Artificial intelligence (AI) has taken a significant step forward in its military development with the United States Air Force, successfully flying the XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aircraft in recent tests.

Algorithms developed by AFRL successfully tested in flight

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), led a three-hour mission on July 25, 2023, which showcased the first flight of AFRL-created AI algorithms, aboard the XQ-58A Valkyrie . This advance is the result of four years of collaboration in programs such as Skyborg Vanguard and Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation (AAx).

These algorithms, developed by the AFRL’s Autonomous Air Combat Operations team, have been honed during millions of hours of high-fidelity simulations and testing both on the ground and in previous flights with the X-62 VISTA and Hardware-in-the testing. -Loop with the XQ-58A.

The flight was conducted at the Eglin Training and Test Complex, with the test units conducting the flight.

AI in aeronautics: a promising future

AI successfully pilots XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned military aircraft© AIR FORCE / SENIOR AIRMAN JOSHUA HOSKINS

Dr. Terry Wilson, AACO program manager, noted that his team had taken a multi-test approach to AI unmanned flight, achieving experimental goals by combining high-performance computing, modeling, simulation, and hardware testing.

The success of this test represents an important step in the validation of AI for air operations, allowing the development of AI agents that can execute air-to-air and air-to-surface abilities transferable to other autonomy programs, said Colonel Tucker Hamilton, Chief of AI Tests and Operations, Department of the Air Force.

The Department of Defense has reiterated its commitment to the responsible use of AI, highlighting the need for collaboration between developers, users, and procurement specialists.

AI: a critical element in the future war fight

AI successfully pilots XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned military aircraftPhoto by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins

AI is seen as a crucial component for the future of combat. According to Brigadier General Scott Cain, the AFRL commander, it will be essential to quickly understand the operational landscape and make decisions.

Autonomous operations and human-machine collaboration are evolving at an unprecedented rate, requiring coordinated efforts from government, academic and industry partners to keep pace, Cain added.

The Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie unmanned combat air vehicle has been successfully tested in Arizona. This device was built by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions and is part of the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) program under the control of the USAF Research Laboratory.

The Valkyrie, also known as the XQ-222, was designed to function as an autonomous co-pilot flown from another aircraft to fulfill various tasks. Their responsibilities include scouting, defending, and absorbing enemy fire.

With the ability to accompany fighter jets like the F-22 or F-35 on missions, the XQ-58 can also deploy weapons or surveillance systems.

The Air Force Research Laboratory and its role

Valkyrie drone failed to transfer data between F-35 and F-22
A US Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II fly in formation with the XQ-58A Valkyrie drone over the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona during a series of tests on December 9. 2020. This integrated test follows a series of gateways. testing that began during the inaugural Air Force entrance ramp in December 2019 (Technical Sgt James Cason / US Air Force)

The AFRL is a division of the United States Air Force Materiel Command and its primary mission is to lead the discovery, development, and integration of aerospace combat technologies. These technologies include those based on direct energy and is also responsible for planning and executing the Air Force’s science and technology program.

In 2006, the AFRL controlled a $2.4 billion budget for Air Force scientific and technological research. Since then, he has played a critical role in discovering and developing affordable combat technologies for America’s air, space, and cyber forces.

With a team of more than 11,500 workers spread across nine technology areas and 40 other operations around the world, AFRL offers a wide range of research and technology, from fundamental research to advanced technological development.

XQ-58 Valkyrie and its contribution to combat technology

The successful flight of the XQ-58 Valkyrie represents a major milestone in combat technology. This aircraft is one of the first examples of an unmanned aerial combat vehicle piloted by artificial intelligence.

In addition, thanks to the LCASD project and the work of the AFRL, the Valkyrie is expected to become an example for the development of new combat technologies, thus improving the efficiency and safety of US Air Force missions.

Ultimately, the goal of the Valkyrie and other UCAVs is to reduce costs and production times, while improving design tools, all in line with the goals of the AFRL’s LCAAT program.