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Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), US Air Force Test Pilot School and Calspan Corporation, have demonstrated manned/unmanned teaming to boost combat efficiency and effectiveness of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft. 

The flight demonstration saw an experimental F-16 aircraft serving as a surrogate unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), autonomously reacting to a dynamic threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission.

The two-week demonstration had some main objectives, one being to showcase the ability to autonomously plan and execute air-to-ground strike missions based on mission priorities and available assets.

The demonstration also aimed at displaying 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; and rapid integration of software components developed by multiple providers due to a fully compliant USAF open mission systems (OMS) software integration environment.

AFRL autonomous flight operations engineer captain Andrew Petry 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."

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By GlobalData

The demonstration is the second in a series of manned/unmanned teaming exercises, known as Have Raider II, to prove enabling technologies.

"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."

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works loyal wingman programme manager Shawn Whitcomb said: "The Have Raider II demonstration team pushed the boundaries of autonomous technology and put a fully combat-capable F-16 in increasingly complex situations to test the system's ability to adapt to a rapidly changing operational environment.

"This is a critical step to enabling future Loyal Wingman technology development and operational transition programmes."

The first demonstration, Have Raider I, focused on advanced vehicle control.

Manned/unmanned teaming minimises the high cognitive workload, enabling the warfighter to focus on creative and complex planning and management.

Autonomous systems can access hazardous mission environments, react more quickly, and provide consistent capabilities without fatigue.