Skyborg: Rise of the Autonomous Wingmen

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Source: Kenneth McNulty,
Source: Kenneth McNulty,

October 27, 2020 | Originally published by Airman Magazine on September 21, 2020

Skyborg is an autonomy-focused capability that will enable the U.S. Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft driven by artificial intelligence that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments. These unmanned aerial systems are meant to operate alongside manned fighters and will utilize machine-learning technology to increase combat capability as they train alongside their piloted partner.

These wingman aircraft could fly ahead of manned planes to extend the pair’s sensor coverage to increase battlespace awareness. They can fire weapons at targets designated by their human wingmen, and a swarm of automated wingmen could protect piloted aircraft by absorbing missile shots from enemy forces.

Air Force policy stipulates that people are always responsible for lethal decision making. Accordingly, Skyborg will not replace human pilots. Instead, it will provide them with key data to support rapid, informed decisions.

“Ever since “Star Wars” first debuted, this idea of being able to fly with autonomy to support you, and cute little beeps and squeaks right, it has just caught the imagination,” said Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. “It’s time to make that real.”

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