Aerial Warfare

Airbus and Helsing to Collaborate on AI for Teaming of Manned and Unmanned Military Aircraft

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Airbus and Helsing to Collaborate on AI for Teaming of Manned and Unmanned Military Aircraft

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Airbus and Helsing to Collaborate on AI for Teaming of Manned and Unmanned Military Aircraft
Airbus and Helsing to Collaborate on AI for Teaming of Manned and Unmanned Military Aircraft

Airbus Defence and Space and Helsing, Europe’s leading defence AI and software company, signed a framework cooperation agreement at the ILA aerospace trade show in Berlin. According to the agreement, the companies will work together on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies which will be used in a future Wingman system. This unmanned fighter-type aircraft will operate with current combat jets and receive its tasks from a pilot in a command aircraft such as the Eurofighter. Airbus is also presenting its Wingman concept for the first time at the ILA. As a response to increasing operational requirements by the German Air Force, the Wingman is intended to augment the capabilities of manned combat aircraft with uncrewed platforms that can carry weapons and other effectors.

“Whilst we will always have a human in the loop, we must realize that the most dangerous parts of an unmanned mission will see a high degree of autonomy and thus require AI. From the processing of data from sensors over the optimization of sub-systems to closing the loop on system-level: software-defined capabilities and AI will be a critical component of the Wingman system for the German Air Force”, said Gundbert Scherf, Co-CEO at Helsing.

“The current conflicts on Europe’s borders show how important air superiority is. Manned-Unmanned Teaming will play a central role in achieving air superiority: With an unmanned Wingman at their side, fighter pilots can operate outside the danger zone. They give the orders and always have the decision-making authority. Supported by AI, the wingman then takes over the dangerous tasks, including target reconnaissance and destruction or electronic jamming and deception of enemy air defense systems,” said Mike Schoellhorn, CEO at Airbus Defence and Space.

Airbus Presents New Wingman Concept at ILA Berlin
Airbus presents new Wingman Concept at the International Aerospace Exhibition (ILA) in Berlin. (Airbus)

Under the AI agreement, Airbus will provide its expertise in the interaction of unmanned and manned military aircraft, so-called Manned-Unmanned Teaming, and as prime contractor of major European defense programs such as the Eurofighter or the A400M military transporter. Helsing will contribute its AI stack of relevant software-defined mission capabilities, including the fusion of various sensors and algorithms for electronic warfare. In military aviation, a “Wingman” is a pilot in another aircraft that protects and supports the flight lead, delivers more tactical options and thus contributes to mission success. In the Airbus concept, the Wingman is going to operate very much in the same way – only that it is neither a pilot nor a fighter jet flown by one. It is a fighter-type drone that will be commanded by a pilot in a current combat aircraft such as the Eurofighter and can take on high-risk mission tasks that would pose a bigger threat to manned-only aircraft.

The Wingman is intended to augment the capabilities of current manned combat aircraft with uncrewed platforms that can carry weapons and other effectors. The Wingman’s tasks can range from reconnaissance to jamming targets and engaging targets on the ground or in the air with precision guided munitions or missiles. Pilots in manned aircraft acting as “command fighters” will always have control of the mission. They are always the final decision-making authority, while benefiting from the protection and smaller risk exposure that the delegation of tactical taskings to unmanned systems offers. An additional focus is on increasing the overall combat mass in an affordable manner so that air forces can match the number of opposing forces in peers or near-peers in conflicts.

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