Unmanned drones, powered by artificial intelligence, will soon be able to accompany US Air Force Pilots on missions such as autonomous wingmen.
Both the F-15 and F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin are being considered for the support program & # 39; Skyborg & # 39 ;.
The scheme would reduce the number of people in the fighter jets and both reduce the risk for pilots and be more economical.
Drones can be manufactured for 40th of the cost of a new fighter jet and can be led by the only pilot in the nearby fighter plane.
However, in order to safely manage such drones, AI must be sufficiently developed to render it immune to attacks that can exploit the control functions.
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Artificial intelligence could soon be there with the best of the best, since the US Air Force is investigating how fighter jets (such as the F-35, pictured) can be supported by AI wingmen
The technology for the Skyborg program is being developed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory, in collaboration with aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
The fusion of fighter jets with autonomous drones would & # 39; open the door to a completely different way of doing aerial combat & # 39 ;, said US Air Force Service Acquisition Executive Will Roper. Defense news.
According to Dr. Roper, a standard flight formation of four fighter jets could be replaced by one jet and three drones.
& # 39; I am very passionate about doing it, and the F-35 has a great opportunity to do this as part of Block 4, & # 39; said Dr. Roper, referring to the upcoming F-35 upgrade program.
& # 39; We may also have the opportunity to do this as part of F-15EX. & # 39;
WHAT IS THE XQ-58 VALKYRIE DRONE?
The Valkyrie is an unmanned drone that is built to fly like a fighter jet.
It has a max speed of Mach 0.85.
The drone can carry a load of 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of at least 1500 nautical miles (approximately 1726 miles / 2778 kilometers).
It is 28 feet 10 inches (8.8 meters) long, with a wingspan of 22 feet (6.7 meters).
The Valkyrie can take off without runway.
It can fly as high as 44,997 feet (13,715 meters)
The drone is built with an eye on economy and production speed.
It has two arms bays.
This is the first time that the Air Force has confirmed which fighter aircraft platforms may be involved in the Skyborg program prototype.
Skyborg was previously characterized by Dr. Roper as an artificial intelligence-based wingman who would be trained alongside human pilots and possibly be included in manned cockpits jets to help them.
Dr. Roper had informed US legislators earlier in May that Skyborg would be working to record the XQ-58 Valkyrie drone program.
With this switch, the stealth drones would be equipped with new sensors, new payloads and the capacity to network with manned hunters.
The Valkyrie is well suited for the final task, because it is designed to work as a fighter jet.
The drone can fly with Mach 0.85, can carry at least 1500 nautical miles (about 1726 miles / 2778 kilometers) while it carries a load of 500 pounds (227 kilograms) and can start without a runway.
The first test flight of a Valkyrie was successfully undertaken at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on March 5, 2019, after two and a half years of development.
Combining hunters with autonomous drones would open the door for a completely different way to do aerial combat. For example, a formation of four rays can be replaced by a ray and three drones (as shown) – which would be more cost-effective and result in fewer human lives
The scheme could both reduce the risk to human pilots and be more economical – drones (such as the XQ-58 Valkyrie, pictured) could be built for 40th of the cost of a new fighter jet
The Air Force is also investigating the potential of integrating other unmanned aerial platforms into the Skyborg program.
Characteristics sought in such a vehicle are the capacity to take off and land independently, and to avoid obstacles and bad weather.
It is also investigating whether an autonomous, modular aircraft with open systems can be upgraded with new AI software or hardware, Defense News reported.
& # 39; With some systems, we can take risks to keep others safer, & # 39; said Dr. Roper. He explained that the Skyborg program will enable the Air Force to separate sensors and shooting games across different vessels.
& # 39; At the moment they are brought together on a single platform with a person in it, & # 39; he said.
& # 39; In the future we can separate them, put sensors in front of shooters, our manned systems behind the unmanned places. & # 39;
& # 39; There is a whole playbook & # 39 ;, he added.
WHAT IS THE F-15 EAGLE?
The F-15 Eagle is an American twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter plane designed by McDonnell Douglas, now Boeing, in 1972.
Launched in 1976, it is one of the most successful fighter jets in current production, with no loss of air combat.
The aircraft is mainly used by the US Air Force and the Air Force forces of Saudi Arabia, Israel and Japan.
Each model costs around £ 21 million ($ 28 million) and the aircraft has been modified and improved over the years with different variants now used around the world, including the faster F-15E Strike Eagle.
From 2017 the aircraft will be produced in different variants with production ending in 2022.
AT A GLANCE:
Crew: one pilot
Length: 63 ft 9 ins (19.43 m)
Wingspan: 42 ft 10 ins (13.05 m)
Height: 18ft 6ins (5.63m)
Max starting weight: 68,000 lbs (30,845 kg)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-100 or -220 afterburning turbo fans
Max Speed: Mach 2.5+ (1,650 mph)
Max height: 65,000 ft (20,000 m)
Reinforcement: one 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotation cannon, four AIM-7 Sparrow rockets, four AIM-9 Sidewinder rockets, eight AIM-120 AMRAAM rockets
In addition to reducing the risk to human life, each drone will also be cheaper in production than the fighter jets that it will replace.
When built in bulk, each Valkyrie costs around & # 39; a few (million) dollars & # 39 ;, Dr. Roper predicted, compared to the $ 80 million (£ 63 million) price tag of the F-35A and F-15EX jets .
