US Air Force Requests $6 Billion In Funding To Build A Fleet Of AI Drones

hero us air force drones
The Pentagon has announced plans to fund a program for the US Air Force that will provide thousands of autonomous systems, including AI drones. The move comes in light of China increasing its military prowess with more conventional resources, but is still likely to face stiff opposition from those who oppose autonomous weapons that can kill without any human input.

The new initiative was revealed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks during the National Defense Industrial Association conference on emerging technologies in Washington. Part of the initiative includes the US Air Force requesting nearly $6 billion in federal funding over the next five years in order to amass a fleet of XQ-58A Valkyrie AI-enabled uncrewed aircraft, each costing an estimated $3 million. Hicks said the program was a "big bet" in terms of matching China's "biggest advantage," being the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and its strength in military resources.

"Rarely have America's war-winning strategies relied solely on matching an adversary ship-for-ship and shot-for-shot," Hicks remarked. "Instead, we out-match adversaries by out-thinking, out-strategizing, and out-maneuvering them."

us air force drone operators

Autonomous aircraft take on a variety of roles for the US Air Force, one of which is being escort aircraft for the F-22 and F-35 during combat missions. "It's a strange feeling," explained USAF test pilot Major Ross Elder in an interview. "I'm flying off the wing of something that's making its own decisions. And it's not a human brain."

Colonel Tucker Hamilton, chief of AI test and operations in the US Air Force, "mis-spoke" during a conference where he talked about an incident that involved an AI-enabled drone. During his talk, Hamilton described a simulation in which an AI-enabled drone was repeatedly kept from carrying out its task of destroying Surface-to-Air Missile sites by its human operator. The Colonel said that because the drone was programmed not to harm its human operator, it instead destroyed the communication tower so the operator could no longer tell it what to do.

The Air Force later responded that there was never any such incident that took place. Hamilton later explained that what he was talking about was a "thought experiment" rather than anything that actually occurred.

us air force drone front view

It is "misunderstandings" like this that have led several human rights groups to campaign for a ban on autonomous weapons use. The Red Cross has also asked that there be strict global guidelines on the use of such weapons. The United Nations is still trying to decide on the right direction before reaching a final agreement.

Hicks conveyed that the US military will counter the PLA's military mass with our own military mass, adding, "but ours will be harder to plan for, harder to hit, harder to beat." She then tried to ease any unrest about the use of AI-enabled drones by the US military, remarking, "These capabilities will be developed and fielded in line with our responsible and ethical approach to AI and autonomous systems."
Tags:  Military, China, drones, AI, usaf