The US Air Force is working on an advanced project called Skyborg, which is being touted as an AI wingman for pilots. Will Roper, the US Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, tech, and logistics, envisions Skyborg as an AI wingman ‘that will train and learn alongside pilots.’

“I don’t want this to just be a laboratory project that lives and dies there in a petri dish. I want this to become a program,” said Roper, “I want to see real, operational demonstrations within a couple of years. And I will push them to be faster than that.”

To achieve the AI-powered drone capabilities, the Air Force Office of Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) is conducting market research in the search of readily available commercial technologies that could be used in Skyborg project.

“We’ve been given the overall objective to have an early operational capability prototype fielded by the end of the 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,” said Ben Tran, Skyborg program manager.

According to Capability Request for Information (CRFI) documents, the primary goal of the Skyborg program is to deploy a modular, fighter-like aircraft that can be used to quickly update and field iteratively more complex autonomy to support the warfighter.

These AI-powered drones should be capable of avoiding other aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and hazardous weather. They should be able to take off and return, autonomously. They should not require a highly skilled person and should be operable with personnel who have limited engineering or pilot experience.

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