The US Air Force is currently developing a project that will eventually send off combat drones instead of piloted planes.
The project which is programmed to launch in 2021 will bring drones and manned aircraft in an ultimate combat test. If the project pushes through, this could be a great breakthrough in air-to-air combat.
Moreover, it will revolutionize aerial fights in the next decades. At the same time, it poses a challenge for the defense sector.
Drones vs manned planes to compete next year
Air Force Lt Gen Jack Shanahan, head of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), announced the face-off combat during the Aerospace Studies briefing held on June 4, 2020.
He revealed that the Air Force had set the goal to run the combat test next year in July. Shanahan did not go into the details as to the design of the drone, or the specifics on its capabilities.
THIS JUST IN: @usairforce to Test Fighter Drone Against Human Pilot | USAF researchers are designing an autonomous aircraft that can take down a manned plane in air-to-air combat, with the goal of pitting the two against each other next July: https://t.co/l851Zu8ldg #AvGeek pic.twitter.com/p3owyzKXBY
— Air Force Magazine (@AirForceMag) June 4, 2020
However, Shanahan explained that the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), headed by Dr. Steve Rogers is currently focusing on Artificial Intelligence developments. With this in mind, Shanahan described the test as “a bold, bold idea.”
Furthermore, the drone will have a fully equipped Artificial Intelligence that makes decisions accurately. The combat drones will also perform the many functions of a manned aircraft.
US Air Force favors the use of combat drones
The goal of the US Air Force is to develop combat drones that are far more effective in terms of performance during aerial combat. Unlike the manned aircraft, the combat drone can optimize aerial maneuvering.
It can also handle pressure during an aggressive flying, which is a dangerous tactic for a piloted aircraft. Lt Gen Jack Shanahan also revealed the possibility of building hundreds of small drones. He said:
“Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about a 65ft-wingspan, maybe it is a small autonomous swarming capability.”
Owing to its small size, the combat drone is likely cheaper to build than a piloted aircraft. Also, the drones are much easier to maintain than the manned fighter jets.
Thus, the US Airforce is serious about investing in the project. In an aerial fight scenario, the unmanned aircraft will work cooperatively to form a network of the swarm to maximize its fighting skills.
KC-135 Stratotankers, C-17 Globemaster IIIs & KC-46 Pegasus aircraft participate in a large formation exercise @97AMW. During the exercise, a total of ten KC-135s, ten C-17s & four KC-46s participated.
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) June 8, 2020
The US Air Force wants the defense industry to mass-produce the drones
Three years ago, Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Jones challenged the defense industry to mass-produce the drones that can carry air-to-air missiles. While speaking to the briefing, Lt Gen Shanahan revealed that among the 10 biggest manufacturers, not one has ever developed Level 4 autonomous vehicles.
The Level 4 vehicle refers to the vehicle that does not need the assistance of human attention for safety.
Image Courtesy of US Military Power/YouTube Screenshot