"I expect the first things that we'll do will not appear as sexy as what you might imagine in a movie, but will be completely game-changing," Roper explained at the conference on Mar. 13, 2019. He did not elaborate, but one of the immediate benefits of an AI or AI-enabled system is the increased speed of decision-making. At first, a drone with Skyborg might not necessarily do anything a manned aircraft can't do already, but it will be able to perform those tasks, such as aerial combat maneuvers or weapons employment, faster based on its set parameters. Where a human might be distracted or confused by the chaos of an aerial engagement, an autonomous unmanned aircraft would simply act. The drone would be able to make its decision quickly, but also based on an immense amount of situational data that would take an actual pilot much longer to process.
The U.S. Air Force plans to have an operational combat drone by 2023. The service plans to build out a family of unmanned aircraft, known as Skyborg, capable of carrying weapons and actively participating in combat. The Air Force's goal is to build up a large fleet of armed, sort-of disposable jets that don't need conventional runways to take off and land. The Air Force, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology, expects to have the first operational Skyborg aircraft ready by 2023. Skyborg will be available with both subsonic and supersonic engines, indicating both attack and fighter jet versions.
The Air Force wants to see if AI-powered autonomous drones can help human pilots better perform their mission. In a press release, the Air Force said it was seeking input from the tech industry in a new AI initiative for autonomous drones it calls Skyborg. Still in its planning stages, the Air Force is looking for market research and concept of operations analysis for Skyborg to get a sense of what technologies are out there for such a fleet. It is seeking to launch protoypes of the autonomous drones as early as 2023. What exactly would the autonomous drones under Skyborg do?
Unmanned drones, powered by artificial intelligence, may soon accompany US Air Force Pilots on missions as autonomous wingmen. Both Boeing's F-15 and Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets are being considered for the'Skyborg' drone support program. The scheme would cut down on the amount of people in the jets and could both reduce the risk to pilots and be more economical. Drones can be manufactured for a fortieth of the cost of a new fighter jet and may be guided by the sole pilot inside the nearby fighter plane. To safely manage any such drones, however, AI will need to be sufficiently developed to make it immune to attacks that could exploit its operating features.
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.