An Air Force press release reports Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force recently completed a two-week trial evaluating an experimental, unmanned F-16 fighter jet equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
The autonomous F-16 was used in tandem with traditional piloted planes to test manned/unmanned teaming and combat efficiency during air-to-ground strike missions.
During testing, the F-16 acted as a surrogate Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), flying in formation with a fleet of jets and planning and executing missions based on available assets and dynamic mission priorities. Additionally, the jet proved its ability to react in real time to a changing threat environment and to actively manage contingencies for capability failures or communication loss.
This trial is the second phase in a series of manned/unmanned teaming exercises titled “Have Raider,” which aims to soon see UCAVs deployed routinely on combat missions alongside crewed aircraft.
According to a recent Motherboard article, the Air Force “foresees UCAVs flying into ‘hazardous mission environments’ and staying over targets longer without pilot fatigue.”
The trial’s success is a step forward for the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy, which focuses on automation and using existing technology in new ways.
A Popular Mechanics article posits that as the F-35A enters service and the Air Force retires more than a thousand F-16s, we could soon see a single F-35 accompanied by Autonomous F-16s on strike missions.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force