Air Force’s ‘Skyborg’ Robotic Wingman Will Revolutionize How Air Warfare is Waged—And How Weapons are Bought (excerpt)
(Source: Forbes; issued Aug 28, 2020)
Four US industry teams were awarded contracts in July to develop unmanned air systems (“drones”) for potential use in the ‘loyal wingman’ program; this is Boeing’s entry, developed in Australia in cooperation with the Royal Australian Air Force. (Boeing photo)
The Air Force Research Laboratory is developing a family of robotic air vehicles designed to work with manned aircraft in heavily contested airspace.

The program is called Skyborg, a name apparently derived from a cloud-like threat in the Star Trek series so challenging to its adversaries that “resistance is futile.”

That might pretty much describe how China or Russia would feel in a future war if Skyborg comes to fruition, because it would leverage autonomous vehicle technology, seamless connectivity, and open architectures to suppress the defenses of any enemy and execute a dozen other missions.

There’s never been anything like it, for the simple reason that until recently, things like artificial intelligence weren’t available.

But now they are, and the Air Force lab is leveraging them to facilitate a radically new approach to air warfare. Skyborg is one of three “vanguard” programs the lab is funding to rapidly integrate cutting-edge technology and get it into the operational force.

Four industry teams received contracts in July to develop unmanned air systems (“drones”) for potential use in the program. I’ve included an image of the Boeing entry here to illustrate what a robotic wingman might look like.

But unmanned air systems all look similar, and in this case they are only one facet of a far more ambitious undertaking. The real centerpiece of Skyborg is an architecture that will drive the program’s evolution for decades to come—into a future that we can barely imagine today.

Unfortunately, an agile, autonomous warfighting architecture is a bit like a wireless network. It’s hard to capture in a picture. So, media coverage will likely default to images of drones.

But understanding the architecture is vital if you want to grasp why Skyborg could change everything for America’s military and its foreign counterparts. Because like the Star Trek creation, Skyborg keeps evolving indefinitely, overwhelming the capacity of enemies to resist. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the Forbes website.


prev next

Breaking News from AFP See all

Official reports See all