The Air Force is pushing forward with ‘Skyborg’ combat drones to deploy alongside manned fighter jets – Task & Purpose

Two San Diego defense contractors have made the cut for the U.S. Air Force’s $400 million Skyborg Vanguard program, which aims to integrate a family of combat drones alongside manned fighter jets on critical missions.

The Air Force announced Thursday that General Atomics and Kratos Defense will join Boeing and Northrop Grumman in competing to build prototype robotic aircraft ranging from jet-powered “loyal wingman” drones to intelligence/surveillance planes for tactical missions.

Tapping artificial intelligence and other technologies that allow them to adapt to various battlefield conditions, these Skyborg-developed drones are expected to begin flying with piloted aircraft by 2023.

“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,” said Brigadier Gen. Dale White, program executive officer, in a statement. “We have the opportunity to transform our war-fighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power.”

Concept art from the Air Force Research Lab shows how the F-35 could be linked to a series of drones through the "loyal wingman" concept