Monday, April 10, 2017

Air Force tests air-to-ground strikes with an autonomous F-16 wingman

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The two-week demonstration, Have Raider II, was the second in a series of tests run by key players in the aerospace industry, including Lockheed Martin, Skunk Works and the Air Force Research Laboratory. The first exhibition focused on keeping the autonomous F-16 flying in formation as a wingman, while the recent tests pushed the self-flying plane to react to changing threats during an air-to-ground strike mission and calculate new plans on the fly. Tech developed for this recent battery of tests will allow the autonomous system’s operators to insert new software components that will improve its flexibility.


This is a big step in Loyal Wingman, a program dedicated to building a system to pilot autonomous planes that operate as wingmen to human pilots. Crucially, the unmanned aircraft are directed by the lead aviator, not ground control. This setup lets the human pilot offload some cognitive workload to their AI partners to preserve brainpower for mid-flight plans and mission management — assuming the computer doesn’t go rogue like all the bad sci-fi films predict.

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