This April, the Air Force Secretary Intends to Take a Flight in an AI-Driven F-16 Fighter Aircraft

On Tuesday, U.S. Senate senators heard testimony from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding his intention to see the technology of the military branch’s future fleet firsthand by flying in the cockpit of an AI-operated aircraft.

Kendall discussed how autonomous drones will be essential to air warfare in his Tuesday speech before the defense subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.

The secretary of the Air Force is actually pushing for the acquisition of over a thousand AI-operated drones and intends to take a ride in the air with one of them later this spring.

He intends to board an F-16 that has been modified to accommodate drone operations.

“There will be a pilot with me who will just be watching, as I will be, as the autonomous technology works,” Kendall stated. “Hopefully neither he nor I will be needed to fly the airplane.”

The Pentagon announced last month that it was seeking to create new AI-guided aircraft and that it was giving two contracts to commercial companies to compete for.

The Air Force will receive at least 1,000 new drones as part of a $6 billion initiative that includes the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) project. The drones are intended to be fully functional escorts with the ability to carry weapons, and they will be able to deploy alongside human-piloted jets to give them cover.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, and Anduril Industries are among the businesses vying for the deal.

One of the aspects of AI that makes the Pentagon want to pursue the project is its ability to save costs.

One of the aspects of AI that makes the Pentagon want to pursue the project is its ability to save costs.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks stated in August 2023 that the U.S. military would receive “small, smart, cheap and many” throwaway units from deployed AI-enabled autonomous vehicles, contributing to the overhaul of the “too-slow shift of U.S. military innovation.”

Regarding the size of the drones, full-sized planes or smaller, military officials have remained silent.

However, the goal is to avoid lagging behind China, which has updated its air defense systems, which are far more advanced and endanger manned aircraft when they approach too closely.

Such defense systems might be interfered with by drones, which could also be deployed to jam them or give personnel surveillance.

During the hearing, Kendall stated, “The initial role for the aircraft was going to be counter-air, but it will have the potential to do other things,”

He added that building a new fleet of drones will probably be less expensive than building new human aircraft. The drones should cost roughly one-third or less than the $20 million required to produce an F-35 fighter.

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