Project with Lockheed Martin announces second successfull test of a fully autonomous F-16 strike fighter.

The “Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle” (UCAV) demonstrated that it could deal with an unexpected air-to-air threat, navigate to its target independently, and carry out an air-ground-strike.

The tests form part of a project known as Loyal Wingman, a program dedicated to building a system to pilot autonomous planes that operate as wingmen to human pilots. Importantly, the unmanned aircraft are directed by the lead aviator and not ground control as unmanned drones such as ‘Reapers’ are.

US Air Force Succesfully Tests Autonomous F-16 Ground Strike Capability

The tests form part of a project known as Loyal Wingman.

Not just clever cars

With so much focus and interest in the progress of AI self-driving cars in the last few years, it’s easy to forget that military forces around the world have also been researching and developing artificial intelligence for their own uses. But in its quest to meet and exceed the challenges of the future, the US Air Force has been increasingly looking to unmanned systems — and a recent test  has proved that an unmanned F-16 can now think and fight on its own.

“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,” said Capt. Andrew Petry of the Air Force Research Laboratory in a Lockheed Martin statement. “This is a critical step to enabling future Loyal Wingman technology development and operational transition programs.”

Second chance for F-16

The news was also released this week that the F-16 model of aircraft is to have its period of service increased in the US Air Force. While ostensibly the reasons given included cutting the costs of upgrading to newer aircraft such as the F-35, some have speculated that there are moves to equip more F-16s with AI pilots, should further tests in the Loyal Wingman project prove to be successful. 

The future of not just the US Air Force but militaries around the word are increasingly investing in autonomous equipment. The new generation of US fighters have been designed with hardware and software that could one day see a single human piloted fighter commanding a fleet of unmanned drones such as autonomous F-16s.