U.S. Air Force Will Field an Autonomous Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle as Early as 2023

The program, called Skyborg, has issued a request for information to conduct market research.
Loukia Papadopoulos

The U.S. Air Force is planning on fielding a prototype Autonomous, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle as an Early Operational Capability as early as 2023.

The program, called Skyborg, has already issued a request for information to industry to conduct market research and concept of operations analysis. The program is seeking to find out what commercially available technologies exist that can meet the requirements of Skyborg.

“There was a lot of analysis that determined what was put into the CRFI,” Ben Tran, Skyborg program manager, said in a statement. “We’ve been given the overall objective to have an early operational capability prototype fielded by the end of calendar year 2023, so this is our first step in determining what the current state of the art is from a technology perspective and from a systems engineering perspective to provide that EOC capability in 2023.”

These unmanned air vehicles are plausible methods for bringing mass to the fight when it comes to facing potential near-peer engagements, added Tran.

“We also know there is heavy investment by our near-peer adversaries in artificial intelligence and autonomy in general. We know that when you couple autonomy and AI with systems like low-cost attritables, that can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for our Air Force and so the 2023 goal line is our attempt at bringing something to bear in a relatively quick time frame to show that we can bring that kind of capability to the fight," explained Tran.

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Meanwhile, Maj. Ryan Carr, from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate, said he is excited by machine learning's development over the years and is seeking to see how it can be applied safely to the airforce.

“We expect that technology will continue to mature fairly rapidly. What we really need to understand is, ‘How do you take that and do something like bring it to the real world and fly with it for example?’ The thing we’re trying to get at early on is how to do that safely. We’re talking about run-time assurance, working hand-in-hand with the flight test community who have a very long record of safe flight testing. That’s really what we want to focus our attention on in this early period,” Carr concluded.

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