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US Air Force Secretary to take flight in AI-controlled F-16

A US Air Force leader is preparing to demonstrate the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) in air combat, announcing that he will sit in an AI-controlled jet as a test of the future of US air capabilities.

user icon Daniel Croft
Thu, 11 Apr 2024
US Air Force Secretary to take flight in AI-controlled F-16
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Demonstrating the faith and investment in AI and autonomous drones the US Air Force has for its future of air warfare, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced that he would be seated in the cockpit of an F-16 jet that has been converted to AI control.

“I’m going to get a ride in an autonomously flown F-16 later this year,” announced Kendall during a hearing on the service’s 2025 budget.

“There will be a pilot with me who will just be watching, as I will be, as the autonomous technology works.


“Hopefully, neither he [nor] I will be needed to fly the airplane.”

The announcement marks an important stage in the US Air Force’s move towards drone and autonomous air warfare. The previously mentioned 2025 budget will allocate US$577 million for the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, the US’ program for the development of unmanned vehicles.

This is a significant increase from last year’s US$170 million, and from 2025 to 2029, the government is expecting to spend US$8.9 billion on the CCA program. These vehicles are expected to be operational by 2028.

Despite the large spend, unmanned vehicles are set to cost much less than their manned counterparts, with CCAs to cost between roughly US$20.6 million and US$27.5 million or “in the order of a quarter or a third” of what an F-35 currently costs (US$82.5 million).

This doesn’t mean these vehicles are expendable, but the losses of these vehicles have a lower operational impact.

The Australian government has also dedicated large amounts of funding towards the development of CCAs, announcing in February that it would grant an additional A$399 million to the local defence industry for the development of the MQ-28A Ghost Bat, a vehicle designed to protect military assets and pilots as a “loyal wingman”.

“This is the first military aircraft to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years and underscores the depth of innovation and expertise in our defence industry,” said Minister for Defence Industry, the Honourable Pat Conroy.

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Born in the heart of Western Sydney, Daniel Croft is a passionate journalist with an understanding for and experience writing in the technology space. Having studied at Macquarie University, he joined Momentum Media in 2022, writing across a number of publications including Australian Aviation, Cyber Security Connect and Defence Connect. Outside of writing, Daniel has a keen interest in music, and spends his time playing in bands around Sydney.

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