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New Plan Adds 1,000 Drones to US Air Force

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The Pentagon’s Pursuit of AI-Guided Drones: Transforming Aerial Warfare.

The Pentagon

via Andruil Industries

The Pentagon is pursuing two new contracts through its Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) project to develop AI-guided drones to supplement manned jets. The Pentagon’s ambitious endeavor to procure AI-guided drones through CCA represents a watershed moment in the evolution of aerial warfare. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and Anduril Industries are competing for the contracts, which aim to add over 1,000 new drones to the Air Force.

$6 billion program

via Wall Street Journal

This initiative, part of a comprehensive $6 billion program, aims to introduce at least 1,000 advanced drones into the U.S. Air Force, heralding a new era of combat operations characterized by unparalleled collaboration, intelligence, and strategic flexibility.

Aerial threat

via Wall Street Journal

Boeing has showcased its Ghost Bat entry, while Anduril has demonstrated its AI-powered Roadrunner jet drone. Roadrunner-M “can rapidly launch, identify, intercept and destroy a wide variety of aerial threats or be safely recovered and relaunched at near-zero cost,” Anduril stated.

Artificial Intelligence

via Wall Street Journal

“The flights demonstrate the company’s commitment to maturing its CCA ecosystem for Autonomous Collaborative Platform (ACP) UAS using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML),” General Atomics wrote. “This provides a new and innovative tool for next-generation military platforms to make decisions under dynamic and uncertain real-world conditions.”

Collaborative missions

via Wall Street Journal

General Atomics has promoted its Avenger drone system paired with “digital twin” aircraft to conduct autonomous collaborative missions.

Lockheed Martin

via Wall Street Journal

It revealed tests as early as late 2022. Lockheed Martin integrated AI to operate its VISTA training plane autonomously for 17 hours in early 2023.

High-performance computing

via Wall Street Journal

“The concepts demonstrated by these flights set the standard for operationally relevant mission systems capabilities on CCA platforms,” General Atomics’ Senior Director of Advanced Programs Michael Atwood, said. “The combination of airborne high-performance computing, sensor fusion, human-machine teaming and AI pilots making decisions at the speed of relevance shows how quickly GA-ASI’s capabilities are maturing as we move to operationalize autonomy for CCAs,” Atwood added.

Tactically relevant

via Wall Street Journal

“VISTA will allow us to parallelize the development and test of cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques with new uncrewed vehicle designs,” M. Christopher Cotting, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School director of research, said. “This approach, combined with focused testing on new vehicle systems as they are produced, will rapidly mature autonomy for uncrewed platforms and allow us to deliver tactically relevant capability to our warfighter.” The contracts seek to leverage AI and autonomy to provide cheaper expendable drones to support manned aircraft and military innovation.

Pivotal shift

via Wall Street Journal

The CCA project signifies a pivotal shift in military operations, where AI-guided combat drones and human pilots collaborate to achieve mission objectives, expanding the U.S. Air Force’s operational capabilities and introducing a new dimension of strategic flexibility and force multiplication.

Crucial support

via Wall Street Journal

The drones are designed to operate alongside manned jets, providing crucial support as escorts, scouts, or communication relays, thereby enhancing the U.S.’ aerial dominance with cutting-edge technology.

Shape the future

via Wall Street Journal

Leading defense contractors, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics, have joined the competition, vying for contracts that will shape the future of U.S. air combat.

Fresh perspectives

via Wall Street Journal

Notably, the innovative newcomer Anduril Industries, founded by tech entrepreneur Palmer Luckey, brings fresh perspectives and cutting-edge AI applications to military hardware, underscoring the high stakes and intense rivalry inherent in defense contracting.

Advanced capabilities

via Wall Street Journal

Boeing’s Ghost Bat, a contender in the CCA project, epitomizes the advanced capabilities expected from these AI-guided combat drones.

Surveillance prowess

via Wall Street Journal

With impressive range and near-sonic speed, the Ghost Bat is engineered to complement and enhance existing military aircraft, bringing additional tactical awareness and surveillance prowess to the battlefield.

Versatility and effectiveness

via Wall Street Journal

Anduril’s Roadrunner, although not officially confirmed for the CCA pitch, showcases the potential of AI to enhance drone versatility and effectiveness, exemplifying a new breed of combat UAVs capable of vertical take-off and landing, equipped with advanced navigation systems and modular payloads for various mission profiles.

Combat drones

via Wall Street Journal

The push for AI-guided combat drones aligns with the Pentagon’s vision of overhauling U.S. military innovation, emphasizing the deployment of “small, smart, cheap, and many” autonomous units to ensure tactical and operational superiority. As companies continue to develop and test their AI technologies, the potential for autonomous collaborative combat missions grows, signaling a transformative period in military aviation.

Uncertain conditions

via Wall Street Journal

The ability of these drones to operate autonomously under uncertain conditions, making decisions at critical speeds, underscores the revolutionary impact of AI on combat strategies1.

A strategic leap

via Wall Street Journal

The Pentagon’s pursuit of contracts through the CCA project to develop AI-guided drones represents a strategic leap toward modernizing aerial warfare capabilities, ushering in a new era of collaboration and technological innovation in the realm of military aviation.

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