AI Successfully Flies the XQ-58A Valkyrie Uncrewed Jet Aircraft

By: | September 18th, 2023

Image source by U.S Air Force

On July 25, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Artificial Intelligence (AI) agents successfully piloted the uncrewed jet aircraft XQ-58A Valkyrie. The three-hour sortie is a demonstration of the first AFRL-developed AI algorithms on an XQ-58A Valkyrie. The flight was executed at the Eglin Test and Training Complex and follows a four-year partnership beginning with the Skyborg Vanguard and the Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation (AAx) programs.

DAF AI Test and Operations chief Col. Tucker Hamilton said “The mission proved out a multi-layer safety framework on an AI/ML-flown uncrewed aircraft and demonstrated an AI/ML agent solving a tactically relevant “challenge problem” during airborne operations,”, and added that “This sortie officially enables the ability to develop AI/ML agents that will execute modern air-to-air and air-to-surface skills that are immediately transferrable to other autonomy programs.”

The algorithms were developed by the Autonomous Air Combat Operations (AACO) team of the AFRL and matured as a result of millions of hours of high-fidelity simulation events and sorties on the X-62 VISTA, as well as hardware-in-the-loop events with the XQ-58A and ground test operations. AACO Program Manager, Dr. Terry Wilson, said that “AACO has taken a multi-pronged approach to uncrewed flight testing of machine learning Artificial Intelligence and has met operational experimentation objectives by using a combination of High-performance computing, modeling and simulation, and hardware in the loop testing to train an AI agent to safely fly the XQ-58 uncrewed aircraft,”

The Department of Defense (DOD) is committed to the responsible employment of AI, which requires collaboration between developers and users with acquisition specialists. AFRL commander Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, said “AI will be a critical element to future warfighting and the speed at which we’re going to have to understand the operational picture and make decisions,”, adding that “AI, Autonomous Operations, and Human-Machine Teaming continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace and we need the coordinated efforts of our government, academia, and industry partners to keep pace.”

Ashton Henning

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