Military Review

AFRL Skyborg: “faithful follower” to the next level

45

AFRL Skyborg UAV Concept


Over the past few years, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), with the support of commercial organizations, has been implementing the Skyborg program. Its goal is to create a promising multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicle that can complement or replace tactical manned aircraft aviation. Currently, the Skyborg program is entering the real design phase.

At a new stage


Until the beginning of 2019, the Skyborg program was developed by AFRL independently and without the involvement of design organizations. In March last year, a request for information was issued, which became an actual invitation to participate. At that time, it was supposed to work according to the traditional method. Participating companies had to present their projects, and AFRL was going to choose the most successful for further development. Further approaches have changed.

By the end of 2019, AFRL had changed their views and rebuilt the architecture of the program. Now it is proposed to work out several hardware and software projects with an open architecture in parallel - their results can be combined and combined during the development of UAVs. The traditional idea of ​​developing finished products by various contractors was abandoned.

A key component of the Skyborg program should be UAV control systems with a high degree of autonomy, capable of interacting with humans. On May 18, 2020, Leidos, which has extensive experience in the field of crewless equipment, became responsible for this area.


Almost at the same time, AFRL began accepting off-the-shelf platform aircraft projects for use in the Skyborg program. It was reported that in early July, the Laboratory will determine a list of contractors and issue contracts for the development of proposed projects. However, such orders have not yet appeared and the timing of their placement is unknown.

The expected contracts will stipulate the development of projects over the next five years. The maximum cost of the work of one contractor is $ 400 million. It is expected that all the main developers of unmanned vehicles will receive such contracts: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Kratos, etc.

Platforms and Automation


The Skyborg program provides for the creation of multi-purpose UAVs capable of supporting manned aircraft in one way or another or independently performing combat missions. A characteristic feature of such devices will be developed control systems with a high degree of autonomy and elements of artificial intelligence.

One of the most interesting ideas of the program is to offer survivability as a sacrifice of combat effectiveness. UAVs of a new type are initially considered to be vulnerable to enemy attacks and “consumed”. The loss of such a product will not be excessively expensive and will cost without human casualties - but it will be possible to use it in the most difficult and risky situations.


Skyborg uses an air-to-air missile

The principle of "expendability" affects the design requirements and individual units. In particular, it is proposed the use of short-life turbojet engines, providing sub- and / or supersonic flight. Such a power plant will give the UAV the necessary flight characteristics, but it will be cheap and easy to operate.

By order of AFRL, Leidos develops universal control equipment. This complex should provide UAV control in all modes, solving a variety of combat missions, etc. It is required to ensure the possibility of independent work, as well as the execution of the commands of the operator or the leader aircraft.

For Skyborg, a wide range of tasks is expected, which greatly complicates the development of computer systems and software. This leads to new problems. So, the dimensions, weight, power consumption and other parameters of the equipment from Leidos have not yet been determined. Accordingly, the developers of unmanned platforms have to make equipment with a margin of characteristics.

At the moment, the program proposes to make several drones of different shapes, but with close capabilities. As possible participants of Skyborg, including with the most serious prospects, several existing and developing aircraft from several companies are considered. They will have to carry various equipment and weapons. The use of integrated and suspended radar and optical means is proposed; internal and external suspension, etc. There are no stringent requirements in this context.


Kratos XQ-58A UAV - a modern representative of the class of "consumable" drone-wing

The result of the launched phase of the program will be the emergence of several experienced UAVs from different companies. Using unified control systems, they will differ in other components. Samples of this kind are invited to compare and draw conclusions. Both individual samples and the entire range can enter the series and into operation, depending on the results obtained.

Plans for the future


It is planned to spend about three years on the development, testing and development of several projects. Already in 2023, AFRL intends to begin the introduction of finished samples in the Air Force units. In the future, in the absence of serious difficulties, a wider development of such a technique is possible with obtaining real results, including in a combat setting.

