The tests, set to take place at Edwards Air Force Base in Kern County, California, are expected to be conducted on a “small, but representative high-speed surrogate aircraft,” Cara Bousie, the service’s spokesperson, told Aviation Week.
Although Bousie steered clear of offering any additional details regarding the looming tests, she did indicate that the move is part of a two-year campaign for the department to determine just how the technology will perform in a controlled setting.
Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, previously revealed in a March interview that aircraft candidates that may be used during the summer trials include the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie, Composite Engineering BQM-167 Skeeter and Boeing QF-16.
Disclosed to the public just in March, the Skyborg program’s objective is to deliver a combat-ready, autonomous, unmanned aerial vehicle prototype by the end of 2023. The aircraft is expected to act as a robotic wingman for service members, using its AI tech to manage combat mission tasks on its own when the need arises.
“Skyborg is a vessel for AI technologies that could range from rather simple algorithms to fly the aircraft and control them in airspace to the introduction of more complicated levels of AI to accomplish certain tasks or subtasks of the mission,” Matt Duquette, an AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate engineer, said in a March release on the program.
“Part of our autonomy development is building assurance into the system. You can either build assurance by using formal methods or approaches where at design time, as you develop these autonomous capabilities, you guarantee certain behaviors, or a more practical approach is to assess the capabilities of these behaviors at run time, meaning while they’re running on the aircraft. So, those are the capabilities that we’re interested in looking at from the experimentation level to see what type of assurance you need in the system so you can mix high and low criticality.”
According to comments Bousie gave to Air Force Magazine, there is a possibility that the department’s technology could slip into various other research programs. One in particular is ACT3, a fellow artificial intelligence team under AFRL whose focus is on developing air-to-air combat algorithms.
The official went on to say that only time will tell on what role humans will play as AI tech continues to advance.