The USAF Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) has awarded contracts to four companies for the continued development of autonomous attritable unmanned air vehicles (UAV) for the Skyborg Vanguard program.
The four companies – Boeing, General Atomics, Kratos, and Northrop Grumman – were awarded a total of US$400m (A$559m) under a prototyping, experimentation and autonomy development contract “to deliver missionized prototypes in support of operational experimentation”, and to “develop the first Skyborg air platform with modular hardware and software payloads”.
An AFLCMC statement says the autonomous attritable unmanned air vehicle (UAV) will be integrated with open mission systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. It says the aim of the contracts is to, ‘build an airborne autonomous ‘best of breed’ system that adapts, orients, and decides at machine speed for a wide variety of increasingly complex mission sets.’
“Because autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews, Skyborg can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the Air Force,” Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, BrigGen Dale White said in a statement. “We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power.”
BrigGen Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) added, “Autonomy technologies in Skyborg’s portfolio will range from simple play-book algorithms to advanced team decision making, and will include on-ramp opportunities for artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. This effort will provide a foundational Government reference architecture for a family of layered, autonomous, and open-architecture UAS.”
Skyborg is one of a number of fast jet manned-unmanned teaming programs underway, including with the UK’s LANCA program and Australia’s own Loyal Wingman requirement based on Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System (ATS) (see page 26).