It is assumed that Skyborg UAVs will be able to operate independently and in conjunction with manned aircraft. They will be able to carry out reconnaissance, strike at ground targets or conduct an air battle - depending on the capabilities of a particular model and emerging needs.

The fundamental possibility of using UAVs as a radio-controlled target for training pilots or in the form of barrage of ammunition is also considered. The last “function” can be used in the development of a design resource or, if necessary, the defeat of a particularly important goal, which regular weapons will not cope with.

In general, we are talking about universal technology that can complement or replace existing manned aircraft. In this regard, the most ambitious plans are being built. So, the Air Force Combat Command is already exploring the possibility of introducing Skyborg into squadron and wing structures. After 2025, such a technique can replace F-16 fighters of obsolete modifications. After 2030, similar processes will begin in relation to the heavy UAVs of the old types.


Promising Boeing Loyal Wingman

Timing Issues


In recent years, as part of the AFRL programs, various aircraft manufacturers have developed a number of promising UAVs that can interact with manned aircraft. UAV concept Loyal Wingman ("Faithful follower") are successfully tested and show their potential.

The Skyborg program is based on other ideas, primarily in the area of ​​control systems. At the same time, aircraft manufacturers and AFRL get the opportunity to combine fundamentally new solutions and accumulated experience. The result of this should be the emergence of one or more “slave” UAVs with wide capabilities of various kinds.

The presence of experience and a number of ready-made platforms is a positive factor that can accelerate work on a single program. However, its results directly depend on successes in creating a unified management system - and then on its integration into existing or developed platforms. Some of these tasks are not particularly difficult, while others can be problematic.

According to current plans, work on Skyborg will continue for several more years, and already in 2023 the Air Force will begin to master the finished equipment. Whether they manage to meet these deadlines is a big question. While it is impossible to exclude a change in the schedule or a revision of the objectives of the program. With confidence, we can only say that the US Air Force is seriously engaged in the subject of unmanned aerial vehicles capable of working independently or in conjunction with airplanes. Sooner or later, such an interest should lead to the appearance of combat-ready models and to rearmament.
Author:
Photos used:
AFRL, Boeing Co.
45 comments
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  1. Sergey39
    Sergey39 16 July 2020 18: 10 New
    0
    A mixture of a drone and a cruise missile.
  2. Magic archer
    Magic archer 16 July 2020 18: 15 New
    +3
    An interesting concept. A drone capable of "working" as a full-fledged fighter, and if necessary, on the ground and as a kamikaze, this is the dream of all generals. The capabilities of the human body are limited. Fatigue, overload. These facts are unknown to the robot. I hope we will have something similar soon. Such systems are the future
    1. Grazdanin
      Grazdanin 16 July 2020 19: 08 New
      -3
      Quote: Magic Archer
      I hope we will soon have something similar too.

      It seems like they want to do something similar on the C70, but I think it's just a test of technology. The slave hunter is not good.
      1. Magic archer
        Magic archer 16 July 2020 19: 21 New
        0
        The hunter has a different concept. The Americans want to create a universal soldier who could work both on the ground and in the air.
        1. Grazdanin
          Grazdanin 16 July 2020 19: 22 New
          0
          Not only Americans but also Australians and British.
        2. Grazdanin
          Grazdanin 16 July 2020 19: 34 New
          0
          I really like this concept. F35 crashes with 3 X58. One with a radar emitter, two with missiles, the F35 is completely in passive mode, only slave data is exchanged. They want to shoot down X58, thereby the enemy unmasks himself, F35 directs missiles from him at the UAV, the Valkyries open fire. All this time, the manned aircraft does not give out its presence and can safely leave even after losing all the followers. The capabilities of the F35 link with 3 slave UAVs are simply huge. 16 aircraft in one section, 12 of which can be exchanged, even 1 to 3. 4 downed fighters with 4-8 pilots are significant losses (you need to learn 5 years to pilot, an airplane takes about six months) 12 downed drones can be replenished in a few months.
          1. Sanichsan
            Sanichsan 16 July 2020 20: 08 New
            0
            Quote: Grazdanin
            They want to shoot down the X58, thereby the enemy unmasks himself, F35 directs missiles from the UAV at him, the Valkyries open fire.

