To reduce risk to aircrews by integrating their activities with uncrewed aerial vehicles with artificial intelligence capabilities, the Air Force Research Laboratory led a successful three-hour sortie, July 25, 2023, demonstrating the first-ever flight of artificial intelligence agents (algorithms) controlling an uncrewed jet aircraft – the XQ-58A Valkyrie.
Test units executed the flight in the Eglin Test and Training Complex. The flight was the culmination of the previous two years of partnership that began with the SkyBorg Vanguard program.
«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», said Colonel Tucker Hamilton, chief, Artificial Intelligence (AI) Test and Operations, for the Department of the Air Force. «This sortie officially enables the ability to develop AI/Machine Learning (ML) agents that will execute modern air-to-air and air-to-surface skills that are immediately transferrable to the CCA program».
The algorithms were developed by AFRL’s Autonomous Air Combat Operations team. The algorithms matured millions of hours in high fidelity simulation events, sorties on the X-62 VISTA, Hardware-in-the-Loop events with the XQ-58A, and ground test operations, as depicted in the video at the link below.
«AACO has taken a multi-pronged approach to unmanned 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 unmanned aircraft», said AACO Program Manager, Doctor Terry Wilson.
DOD is committed to the responsible employment of AI. To achieve responsible use of AI requires teaming of developers and users of AI enabled autonomy working in collaboration with acquisition specialists.
«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», said Brigadier General Scott Cain, AFRL commander. «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».