U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin Showcase Manned/Unmanned Teaming

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works®, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and Calspan Corporation successfully showcased manned/unmanned teaming to increase combat efficiency and effectiveness for the soldier.

This demonstration is an important milestone in AFRL's maturation of technologies needed to integrate manned and unmanned aircraft in a strike package. 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.

Capt. Andrew Petry, AFRL autonomous flight operations engineer.

During the flight demonstration, an experimental F-16 aircraft served as a proxy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) independently reacting to a dynamic threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission. The demonstration accomplishment included three important objectives:

  • The capacity to independently plan and perform air-to-ground strike missions based on mission priorities and available assets
  • The capacity to dynamically respond to a changing threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission, whilst automatically handling contingencies for route deviations,  capability failures, and loss of communication
  • A totally compliant USAF Open Mission Systems (OMS) software integration environment allowing fast integration of software components built by many providers

The two-week demonstration was held at the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. It is the second in a range of manned/unmanned teaming exercises to showcase enabling technologies.

The Have Raider II demonstration team pushed the boundaries of autonomous technology and put a fully combat-capable F-16 in increasingly complex situations to test the systems ability to adapt to a rapidly changing operational environment. This is a critical step in enabling future Loyal Wingman technology development and operational transition programs.

Shawn Whitcomb, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Loyal Wingman program manager

The first demonstration, Have Raider I, concentrated on advanced vehicle control. The experimental F-16 independently flew in formation with a lead aircraft and directed a ground-attack mission. It then automatically rejoined the lead aircraft after the mission was accomplished. These capabilities were connected to Lockheed Martin automatic collision avoidance systems to guarantee safe, coordinated teaming between the F-16 and proxy UCAV.

Effective manned/unmanned teaming decreases the high cognitive workload, allowing the warfighter to concentrate on complex and creative planning and management. Autonomous systems have the capability to access dangerous mission environments, respond quickly, and offer steady capabilities without fatigue.

The OMS architecture used in Have Raider II made it possible to rapidly insert new software components into the system. OMS will allow the Air Force maximum flexibility in the development and fielding of cutting edge autonomous capabilities.

Michael Coy, AFRL computer engineer

Skunk Works' expertise in battle management, OMS, and manned/unmanned teaming enable united and cooperative operations between manned and unmanned aircraft. This projects power in the face of a growing anti-access and area denial environment.

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