            But how do they open fire when the radar has already been spotted and shot down? what
            Quote: Grazdanin
            12 downed drones can be replenished in a few months.

            weird. There are several dozen old raptors and reproduce them noticeably worse than the F-35. request
            1. Grazdanin
              Grazdanin 16 July 2020 20: 23 New
              0
              Radar emitter familiar concept? The raptors do not produce at all and will not produce.
              1. Sanichsan
                Sanichsan 16 July 2020 20: 33 New
                -1
                Quote: Grazdanin
                Radar emitter familiar concept?

                so there is no emitter. all. shot down him. what's next? fortune telling by birds?
                Quote: Grazdanin
                The raptors do not produce at all and will not produce.

                right. and the replacement program was closed in order to save.
                how many prodigies will they build if the raptors can dozens? how zumwalt? we’ll plan 500, do 10 and say that they made such an experiment? laughing
                1. Grazdanin
                  Grazdanin 16 July 2020 20: 53 New
                  -2
                  Learn the mat part.
                  1. Sanichsan
                    Sanichsan 16 July 2020 20: 55 New
                    0
                    Quote: Grazdanin
                    Learn the mat part.

                    teach yourself.
                    without a radiator there is no wave and no data on the radar. bully
                    1. LastPS
                      LastPS 17 July 2020 21: 53 New
                      -1
                      This can be solved with scripts. For example, if activity of an enemy air defense is a danger in the area, the group will most likely fulfill the task of combating this air defense, respectively, a drone with a radar can work in the search for corresponding targets on the ground. When launching an air defense missile, the air defense position will be revealed at the same moment, or even earlier - the battery radar also phonites. The launch of an anti-radar missile will immediately happen, and a drone with a radar will go into an anti-ballistic maneuver. Robots are smart and fast, if you give them free rein they will act much more efficiently than people, the only reason for having a pilot in a link is all sorts of moral issues during the operation.
                      1. Grazdanin
                        Grazdanin 17 July 2020 22: 23 New
                        0
                        3 UAVs 1 fighter. The fighter is equipped with a radar station, it operates in a passive mode. One of the drones "shines", there is an emitter on it. They find him and try to shoot him down. The fighter's radar detects the enemy, transmits data to other drones and issues the command to attack. In order to shoot down the "firefly" the enemy needs to turn on his own radars, which the fighter sees. All "smart" equipment is on fighters, UAV consumables.
                      2. Sanichsan
                        Sanichsan 18 July 2020 13: 56 New
                        0
                        Quote: LastPS
                        When launching an air defense missile, the air defense position will be revealed at the same moment, or even earlier - the battery radar also phonites. Running

                        launching what? the detection range of ground-based radars is much higher than the range of aircraft radars, even AWACS aircraft. missile range is also higher. request Do you think that the religion of anti-aircraft gunners forbids attacking group targets? what result - 4 drones were shot down before reaching the attack distance, the F-35 in passive mode flies to the base without completing the task, at best. at worst, shot down along with drones. soldier
                      3. Grazdanin
                        Grazdanin 18 July 2020 15: 19 New
                        -2
                        1. Ground radars are destroyed first of all, without problems. There, and a manned plane is not needed. UAVs and missiles can handle it themselves.
                        2. It is impossible to make a ground-based radar that "sees" targets at low altitude over a long distance. A target flying at an altitude of 150-200 meters under the best conditions will see the best radars for 10-15 km, and more often it does not see. The further the distance, the higher the minimum detection altitude.
                        3. Layered air defense with ground and aviation means will be overcome not by 1 aircraft with 3 slave UAVs, but by hundreds of aircraft, thousands of UAVs and tens of thousands of missiles. Now there will be losses of people, UAVs will reduce human losses to 0. The United States has about 3000 fighters, 5-10 different UAVs above the MALE class will increase their capabilities several times.

