Air Force Secy. Says Plans to Ride AI-Operated Fighter Jet Soon

During his Tuesday testimony before the United States Senate, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall revealed his intention to pilot an AI-controlled plane to get a feel for the cutting-edge technology that will soon be available to the military.

Kendall addressed the military subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, saying that drones controlled by autonomous systems would be crucial to the future of air combat.

The secretary of the Air Force plans to ride in one of the 1,000+ AI-controlled drones later this spring and is actively pursuing their acquisition.

An F-16 modified for drone flying is the plane he intends to get aboard.

The Air Force will acquire at least one thousand new drones as part of a $6 billion program known as the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA). Drones equipped with complete armament capability will be developed to accompany manned aircraft in flight, protecting them from harm and serving as escorts. The drones might also potentially serve as scouts or communications centers.

One of the reasons the Pentagon is interested in AI is its potential to save costs.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in August 2023 that the United States military would benefit from small, bright, cheap, and many disposable units provided by AI-enabled autonomous vehicles, which would assist in reversing the too-slow shift of U.S. military innovation.

Several commercial businesses competed for two contracts last month after the Pentagon announced its intention to create new AI-guided aircraft.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, and Anduril Industries are among the businesses vying for the deal.

Military authorities have been tight-lipped about the exact scale of the drones, whether they are full-sized aircraft or something smaller.

The point is to keep up with China, which has upgraded its air defense systems and can now target manned aircraft with more sophistication, posing a threat when they approach too closely.

Kendall says that the new drone fleet would probably be less expensive compared to the cost of building new manned planes. The drones’ target price is about one-third of what an F-35 fighter costs, or even lower.