New tests conducted by the US Air Force saw an AI-powered unmanned system autonomously flying an F-16 combat jet. The unmanned aircraft functioned as an autonomous wingman to a human pilot, flying a separate aircraft. The system successfully accomplished all its goals, executing manoeuvres on its own.
Military contractors tested the experimental F-16 fighter jet's ability to "plan and execute" air-to-ground strikes, to adapt to changes in threat and environment during missions and more. The two-week Have Raider II demonstrations were the second in a series of tests and saw a collaborative effort by major aerospace industry players, including Lockheed Martin, Skunk Works and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
"This demonstration is an important milestone in AFRL's maturation of technologies needed to integrate manned and unmanned aircraft in a strike package," said AFRL autonomous flight operations engineer, Capt Andrew Petry. "We've not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned, but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way."
"The Have Raider II demonstration team pushed the boundaries of autonomous technology and put a fully combat-capable F-16 in increasingly complex situations to test the system's ability to adapt to a rapidly changing operational environment," said Shawn Whitcomb, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Loyal Wingman program manager. "This is a critical step to enabling future Loyal Wingman technology development and operational transition programmes."
The Loyal Wingman programme involves the development and testing of an unmanned system, autonomously flying planes while functioning as a wingman to human pilots. The system is under the command of the lead aviator and not manned by ground control, making it a manned-unmanned team. This allows human pilots to relieve some of the cognitive workload, such as planning and anticipating countermeasures, to their AI-powered wingmen while focusing on mid-air mission objectives during combat.