                        That's all with you, learn the materiel.
                      4. Sanichsan
                        Sanichsan 21 July 2020 13: 19 New
                        0
                        Quote: Grazdanin
                        You cannot make a ground-based radar that "sees" targets at low altitude over a long distance.

                        have already done and in different versions. you are behind the times.
                        Quote: Grazdanin
                        You cannot make a ground-based radar that "sees" targets at low altitude over a long distance. A target flying at an altitude of 150-200 meters will see the best radar under good conditions for 10-15 km, and more often it does not see at all.

                        what belay Seriously??? you wrote this for preschool children who do not understand at all ??? they shot at 10-15 km in the Battle of Jutland without radar, just looking through binoculars and optical rangefinders at ships sailing in the sea at an altitude of 0 meters. bully
                        in short, your level of knowledge is understandable. goodbye hi
  • yehat2
    yehat2 9 October 2020 13: 50 New
    0
    this is a flying arsenal, not a fighter.
    just a suitcase flying after the plane.
    There are questions to the concept, for example, it is difficult to choose solutions for the optimum speed and altitude.
    But in principle, the idea is interesting and practical.
    The satellite does not require any special filling - only the provision of highly limited autonomy.
    It can be made quite invisible, because it does not need to emit anything except communication and navigation.
    The lack of a pilot also simplifies the design.
  • Grazdanin
    Grazdanin 16 July 2020 19: 02 New
    0
    By the end of this decade, UAVs will supplant most of the manned attack aircraft and fighters in the US Army and Navy. Remain F35, F15EX.
    1. Sanichsan
      Sanichsan 16 July 2020 20: 14 New
      0
      Quote: Grazdanin
      By the end of this decade, UAVs will supplant most of the manned attack aircraft and fighters in the US Army and Navy.

      what’s at stake! faster! in a year maximum !! lol
      but seriously, with that cost of production in the USA that they would replace the raptors with anything. rather, by the end of this decade, they will re-open the F-18 and F-15 to close the hole from the decommissioned F-22.
      1. Grazdanin
        Grazdanin 16 July 2020 20: 21 New
        -2
        The raptors do not need the US Army. F35 and F15EX completely replace them. They have already begun the purchase of F15, in the weapons section there is infa.
        1. Sanichsan
          Sanichsan 16 July 2020 20: 28 New
          -1
          The F-22 is an air superiority capture aircraft. F35- not designed to capture excellence. even the USA write about it request what is not intended to replace what is intended? if I could have already given it replaced the rusty F-22 but can not.
          F15EX is the maximum missile load applicable in areas not covered by air defense. how does this bag of missiles replace air superiority capture aircraft? request
          1. Grazdanin
            Grazdanin 16 July 2020 20: 33 New
            -1
            Quote: SanichSan
            what is not intended to replace what is intended?

            F35 with UAVs driven and will capture air superiority. About this and this article.
            1. Sanichsan
              Sanichsan 16 July 2020 20: 45 New
              -2
              for sure! laughing
              it's good that all this is at the same time with the B-21, Trump's "super-duper missiles" and the transition to a new rifle caliber. so they won't get any of this bully
            2. AML
              AML 15 September 2020 10: 24 New
              +1
              Hmm, and the pilot's head will not crack from the amount of information being processed? At least the leader should be a spark
  • agoran
    agoran 16 July 2020 20: 26 New
    -1
    Hm. An interesting topic, but // According to current plans, work on Skyborg will continue for several more years, and already in 2023 the Air Force will begin to master the finished equipment ///
    If the Iranians forcibly planted the whale drone, then who can guarantee that by 2023 there will be no technology to intercept.
    1. Grazdanin
      Grazdanin 16 July 2020 20: 29 New
      0
      Quote: agoran
      If the Iranians forcibly planted the whale drone,

