To reduce risk to the development and maturation of artificial intelligence capabilities, the Air Force Research Laboratory led a successful three-hour sortie, July 25, 2023, demonstrating the first-ever flight of AFRL-developed, machine-learning trained, artificial intelligence algorithms on an XQ-58A Valkyrie. Test units executed the flight in the Eglin Test and Training Complex. The flight builds upon four years of partnership that began with the Skyborg Vanguard and the Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation (AAx) programs. The algorithms were developed by AFRL’s Autonomous Air Combat Operations team. The algorithms matured during 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. 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.
“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,” said AACO Program Manager, Dr. Terry Wilson.
“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. 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,” said Col. Tucker Hamilton, chief, AI Test and Operations, for the Department of the Air Force.
“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. 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,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, AFRL commander.
The Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie is an experimental stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) designed and built by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions for the United States Air Force’s Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) program, under the USAF Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) project portfolio. It was initially designated the XQ-222. The Valkyrie completed its first flight on 5 March 2019 at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The XQ-58 Valkyrie falls within the USAF Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio, whose objectives include designing and building unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) faster by developing better design tools and maturing and using commercial manufacturing processes to reduce production time and cost. The LCAAT is to escort the F-22 or F-35 during combat missions and to deploy weapons or surveillance systems. The XQ-58 is designed to act as a loyal wingman that is controlled by a parent aircraft to accomplish tasks such as scouting, defensive fire, or absorbing enemy fire.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is a scientific research and development detachment of the United States Air Force Materiel Command dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of direct-energy based aerospace warfighting technologies, planning and executing the Air Force science and technology program, and providing warfighting capabilities to United States air, space, and cyberspace forces. It controls the entire Air Force science and technology research budget which was $2.4 billion in 2006. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development.