Home Air US Air Force brings in more companies for Skyborg AI drone program

US Air Force brings in more companies for Skyborg AI drone program

F-22 and F-35 together
Manned aircraft, such as this F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II, could one day operate with autonomous attritable unmanned aircraft acting as wingmen. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center has completed the second phase of awards for the Skyborg prototyping, experimentation and autonomy development (SPEAD) effort.

This round adds AeroVironment Inc., Autodyne LLC, BAE System Controls Inc., Blue Force Technologies Inc., Fregata System Inc., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, NextGen Aeronautics Inc., Sierra Technical Services, and Wichita State University to the multiple indefinite-delivery / indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract.

A total of 13 vendors will now compete for up to $400 million in subsequent delivery orders in support of the Skyborg Vanguard program, which aims to develop an autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle. The other four companies participating in the program include Boeing, General Atomics, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems and Northrop Grumman.

The Air Force said it expects to begin the process of developing air vehicle prototype designs later this calendar year.

“This second phase of awards establishes a diverse and competitive vendor pool by adding several non-traditional and traditional contractors we saw as important additions to the effort. The diversity of approaches and backgrounds, allows us to access the best industry has to offer,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft. He, along with Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), serves as the leadership for the Skyborg program.

The prototyping contracts come after a solicitation from May this year, for prototypes of the system that would leverage artificial intelligence to operate as part of a larger group of drones and in unison with manned platforms.

Skyborg AI UCAV
A Skyborg conceptual design for a low cost attritable Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV). Artwork: AFRL