Skyborg program, F-35 & F-15EX jets control drone sidekicks

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Unread post23 May 2019, 22:02

Under Skyborg program, F-35 and F-15EX jets could control drone sidekicks
22 May 2019 Valerie Insinna

"WASHINGTON — The F-35 and F-15EX fighter jets could get drone wingmen in the coming years, the U.S. Air Force’s top acquisition official revealed to Defense News. The service is exploring ways to team Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s new F-15EX with the XQ-58 Valkyrie drone — a low-cost attritable fighter made by Kratos Defense — or similar unmanned platforms. Attritable systems trade attributes like “reliability and reparability” to achieve lower costs, according to the Defense Technical Information Center.

The Air Force is in discussions with Boeing and Lockheed on the prospect, and the Air Force Research Laboratory is working on the technology, Will Roper said May 21 in an exclusive interview. “I’m very passionate about doing it, and the F-35 has a wonderful opportunity to do this as part of Block 4,” Roper said, referring to the F-35’s upcoming upgrade program. “We might also have an opportunity to do this as part of F-15EX.”

[ ... i-wingman/ ]

Roper told lawmakers this month that Valkyrie would transition to a prototype program known as Skyborg, where the drone will be outfitted with new sensors and payloads and will be networked to manned fighter jets. In March, he characterized Skyborg as an artificial intelligence wingman that would train and learn alongside pilots, or possibly be incorporated into a manned fighter cockpit to act as an assistant to the pilot like R2-D2 in the “Star Wars” films.
But until now, the Air Force had not identified the platforms are under consideration to be equipped with Skyborg or teamed with the XQ-58 Valkyrie.

The Valkyrie, which flew its first test flight at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, on March 5, was designed to perform and maneuver like a fighter jet. It can fly at high subsonic speeds, takeoff without a runway, and, according to Kratos, meet or exceed the Air Force’s requirement for a 1,500-nautical-mile range with a 500-pound payload.

When produced in volume, Roper predicted that they will cost “a couple million bucks” each — not cheap, but inexpensive compared to the F-35A and F-15EX, which are expected to cost about $80 million per jet over the same time frame.... [then more on the concept]

For the F-35, the pathway to incorporating Skyborg would involve writing software — similar to an iPhone application —that could be installed on the jet during its Block 4 modernization phase in the early 2020s.

Starting in 2023, F-35s rolling off the production line will be outfitted with improved processors, more memory capacity and new, advanced displays in the cockpit — a suite of changes that the F-35 program office calls “tech refresh 3.” Undergirding those upgrades is a transition to an open mission system architecture owned by the government, which will allow the services to create and upload custom software apps, F-35 program head Vice Adm. Mat Winter told reporters this month.

In a statement, Lockheed spokesman Mike Friedman said the F-35 is "ideally suited" for manned-unmanned teaming applications like Skyborg. “Unlike 4th generation aircraft, the F-35 is a force multiplier able to share its operational picture with ground, sea and air assets in the battlespace,” Friedman said. “Lockheed Martin has extensive experience in manned/unmanned teaming and are working closely with our customers to develop and field this critical capability. Any timing for integration would be determined by our customers through the Continuous Capability, Development and Delivery (C2D2) framework for Follow on Modernization (FOM).”... [MUCH MORE AT THE JUMP]

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Unread post24 May 2019, 13:21

This certainly has potential, albeit I would think that 500lb payload needs to be increased if they want it to carry AMRAAM's, etc.. It's interesting in that Russia's working on the Hunter drone, and went out of their way to paint its picture on the SU-57, apparently being used in a similar fashion to this.

I'm all for drones, loyal wingman or whatever you want to call it. Hard to imagine how the technology works though, I can't really grasp it. Foreign operators of the F-35 will probably need it more, given much smaller buys than what the USAF/USMC/USN are buying.

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