      He sat down due to technical problems. It is not possible to take control of a military UAV.
      1. agoran
        agoran 16 July 2020 20: 36 New
        -1
        Real?
        Israeli drones Hermes 2008, Georgia.
        RQ-170 Sentinel Iran.
        // And although the U.S. military reported that the cause of the landing in Iran was a technical malfunction, specialists in the field of radio interception and electronic warfare began to talk about serious vulnerabilities in the control channels of American drones .//
        1. Grazdanin
          Grazdanin 16 July 2020 20: 50 New
          0
          Yes. If it were otherwise they would have planted several at once. Either a technical accident occurs, an operator error or physically interferes with air defense. and once every 1-2 years, UAVs simply crash. The Iranian UAV case is out of order and just planned. The scheme has a flying wing, a huge lifting force.
  • agoran
    agoran 16 July 2020 21: 06 New
    -2
    I am more interested in the comments of specialists, but I do not believe I do not believe amateurs.
    // Conducting an analysis of what happened, Western experts found out that the Iranian military could acquire the 1L222 Avtobaza electronic warfare complex in Russia and use it to intercept. A little later, Iranian experts were able to decode encrypted information from the media located inside the American drone.
    Read for yourself: https: //tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201609120753-8de1.htm
    1. Grazdanin
      Grazdanin 16 July 2020 21: 19 New
      +2
      Star source is not trustworthy. In this case, outright lies and amateurism.

      Quote: agoran
      1Л222 "Autobase" and use it to intercept.


      1L222 Motor depot physically cannot take control, it is a means of reconnaissance and jamming
      The purpose of the reconnaissance complex is the passive detection of emitting radars, including pulsed side-view aviation radars, weapon control and low-altitude flight radars, and the issuance of angular coordinates of operating radars (azimuth, elevation angle), radar class, frequency numbers to an automated control center band according to the lettering of the jamming stations SPN-2 or SPN-4.

      2011 December 05 - the media circulates information from the Fightglobal website that the Iranian air defense system has landed an American RQ-170 Sentinel UAV using the Russian Avtobaza executive RTR complex. Taking into account the fact that the very fact of the landing or shooting down of the UAV has not been confirmed and there is a likelihood of an accident due to loss of control without external influence, this information does not seem to us true and even exceeds the theoretical potential of Avtobaza.


