AI controls XQ-58A Valkyrie in three-hour mission

Military UAV XQ-58A Valkyrie has flown a three-hour mission under the control of artificial intelligence, during which it performed ‘tactically relevant’ airborne operations.


The flight of US Air Force Research Laboratory (ARFL)-developed test units took place on July 25, 2023 at the Eglin Test and Training Complex in Florida, and builds on four years of partnership that began with the Skyborg Vanguard and the Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation (AAx) programs.

In a statement, Col. Tucker Hamilton, chief, AI Test and Operations, for the US Department of the Air Force said: “The mission proved out a multi-layer safety framework on an AI/ML-flown uncrewed aircraft and demonstrated an AI/ML agent solving a tactically relevant ‘challenge problem’ during airborne operations.


“This sortie officially enables the ability to develop AI/ML agents that will execute modern air-to-air and air-to-surface skills that are immediately transferrable to other autonomy programs.”

The algorithms were developed by AFRL’s Autonomous Air Combat Operations team and matured during millions of hours in high fidelity simulation events, sorties on the X-62 VISTA, Hardware-in-the-Loop events with the XQ-58A, and ground test operations.

“AACO [Autonomous Air Combat Operations] has taken a multi-pronged approach to uncrewed flight testing of machine learning Artificial Intelligence and has met operational experimentation objectives by using a combination of high-performance computing, modelling and simulation, and hardware in the loop testing to train an AI agent to safely fly the XQ-58 uncrewed aircraft,” said AACO program manager, Dr Terry Wilson.
The US Department of Defence said it is committed to the responsible employment of AI, which will require collaboration between developers and users of AI enabled autonomy working in with acquisition specialists.
“AI will be a critical element to future warfighting and the speed at which we’re going to have to understand the operational picture and make decisions,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, AFRL commander. “AI, Autonomous Operations, and Human-Machine Teaming continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace and we need the coordinated efforts of our government, academia, and industry partners to keep pace.”