Autonomous is a huge technology and the surge of interest we are seeing from manufacturers and car makers is quite unprecedented. And now, the tech could soon find its usage in the theater of war. The U.S. Air Force is working with Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works and the two recently collaborated to provide a taste of what an autonomous F-16 was actually capable of.

During a demonstration flight or demo, the F-16 was able to execute a series of maneuvers all on its own. The aircraft was able to autonomously plan and execute air-to-ground strike missions. The plane achieved the following three objectives during the course of its flight:

  • The ability to autonomously plan and execute air-to-ground strike missions based on mission priorities and available assets.
  • The ability to dynamically react to a changing threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission while automatically managing contingencies for capability failures, route deviations, and loss of communication.
  • A fully compliant USAF Open Mission Systems (OMS) software integration environment allowing rapid integration of software components developed by multiple providers.

Speaking on the topic, Capt. Andrew Petry, Air Force Research Laboratory autonomous flight operations engineer, said:

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.

The demonstration took place over the course of two weeks, at the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

I don’t know about you, but the news that there are F-16’s with no one in the pilot”s seat flying above our heads has me more than a little worried. While I don’t doubt that the security of the aircraft — and all autonomous aircrafts that will follow — will be top notch, there is no such thing as perfection. I really don’t like the idea of a hacker gaining access to a fleet of F-16. Neither do I like the idea of the F-16 itself taking offense at something someone said and going after the.

These are all very far fetched conjectures, however, I would still be a lot happier if humans maintained control of their weapons. After all, we don’t always want logic to dictate our selves and our wars. Meanwhile, the UN was said to be moving towards a blanket ban on AI powered weapons on the battlefield.

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