Home Air USAF demos unmanned-unmanned teaming in latest Skyborg test

USAF demos unmanned-unmanned teaming in latest Skyborg test

MQ-20 Avengers fly autonomously in tandem
Two General Atomics MQ-20 Avengers fly collaborative unmanned aircraft teaming experiments during Edwards Air Force Base’s Orange Flag 21-3. Photo: General Atomics

A US Air Force team working on integrating full-mission autonomy with low-cost, attritable unmanned air vehicles (UAV) as part of the Skyborg program demonstrated unmanned-unmanned teaming capabilities during a recent test flight.

In the multi-hour flight test on October 26, the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS) flew aboard two General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger tactical unmanned vehicles during the Orange Flag (OF) 21-3 large force test event at Edwards AFB, California.

Skyborg is focused on demonstrating an open, modular, government-owned ACS that can autonomously aviate, navigate, and communicate, and eventually integrate other advanced capabilities.

This experimentation event built upon the basic flight autonomy behaviors demonstrated at OF 21-2.

The flight demonstrated matured capabilities of the autonomy system that enabled two MQ-20s to fly without human controllers in the loop while communicating with each other to ensure coordinated flight.

Additionally, the aircraft responded to navigational commands, stayed within specified geo-fences, and maintained flight envelopes. Both aircraft were monitored from a ground command and control station.

“These operational experimentation tests continue to demonstrate emerging technologies and helps the enterprise posture to transition this capability to the warfighter while preparing for the high-end fight,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

“We have made tremendous progress in transforming ideas to reality in a short time frame. The team has continued the full court press to mature a Government-owned autonomy core and develop the foundational technologies for a future capability,” said Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, Air Force Research Laboratory commander.

“Large force testing of autonomous unmanned-unmanned teaming is the natural evolution to fielding warfighter capability for the future fight,” said Brig. Gen. Matthew Higer, 412th Test Wing commander at Edwards AFB, California.

According to the service, future Skyborg experimentation events will explore direct manned-unmanned teaming between manned aircraft and multiple ACS-controlled unmanned aircraft.

The Air Force is working with Kratos and General Atomics to develop the autonomy-focused capability that will enable the service to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft. Skyborg is not designed to eventually replace human pilots, but to 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.