Lockheed Martin invests $100 million in F-35 Drone Teaming

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In the not too distant future, fighter pilots will likely be juggling a network of autonomous drones in addition to their own cockpits. In this combat scenario, drones fly towards danger and, using the power of artificial intelligence, transmit information to their operators.

It’s a concept that Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) says it is investing $100 million of its own money to develop. The initiative, called “Project Carrera”, aims to explore human-machine pairing technology through demonstrations of its F-35 fighters paired with unmanned Speed ​​Racer drones equipped with capabilities such as sensing or electronic warfare. Speed ​​Racer is a missile-shaped unmanned aircraft under development at Lockheed.

The initiative emerges as military leaders champion the concept of pairing unmanned aerial combat platforms with manned aircraft as a cost-effective way to create mass for the services.

“With the distributed team, pilots can extend the range of networked sensors, increase the survivability of piloted platforms, and enable the collection, fusion, and distribution of data that informs their decisions and enables tactical execution” , Lockheed said.

“It’s not going to be a one-time stunt,” John Clark, vice president and general manager of advanced development programs at Lockheed — also known as Skunk Works — told reporters this week, according to breaking defense. “What we’re really focusing on is systematic accumulation where we can assess this interaction between human and unmanned systems, and understand how these behaviors accumulate over time.”

Lockheed’s $100 million investment includes $20 million for F-35 upgrades, $42 million for “team enabler” technology, and $38 million for “team multipliers.” ‘battlespace’, such as satellites, according to the outlet. Project results will then be used by Lockheed when it makes a competitive bid for the Air Force’s collaborative combat aircraft, which is expected to take place in fiscal year 2024.

Early phases of the Carrera project will focus on defining basic behaviors of unmanned aircraft, while later phases will focus on how autonomous drones can collaborate with manned aircraft to execute a “kill chain”, or attack structure, in a mission, The reader reported. The project will also explore air-launched drones, such as the Air Force’s experimental Rapid Dragon program which is experimenting with air-dropping palletized weapon systems from cargo planes.

The Air Force’s search for an unmanned combat aircraft to team up with fighters, including the future Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, could also include Boeing’s Australian MQ-28 Ghost Bat (NYSE: BA), Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said. the week.

Air Force officials are in early talks about purchasing the drone, formerly known as Loyal Wingman, which Kendall says could be a “risk reduction mechanism” for the platform. NGAD form. The 38-foot-long MQ-28 unmanned combat aerial vehicle with a range of 2,000 nm has been in development for the Royal Australian Air Force since 2019 and is considered the basis of Boeing’s Airpower Teaming system.

Last week at the Defense Press Conference, Kendall said the MQ-28 could potentially provide operational experience for the Air Force. “One of the things we need to do as we develop the unmanned combat aircraft mission equipment capability and finalize the requirements is to start learning how an aircraft like this would fit into an operational unit,” he said.

Keeping the costs of unmanned fighter jets down is critical, Kendall said.

“The expectation is that these planes can be designed to be less tough and less capable, but still bring a lot to the fight in a mix that the enemy has a hard time sorting and managing, and you can even intentionally sacrifice a few to draw fire, if you will, to expose the enemy,” Kendall said. “But keeping costs under control is part of the equation, and not having a be human at risk is another part of it.”

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