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US to soon test AI-based unmanned autonomous aerial vehicle ‘Skyborg’

Washington: The United States has started taking steps towards the ‘Robot War’. After developing and testing unmanned autonomous surveillance aircraft, destroyers and submarines, the United States has begun preparations to test uncrewed aircraft. A leading US magazine has published information on the project. The magazine stated that an aerial vehicle based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomy algorithms, named Skyborg, would soon be entering the testing phase. It went on to claim that the testing of the unmanned aircraft would augment the capabilities of the US Air Force in the future.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) developed the unmanned aerial vehicle. The prototype of the aircraft would be tested in the next few days. Also, the test is scheduled to be conducted at the Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in Kern County, in the US state of California. Cara Bousie, the service’s spokesperson, informed on the tests and said that they would be conducted on a “small, but representative high-speed surrogate aircraft”.

Bousie said that Skyborg’s high-speed flight would induce fears as during a war-time situation, just as a fighter jet. She also added that once the primary criteria were satisfied, the Skyborg program aerial vehicle would be subjected to more intensive testing, setting higher standards. For the past two years, the US Air Force and other connected organisations have contributed their efforts towards the development of the Skyborg. However, information on the Skyborg Program was first released only in March.

The US military analysts have claimed that the Skyborg aerial vehicle would be prime amongst the unmanned aircraft fleet developed by the United States. According to the US magazine, since the Skyborg was equipped with AI and autonomy algorithms, it was capable of taking independent decisions in real-time, during war or other operations. Over the next few months, Skyborg would undergo rigorous testing and would be inducted into the US Air Force in 2023.

In March, Will Roper, a senior official in the US Air Force, had stated that the Skyborg would be tested between June and September 2019. Nevertheless, the US Air Force would also be testing other unmanned aircraft along with the Skyborg. They include Kratos, XQ-58A Valkyrie stealth fighter jet, Boeing’s QF-16 unmanned fighter jet and BQM-167 Skeeter attack drone. Out of these, Valkyrie would be tested in March whereas, the first testing of the unmanned version of the F-16 fighter jets, equipped with advanced technology, was conducted in 2013.

Meanwhile, Russia and China also have jumped into the fray, to develop AI-based unmanned drones and tanks. Furthermore, even China had reportedly conducted swarm drone drills in the South China Sea. On the sidelines of the developments, the lead taken by the United States in developing Skyborg and other uncrewed aerial vehicles becomes significant.

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