A new set of drones that could aid human-piloted fighter jets was unveiled by San Diego-based defense company Kratos Defense & Security Solutions. This comes in the wake of recent efforts to nurture Silicon Valley businesses by the Pentagon. Known as the UTAP-22 Mako, this new drone class is designed to fly alongside fighter jets to provide support in combative situations.
The project was majorly funded by the Defense Department’s Silicon Valley laboratory DIUx.
Kratos also recently revealed a 30-foot Air Force-backed drone called the XQ-222 Valkyrie, which has a range of over 4000 nautical miles. The drones will be showcased at the 2017 Paris Air Show as they’re prepared to engage in an upcoming round of testing set to take place next month. Aviation experts believe the speed and altitude capacities (published by Kratos) suggest the drones could fly in unison with F-16 or F-35 fighter jets with little issue. The defense company claims to have successfully flown these drones alongside piloted aircraft, which will be a key focus in next month’s round of tests that will take place over California’s Mojave Desert.
The drones will contain more innovative sensory technology, which will help determine the extent of autonomy in these crafts. Upon conducting these tests, a pilot in an accompanying aircraft will track the drones using a small Android tablet. The drones will attempt to make maneuvers without direct human intervention for the majority of the flight’s duration, while relying on artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors that will emulate the piloted airplane’s movements.
After the upcoming tests this July, a “demonstrated military exercise” will be scheduled some time in the latter-half of 2017.
The unveiling and testing of this new drone class comes in response to the military’s exploration of what role robotics might play in future wars. Arguably, unmanned systems are likely to just accompany instead of replace piloted aircraft like the F-35 and F-16 fighter jets. Aside from the Air Force’s exploration into autonomous technological aiding, the Navy is currently researching similar options using autonomous aquatic crafts like submarines for scouting mines and other perilous devices on the ocean floors.
In theory, air combat can become safer if robotic systems are used to augment piloted aircraft, especially if the autonomous drones can be sent ahead to endure the enemy’s first wave of attacks. The Mako drones not only cost less to deploy ($2-3 million each) than piloted aircraft but represent a significant step forward from unmanned Predator and Reaper drones, most of which are used for aerial surveillance and targeted strikes.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)