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These Companies Will Work on R2-D2-Like Drone Helper for Air Force Pilots

Four defense companies have been selected to begin work on the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg program, which aims to pair artificial intelligence with a human piloting a fighter jet.

The service chose Boeing Co., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc., and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. to move forward on the program; however, the companies will be competing for the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, estimated to be worth up to $400 million, according to an announcement.

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Skyborg: the US Air Force?s future AI fleet

Finger four has been the dominant fighter aircraft formation since the 1930s. The world?s most advanced fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-35, costs around $100m per jet. Four of these in formation means almost half a billion dollars of hardware in the air (not including the per hour cost of flying them). Losing just one fighter would be catastrophic for the US Air Force?s budget.

The US Air Force?s (USAF) project Skyborg aims to address this cost risk by replacing some of these expensive fighter jets with more affordable unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) acting as unmanned wingmen.

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The Air Force is exploring AI-powered autonomous drones

The Air Force wants to see if AI-powered autonomous drones can help human pilots better perform their mission. In a press release, the Air Force said it was seeking input from the tech industry in a new AI initiative for autonomous drones it calls Skyborg. Still in its planning stages, the Air Force is looking for market research and concept of operations analysis for Skyborg to get a sense of what technologies are out there for such a fleet. It is seeking to launch protoypes of the autonomous drones as early as 2023.

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