Skyborg unmanned combat aircraft to push bounds of artificial intelligence (AI)

April 1, 2019

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio — U.S. Air Force researchers are approaching industry for mature enabling technologies for a prototype a low-cost unmanned combat aircraft called Skyborg, which will have artificial intelligence (AI) and modular payloads for a wide variety of fighter and ground-attack capabilities.

Officials of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, issued a capability request for information (FA8650-19-S-9340) in March for the Skyborg Autonomous Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle project.

Researchers are interested in a prototype inexpensive, quick-turnaround, autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), which will be a modular, fighter-like aircraft that can take on increasingly complex technologies and tasking to support the warfighter.

Once fielded, Skyborg will enable warfighters to adjust Skyborg’s payload and autonomy modularly to support an array of missions. Researchers are interested only in technologies that quickly can move to operational use.

The Air Force is approaching industry for enabling technologies for a prototype a low-cost unmanned combat aircraft called Skyborg, which is expected to push the bounds of artificial intelligence (AI).

Advanced autonomy and artificial intelligence (AI) are poised to change the character of the international battlefield substantially in the near future, Air Force researchers explain. Researchers want to field an autonomous system that meets an immediate operational need, as well as that can jump-start complex AI development, prototyping, experimentation, and fielding.

Air Force officials plans to proceed at an accelerated timeline, with experiments and demonstrations planned for as early as 2020.

Skyborg will be attritable, meaning it will have a lost enough cost to sacrifice it in combat to attack high-value targets. It also will be reusable after flying routine missions. It also has the ability of an intelligent system to compose and select independently among different courses of action.

Its artificial intelligence embedded computing will have modular components and protocols that conform to open-systems standards, which integrate easily with third-party products. Open systems mitigate risks associated with technology obsolescence, vender-unique technology, and single sources of supply and maintenance, Air Force researchers explain.

Skyborg must have an open AI software architecture and toolkits that enable timely modifications and upgrades of complex autonomous behaviors; have modular open-systems mission hardware; and meet military certification and acquisition requirements.

Desired, but not required, in Skyborg are the ability autonomously to avoid other aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and hazardous weather; conduct autonomous takeoffs and returns; have separate sensor payloads and flight computers to allow for modular adjustments and adaptability; and have mission-planning software that integrates with next-generation Air Force mission planning tools that emphasize modularity and openness.

Researchers also want an autonomous aircraft that can operate with personnel who have limited engineering or pilot experience.

Companies interested were asked to email responses by 15 April 2019 to [email protected]. Email questions or concerns to Skyborg Contracting Officer Mike Wafzig at [email protected].

More information is online at

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