Skyborg program has robotic wingman assist human pilots


The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is developing robotic vehicles that will operate with manned aircraft in contested airspace.

The Skyborg program combines autonomous vehicle technology, seamless connectivity and open architecture to suppress enemy defenses and execute other missions, Forbes magazine reported in August 2020. The program’s name apparently derives from the Star Trek television series and refers to a threat so menacing that “resistance is futile.”

The Skyborg program represents a radical approach to air warfare. The Air Force describes the program as a low-cost, teamed aircraft that can “thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments.”

Pilots would receive key information about their surroundings when the robotic aircraft, pictured, detect potential air and ground threats, determine threat proximity and analyze danger. “Embedded within the teamed aircraft, complex algorithms and cutting-edge sensors enable the autonomy to make decisions based on established rules of engagement set by manned teammates,” the Air Force Research Laboratory stated on its website.

Air Force policy stipulates that people are always responsible for lethal decision-making, so Skyborg will not replace human pilots. Instead, it will provide them with data to support rapid decisions.