The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has completed the first flight of an artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) piloted XQ-58A Valkyrie jet drone at the Eglin Test and Training Complex in Florida.
The three-hour sortie supports the air force’s ongoing Skyborg Vanguard and Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation programs seeking next-generation autonomous aircraft for operations in contested environments.
“The mission proved out a multi-layer safety framework on an AI/ML-flown uncrewed aircraft and demonstrated an AI/ML agent solving a tactically relevant “challenge problem” during airborne operations,” AI Test and Operations Chief Col. Tucker Hamilton stated.
“This sortie officially enables the ability to develop AI/ML agents that will execute modern air-to-air and air-to-surface skills that are immediately transferrable to other autonomy programs.”
AFRL’s Autonomous Air Combat Operations (AACO) team developed the AI/ML algorithm employed by the Valkyrie.
The solution matured from millions of simulated flight hours through the air force’s Vista X-62 workhorse drone and associated ground test operations.
“AACO has taken a multi-pronged approach to uncrewed flight testing of machine learning Artificial Intelligence and has met operational experimentation objectives by using a combination of High-performance computing, modeling and simulation, and hardware in the loop testing to train an AI agent to safely fly the XQ-58 uncrewed aircraft,” AACO Manager Dr. Terry Wilson explained.
Future of Autonomous AI Solutions
The US Department of Defense will continue exploring AI applications with industry partners to enhance the military’s autonomous capability.
“AI will be a critical element to future warfighting and the speed at which we’re going to have to understand the operational picture and make decisions,” AFRL Commander Brig. Gen. Scott Cain said.
“AI, Autonomous Operations, and Human-Machine Teaming continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace and we need the coordinated efforts of our government, academia and industry partners to keep pace.”
Recent Valkyrie Projects
Drone developer Kratos received a $15.5-million contract in January to supply two Valkyries for the US Navy.
In June, the company and Shield AI collaborated to offer an AI-driven Valkyrie pilot system for the US military and its allies.