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

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Posted by Andrew Foerch