Autonomous vessels are expected to start testing the following year with the ambition to have a workable Skyborg installation by 2023.
The F-35 is currently undergoing its third major technology upgrade – with newly built models for improved processing power, higher memory levels and more advanced cockpit displays.
At the same time, the hunter's operating system will be transferred to an open government mission post architecture that will support the development and implementation of custom software applications in the jet.
It is this capacity with which the F-35 hunters can be integrated in addition to the AI-controlled drone spacecraft.
The F-35 is ideally suited & # 39; to collaborate with unmanned vessels in applications such as Skyborg, said Lockheed Martin spokesperson Mike Friedman in a statement.
& # 39; The F-35 is a power multiplier that can share its operational image with ground, sea and air freight in the combat space, & # 39; Friedman said.
& # 39; Lockheed Martin has extensive experience with manned / unmanned teaming and works closely with our customers to develop and implement this critical capacity, & # 39; Mr. Friedman added.
Boeing, the manufacturer of the F-15 jet, is said to be receptive to the proposed upgrades that could use the Skyborg fighter.
& # 39; We started early discussions with the US Air Force customer about how to insert contemporary technology like this & # 39 ;, said Boeing Vice President Prat Kumar at Defense News.
& # 39; The F-15EX is a uniquely suitable platform for such technical inserts because it has available computing capacity and space. & # 39;
The US Congress must first decide whether to approve financing for the development of the F-15EX.
With $ 986 million (£ 780 million) allocated in House appropriations' draft account for the construction of eight jets, however, approval seems likely.
& # 39; I don't think there is an obstacle in terms of financing, & # 39; explains Dr. Roper, who believes that cultural and technological barriers are more important instead.
These may include, for example, integrating Skyborg into simulators, installing artificial intelligence in the networked vessel and determining which actions the AI may take.
& # 39; This is just different, & # 39; he said.
"We need to understand when the machine will be at its best and when people want to be at their best", he added.
& # 39; We need to encourage the trained person to have an instinct for AI, just as they have an instinct for stealth. & # 39;
Both Boeing & # 39; s F-15 (shown) and Lockheed Martin & # 39; s F-35 fighter jets are considered for the & # 39; Skyborg & # 39; drone support program
The development of AI for military applications entails inherent challenges that go beyond those of current commercial applications.
Not only will drone-flying AI have to be built in a way that addresses issues of trust and oversight – such as vision applications such as self-driving cars – but it should also be able to ward off attacks designed to exploit its fundamental capabilities.
Functions such as data extraction, function recognition and pattern recognition can be manipulated by, for example, entering incorrect information from the AI.
& # 39; The current generation AI does not relate to a world that understands how AI works and deliberately tries to throw a key in the machine & # 39 ;, said Dr. Roper.
& # 39; We'll handle that. & # 39; he added.
F-35: How HMS Elizabeth's planes have been troubled by problems
The delivery of the new US-built F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in July marked a rare moment of celebration in a problematic project.
The & # 39; fifth generation & # 39; fighter plane is & # 39; the world's most expensive weapon system, although the costs have eventually stabilized at a stunning amount of $ 406 billion.
The manufacturer Lockheed-Martin agreed to cut costs after US President Donald Trump criticized the project and even tweeted support for a rival aircraft.
Britain is currently embarking on a £ 9.1 billion program to buy 48 of the F-35's from US aviation giant Lockheed Martin in 2025.
One of the first four F-35B Lightning II aircraft arrives at RAF Marham in Norfolk on June 6, 2018
America provoked NATO and other allies to share the costs of the aircraft by providing input for production, and 15 percent of each of the aircraft consists of parts from British companies while some of the jets are made in Italy.
But the planes have been plagued by a catalog of problems that have increased costs.
There is a fear of shortcomings in the technical systems that underlie the new generation of warplanes, preventing them from functioning properly.
The actual costs of the British aircraft being delivered this year are estimated to be over £ 150 million each to & # 39; extra & # 39; s & # 39; such as software upgrades and spare parts.
There are also concerns that the aircraft's software system is vulnerable to cyber attacks and cannot be independently tested by the UK.
The weak broadband on the main Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth also hinders the capabilities of the jet.
The problems are not helped by the department responsible for the computer networks that are essential for the operation of the aircraft and that this year must find a saving of £ 400 million.
The reports on costs and other problems led the Defense Commission to start an investigation into the project.
It reprimanded the Ministry of Defense to keep parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.
The Ministry of Defense has so far refused to calculate the estimated cost to the United Kingdom of buying the F-35, apart from a referral to a national audit office that used the £ 9.1 billion figure.
MPs said: "It is simply not acceptable for the MoD to refuse to disclose to Parliament and the public its estimates for the total cost of the program".
Although the costs of the F-35 have attracted attention, there are also embarrassing reports of shortcomings in the functioning of the United States.
In a sham fight in 2015, the ultramodern aircraft was defeated by an older generation F-16, an aircraft designed in the & # 39; 70.
Last year, Pentagon tests found 276 different errors in the jets combat system.
They include the 25mm cannon that vibrates too much and problems with the & # 39; virtual reality & # 39; helmet of the aircraft
Overheating, premature wear of components in the vertical tails and vulnerability to fire were also found to be problems.
The US Air Force has temporarily undergone dozens of F-35 stealth hunters while investigating an oxygen supply problem.
The Marine Corps, which also use the same F-35B model that the UK purchased, was forced to ground its planes after errors were found in the computer system.
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