The U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center has awarded multiple indefinite-delivery / indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts to Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, and Northrop Grumman in support of the Skyborg Vanguard UAS (unmanned aerial system) program.
The aim of the program is to provide the Air Force with autonomous UAVs that are designed to be attritable, meaning that they can be reused several times with minimal maintenance but are ultimately considered to be expendable. The unmanned aircraft will be integrated with open missions systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. These initial contract awards will establish a vendor pool that will continue to compete for up to $400 million in subsequent delivery orders.
The technologies developed during this phase of the program will provide the foundation on which the Air Force can build an airborne autonomous “best of breed” system that adapts, orients and decides at machine speed for a wide variety of increasingly complex missions.
Skyborg is one of three Vanguard programs, identified as part of the Air Force Science and Technology 2030 initiative, which aim to develop Air Force capabilities and transform operations for the future. The Vanguard programs have also resulted in a novel partnership between AFLCMC and the AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) due to the need to quickly identify cutting-edge technology and transition directly into the hands of the warfighter.
Brig. Gen. Dale White, Fighters and Advanced Aircraft program executive officer and Skyborg program leader, commented: “Because autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews, Skyborg can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the Air Force. We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power.”
Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Air Force Research Laboratory commander and Skyborg program leader, said: “Autonomy technologies in Skyborg’s portfolio will range from simple play-book algorithms to advanced team decision making and will include on-ramp opportunities for artificial intelligence technologies. This effort will provide a foundational government reference architecture for a family of layered, autonomous and open-architecture UAS.”