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Air Platforms

USAF reveals Skyborg ‘loyal wingman’ concept

27 March 2019
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An illustrative concept for the Skyborg UAV released by the USAF. The service aims to fly a prototype by the end of 2023. Source: AFRL

The US Air Force (USAF) is developing an attritable unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that it plans to fly as early as 2023, the service disclosed on 27 March.

Dubbed Skyborg, the 'loyal wingman' designed to help manned aircraft operate in defended airspace is the brainchild of the Air Force Office of Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

"Skyborg is a vessel for AI [artificial intelligence] technologies that could range from rather simple algorithms to fly the aircraft and control them in airspace to the introduction of more complicated levels of AI to accomplish certain tasks or subtasks of the mission," AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate engineer Matt Duquette was quoted by the USAF as saying.

On 15 March the SDPE issued a capability request for information (CRFI) to conduct market research and concept of operations analysis to learn what is currently commercially available at high technology readiness levels that can meet the requirements and timeline of the Skyborg programme.

As noted by the USAF, the Skyborg is envisaged as a low-cost unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) that 'can bring mass to the fight' when addressing potential near-peer engagements in the future. While not expendable, the attritable UAV will need to be cheap enough not to deter potential losses.

Building on the Have Raider and Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) programmes that have employed AI, the Skyborg has been officially put forward as a fiscal year 2019 funded pathfinder programme.

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