Saturday, April 20, 2024

U.S. Air Force takes next step with new, low-cost Skyborg combat drones

U.S Air Force edged forward to low-cost, artificial intelligence-enabled teamed aircraft with the August contract options valued up to $13.2 million to KRATOS (XQ-58A) and up to $7 million to General Atomics (MQ-20) to further the development of the Skyborg Vanguard. 

The Skyborg program is building a family of autonomy core systems that can serve as wingmen. It is an autonomy-focused capability developed to enable the Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments.

The program aims to enable airborne combat mass by building a transferable autonomy foundation for a family of layered, unmanned air vehicles. As designed, this foundation will deliver unmatched combat capability per dollar by lowering the barriers to entry for industry and allowing continuous hardware and software innovation in acquisition, fielding and sustainment of critical mission systems.


During this effort, Air Force Research Laboratory will prototype a suite of autonomy and unmanned system technologies equipped with capabilities that can support a range of Air Force missions.

According to a press release issued last week by AFRL, new contract efforts will advance the Autonomous Core System (ACS) integration and continued operational experimentation through the fiscal year 2022.

The vehicles will demonstrate future warfighting capabilities through the teaming of manned and unmanned platforms at large force test events. The test events will provide critical information and the necessary insight needed to shape a future program.

Brig. Gen. Dale White PEO for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft stated, “These contract actions, while tactical in nature, are strategically important to this Vanguard as we continue to discover and learn how we will employ this advance technology in the fight. The team has always been committed to transitioning Skyborg to a program of record, and we’ll be ready in 2023 as the Air Force prepares its FY23 President’s Budget submission early next year.”

The next operational exercise is slated to occur in the Fall of 2021.

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Executive Editor

About author:

Colton Jones
Colton Jones
Colton Jones is the deputy editor of Defence Blog. He is a US-based journalist, writer and publisher who specializes in the defense industry in North America and Europe. He has written about emerging technology in military magazines and elsewhere. He is a former Air Force airmen and served at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.