USAF, Kratos complete AAAx milestone
San Diego, CA-based Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. announced May 7 that the Skyborg leadership team successfully completed its objectives following a multi-flight series of flight tests with the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS) aboard Kratos UTAP-22 Mako tactical unmanned vehicles at Tyndall AFB, Florida.
Termed Milestone 1 of the Autonomous Attritable Aircraft Experimentation (AAAx) campaign, the ACS performed a series of foundational behaviors necessary to characterize safe system operation. The ACS demonstrated basic aviation capabilities and responded to navigational commands, while reacting to geo-fences, adhering to aircraft flight envelopes, and demonstrating coordinated maneuvering. It was monitored from both airborne and ground command and control stations.
The Skyborg Vanguard team is a unique relationship that pairs Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft as the Skyborg PEO, and Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory as the Skyborg Technology Executive Officer (TEO). The 96th Test Wing, under the leadership of Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, serves as the executing agent for these test missions.
“We’re extremely excited for the successful flight of an early version of the ‘brain’ of the Skyborg system. It is the first step in a marathon of progressive growth for Skyborg technology,’ said White. “These initial flights kickoff the experimentation campaign that will continue to mature the ACS and build trust in the system.”
Milestone 1 is the first step in testing the ACS and begins a sequence of experimentation events planned over the next several months.
“Through this operational experimentation campaign, AFRL is leaning forward to get early engagement with the warfighter to deliver a suite of full-mission autonomy on a relevant timeline,” said Pringle. “AFRL is proud to be developing this force multiplier for the U.S. Air Force with our partners at PEO Fighters and Advanced Aircraft and the 96th Test Wing.”
The 96th Test Wing is well-positioned to integrate and test emerging technologies like autonomy on various platforms (aircraft and weapons) and has provided critical infrastructure support and test expertise to Skyborg. Milestone 1 was the first time an active autonomy capability was demonstrated on an Air Force test range, and is a first step to integrating these aircraft into a complex operational environment.
“As we have throughout our history, the Test enterprise is adapting to our people and capabilities to support this rapidly maturing technology, and the execution of this flight test is a great milestone for our closely integrated development and acquisition team. Safely executing this test and providing the knowledge needed to advance the technology is at the heart of what we do. And as always, we’re highly motivated to help bring war-winning technology to the next fight,” said Cain.
Follow on events will demonstrate direct manned-unmanned teaming between manned aircraft and multiple ACS-controlled unmanned aircraft.
The aim of the Skyborg Vanguard program is to integrate full-mission autonomy with low-cost, attritable unmanned air vehicle technology to enable manned-unmanned teaming. Skyborg will provide the foundation on which the Air Force can build an airborne autonomous ‘best of breed’ system of systems that adapts, orients, and decides at machine speed for a wide variety of increasingly complex mission sets.
Steve Fendley, president of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, said, “The UTAP-22 Mako has been a key tactical attritable UAS continuously evolving and performing in both technology demonstrations and military exercises since first introduced in 2015. Additionally, Mako has served as an ideal technology incubator for missionization of the XQ-58A Valkyrie. Valkyrie, Mako, and Gremlins (as a subcontractor to Dynetics) form a family of Tactical UAS vehicles in the Kratos portfolio and are designed to satisfy a broad range of tactical UAS applications and missions. These recent AAAx test successes as a part of the Skyborg Vanguard team with Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, AFRL, and the 96th Test Wing illustrate what can be achieved with a focused government-industry team and the potential for attritables in the tactical mission arena.”