Warfare is evolving at a pace faster than most people could have predicted even just a decade ago. Advances in technology have led to some incredibly high-tech gear on the battlefield and in the skies. In regards to the latter, the United States Air Force has developed an F-16 drone that can not only fly autonomously, it can also engage in battle with intelligent strategies that it conceives on its own.
The Air Force had already been using F-16 drones as practice targets for the F-35 to destroy in training. Now the Air Force has announced fully autonomous air-to-air and ground strike capabilities that it developed in conjunction with Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks. Talk about a 'holy hell' moment.
"This demonstration is an important milestone in AFRL's maturation of technologies needed to integrate manned and unmanned aircraft in a strike package," said Capt. Andrew Petry, AFRL autonomous flight operations engineer. "We've not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned, but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way."
During the demonstration, an experimental unmanned F-16 aircraft showed how it can react to a dynamic threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission. It planned and executed the mission on its own, deciding the best route and strategies based on mission priorities and available assets. The aircraft was also able to react to changing threats and adjust its course of action accordingly.
"The Have Raider II demonstration team pushed the boundaries of autonomous technology and put a fully combat-capable F-16 in increasingly complex situations to test the system's ability to adapt to a rapidly changing operational environment," added Shawn Whitcomb, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Loyal Wingman program manager. "This is a critical step to enabling future Loyal Wingman technology development and operational transition programs."
The implication here is less risk and ultimately less casualties by U.S. military personnel. Sending an intelligent F-16 drone on a mission in a war zone would obviously be preferable to risking the life of a flesh and blood pilot, assuming the F-16 drone is capable of carrying out the task at hand.
Welcome to the future, folks.