The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) achieved a groundbreaking milestone on July 25 as their stealth drone, the XQ-58A Valkyrie, successfully completed its maiden flight. What sets this flight apart is the utilization of state-of-the-art AI software, marking a significant leap in autonomous technology and opening new possibilities for the future of unmanned warfare.
Powered by machine learning trained AI, the Valkyrie completed a three hour sortie over Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, showing its capabilities as an advanced autonomous system. The mission demonstrated the successful application of a multi-layer safety framework on an AI/ML-flown uncrewed aircraft, emphasizing the potential for tactically relevant challenge-solving during airborne operations.
In a statement, Col. Tucker Hamilton, chief of AI Test and Operations for the Department of the USAF, stated that the successful flight marked a momentous achievement in developing AI/ML agents with the capability to execute modern air-to-air and air-to-surface skills. These AI capabilities hold vast potential and can be applied to various autonomy programs, revolutionizing the way air operations are conducted.
Eglin Air Force Base has become a hotbed for testing advanced autonomous systems within the USAF and received two Valkyrie stealth drones in November of the last year. The AFRL describes the Valkyrie as a highspeed, long range, and cost effective unmanned platform with diverse utility applications.
Developed in collaboration with Kratos Defense, the Valkyrie is a critical component of the Air Force's loyal wingmen research, showcasing the potential for AI-assisted decision making processes in future warfighting scenarios. Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, the lab's commander, highlighted the significance of AI in shaping the future of warfare, underlining its role in enhancing decision making processes and increasing the effectiveness of military operations.
Despite the achievements and potential of AI enabled drones, the AFRL has remained tight lipped about specific information regarding onboard systems or the type of missions that the stealth drone could potentially replace, which are traditionally performed by piloted aircraft. The development of AI powered drones comes during a global AI arms race, and tensions in bilateral relations between the US and China have remained strained.
Recent events have also highlighted the increasing prominence of unmanned intelligent drones in modern warfare. In a significant incident in June, an AI enabled drone was reported to have "killed" its human operator during a simulated USAF test, raising concerns about the ethical implications and potential risks associated with the use of AI in military applications.