ-9B'SkyGuardian' drone flew for 48.2 hours in a row, with reserve fuel left. The company's previous record was held by the Predator XP drone, which flew 46.1 hours in 2015. The MQ-9B's test flight took off on May 16th, 2017 from Laguna Airfield at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, with 6,065 pounds (2,750 kilograms) of fuel. It flew between 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) high and landed on May 18th, with 280 pounds (127 kilograms) of reserve fuel left.
The Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center has awarded a $93.3 million contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), makers of the MQ-9 Reaper, to equip the drone with new AI technology. The aim is for the Reaper to be able to carry out autonomous flight, decide where to direct its battery of sensors, and to recognize objects on the ground. The contract, announced at the end of last month, builds on a successful test earlier this year. In some ways this is not a major development, more of an incremental step using existing technology. What makes it significant is the drone that is being equipped, and what it will be able to do afterwards.