USAF Awards $400M-Worth Contracts to Develop AI-Powered Skyborg Drone

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  • 04:59 AM, September 30, 2020
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USAF Awards $400M-Worth Contracts to Develop AI-Powered Skyborg Drone
Skyborg conceptual design (Artwork courtesy of AFRL)

The U.S. Air Force today awarded $400 million worth of contracts to nine companies to develop the Artificial Intelligence (AI) - powered Skyborg unmanned aircraft that will team up with a human in the cockpit.

The nine companies are – AeroVironment, BAE Systems Controls, Blue Force Technologies, Fregata Systems, Lockheed Martin, Wichita State University, Autonodyne, NextGen Aeronautic and Sierra Technical Services, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement Tuesday.

These contracts provide for Skyborg prototyping, experimentation and autonomy development, used to deliver missionized prototypes in support of operational experimentation. Skyborg is an autonomous attritable aircraft capable of achieving a diverse set of missions to generate massed combat power.

Work is expected to be complete by July 2026.

USAF Awards $400M-Worth Contracts to Develop AI-Powered Skyborg Drone

The service had awarded Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and Kratos deals valued $400 million combined to build the Skyborg this July.

Skyborg Vanguard Program

The aim of the Skyborg Vanguard program is to integrate autonomous attritable unmanned air vehicle (UAV) technology with open missions systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. The program will enable airborne combat mass by building a transferable autonomy foundation for a family of layered UAVs.

Skyborg will not replace human pilots. Instead, it will provide them with key data to support rapid, informed decisions. In this manner, Skyborg will provide manned teammates with greater situational awareness and survivability during combat missions.

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,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, who, along with Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), serves as the leadership for the Skyborg program.  “We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power.”

USAF Awards $400M-Worth Contracts to Develop AI-Powered Skyborg Drone

Skyborg is one of three Vanguard programs identified late last year as part of the Air Force Science and Technology (S&T) 2030 initiative. These high priority Air Force capability development efforts come with an enterprise commitment to deliver game-changing capabilities to transform Air Force operations for the future force.

“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,” said Pringle. “This effort will provide a foundational Government reference architecture for a family of layered, autonomous, and open-architecture UAS.”

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