Home Air US Air Force downselects two for Skyborg AI-enabled attritable UAV program

US Air Force downselects two for Skyborg AI-enabled attritable UAV program

Skyborg AI UAV program
Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force has decided on the final two contractors that will proceed to the next stage of the Skyborg Vanguard program that aims to integrate full-mission autonomy with low-cost, attritable unmanned air vehicle technology to enable manned-unmanned teaming.

According to a service announcement, the Fighters and Advanced Aircraft program executive office recently awarded contracts worth up to $13.2 million to Kratos and up to $7 million to General Atomics for further work on the program.

The announcement followed the first flights of UAVs the two companies supplied for the program. The first flight test of the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS) occurred aboard a Kratos UTAP-22 tactical unmanned vehicle at Tyndall AFB, Florida, on April 29.

A couple of months later, a General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger tactical unmanned vehicle flew with Skyborg prototype during the Orange Flag 21-2 large force test event at Edwards AFB, California.

Boeing, another company that was previously downselected and had been expected to adapt its “Airpower Teaming System” for the Skyborg mission, did not receive a contract for work under the program. It should be noted that the flights with Kratos and GA-ASI UAVs are the only ones that have been revealed by either the service or the companies.

The latest contracts will advance the integration of the ACS along with continued operational experimentation through fiscal year 2022, the service said in a release.

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

“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,” Brig. Gen. Dale White PEO for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft stated.

“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.

Skyborg is an autonomy-focused capability that will 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 will enable airborne combat mass by building a transferable autonomy foundation for a family of layered, unmanned air vehicles.

Skyborg will not replace human pilots. Instead, it will provide them with key data to support rapid, informed decisions. In this manner, Skyborg will provide manned teammates with greater situational awareness and survivability during combat missions.