BAE Systems has signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force for the development of an attritable air vehicle system under the Skyborg program. The $400 million contract is “open” in terms of delivery and quantity.
As part of the program, the company will develop a digital design for a low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of operating autonomously for the Skyborg program – which aims to create a low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle that can work with manned fighters to increase air combat power. Teamed with a manned aircraft, the UAVs will leverage autonomy to disrupt and defeat adversaries in contested environments.
The model of cooperating manned fighter jets with unmanned aerial vehicles is particularly advanced as the next step of the air force – with pilots acting as “guides” of unmanned, accompanying aircraft, for increased efficiency in aerial view military operations with a strong hostile presence, against opponents with similar capabilities.
“The need to generate combat power faster than our adversaries is critical to address near-peer threats,” said Ehtisham Siddiqui, vice president and general manager of Controls and Avionics Solutions at BAE Systems. “This award will accelerate the development and deployment of manned-unmanned teaming technologies to give the U.S. Air Force a decisive edge in the battlespace.“
These UAVs will be designed with BAE Systems autonomous systems, which include sensors and equipment that can communicate via a network shared with manned aircraft. This approach, according to the company, provides the basis for rapid upgrades and integration to ensure that the most advanced capabilities are available on the fleet against emerging threats.
The shared network, as noted by BAE Systems, enables MUM-T (manned-unmanned teaming), which allows UAVs and manned aircraft to work together and complete their missions more efficiently. The network also keeps the manned aircraft and pilots at a safe distance and will allow the UAVs to serve as the eyes and ears for pilots, collecting and sending data from the battlespace to a manned fighter.