      militaryrussia.ru/blog/topic-598.html
      1. agoran
        agoran 16 July 2020 21: 39 New
        -2
        Come on. Star is a normal channel.
        Yes, there are blunders like: two red rockets with KDP soared and flights began.
        (For stupid, two red missiles - the end of flights).
        Stripes UAV received in good condition - a fact.
        Info was leaked from him - fact
        By the way, another UAV of minke whales shot down over the Indian Ocean.
        1. Grazdanin
          Grazdanin 16 July 2020 21: 47 New
          0
          There is a fact of the fall. Everything else is fiction. During this year, 5 US fighter jets fell, too, their "fleet" shot down? Twice in a row intercepted UAVs? One day? In one week?
          To transmit a signal, it is converted (encoded) this happens several times. Then they encrypt. After encoding, without knowing the source protocols, you cannot understand what the data means. After that, there is still encryption.
          In order to decode, you need years of work of supercomputers. Anyone with a good radio engineering education will confirm this. I have this education.
          1. agoran
            agoran 16 July 2020 21: 58 New
            -3
            Already spoke in a similar subject, it is lazy to search.
            Minke whale has a systemic problem.
            Somehow: flight training and ITS, AT status.
            On YouTube, the PSU suspension roller, the yoke is not included, the stupid niger picks up the rocket on the cart.
            I’d start up on Av, a niger overboard.
  • The comment was deleted.
  • Zaurbek
    Zaurbek 18 July 2020 09: 31 New
    0
    In such machines - the main danger to air defense systems.
    1. Grazdanin
      Grazdanin 18 July 2020 11: 39 New
      0
      For all modern aircraft and air defense. Now there is a problem, modern combat leads to mutual destruction, UAVs can be exchanged without a twinge of conscience.
      1. Zaurbek
        Zaurbek 18 July 2020 11: 49 New
        0
        And distract air defense missiles and reveal their location
        1. Grazdanin
          Grazdanin 18 July 2020 12: 02 New
          0
          Including. UAVs are now the main challenge, which divides all modern systems by zero.
  • Kuz
    Kuz 18 July 2020 22: 35 New
    14
    The development of UAV-driven UAVs, as they say now, is a trend.
  • gregor6549
    gregor6549 19 July 2020 09: 01 New
    0
    I would like to emphasize that for effective remote control of the slave drones, the crew of the lead aircraft must consist of at least two people, the pilot and the UAV operator (s). No one will give the drone the right to make decisions on the basis of an ironclad rule: in military systems, decision-making on all key issues has been, is and will remain with a person. "At the same time, the information load on each UAV operator must correspond to its capacity, otherwise there is no benefit. apart from harm, there will be no manned aircraft - unmanned aerial vehicles.
    This issue was very deeply worked out in the USSR back in the mid-80s when developing unmanned aircraft for various purposes, including the RUK unmanned reconnaissance strike systems as well as automated control systems by units equipped with such unmanned aerial vehicles. In those days, the limited capabilities of on-board computing systems and avionics did not allow one UAV operator to control more than 2 drones, now their number can be increased, but hardly much (something of the order of 4 - 5). Well, the tales about artificial intelligence that can cope with the control of a UAV in a real combat situation can be forgotten for now.
    1. Grazdanin
      Grazdanin 19 July 2020 10: 01 New
      -1
      Quote: gregor6549
      The lead aircraft must consist of a minimum of two pilot persons and an UAV operator (s).

      No, it shouldn't and won't. Landing and takeoff of UAVs is assisted by ground or naval services. Tracking and executing orders automatically. The lead aircraft will fulfill its role, just the driven aircraft will be replaced with UAVs.
      Quote: gregor6549
      In those days, the limited capabilities of on-board computing systems and avionics did not allow one UAV operator to control more than 2 drones

      Now there are no such restrictions, UAVs follow orders. The operator only specifies the task.

      Quote: gregor6549
      Well, fairy tales about artificial intelligence that can handle UAV control in a real combat situation can be forgotten for now.

      The first training battle in reality between the UAV and the fighter is scheduled for the summer of 2021. A full-fledged AI is not gentle on a UAV, quasi AI is enough. The leader, as in modern aviation, will make decisions. It's enough. 99% of all tasks of the routine that automation itself will do, for 1% you need a person. The main disadvantage in fighters is a fragile person. It needs to be removed from the equation. A UAV with a quasi-AI, making turns at 20-25 G, will not leave a chance for a manned fighter. True, this is not in this concept.
      1. gregor6549
        gregor6549 19 July 2020 10: 06 New
        0
        I will not argue. Time will tell which of us was right.
      2. The eye of the crying
        The eye of the crying 31 August 2020 13: 12 New
        -1
        Quote: Grazdanin
        The first training battle in reality between the UAV and the fighter is scheduled for the summer of 2021.


        Who and where? Link please?
        1. Grazdanin
          Grazdanin 31 August 2020 13: 21 New
          0
          https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33866/manned-fighter-to-face-an-autonomous-drone-next-year-in-a-sci-fi-movie-like-showdown
          1. The eye of the crying
            The eye of the crying 31 August 2020 13: 54 New
            -1
            Thank you. It is suspicious that they do not name the brand of the regatta participant.
            1. Grazdanin
              Grazdanin 31 August 2020 14: 04 New
              0
              Another year before the training battle. They are developing. I'm sure the F16 will be manned, something like the XQ-58 unmanned or the F16 / 18 unmanned. Just recently there were virtual battles between the F16 and the drone.