Air force research lab roadmaps for game changing hypersonic vehicles, directed energy weapons and drones

Air Force Research Laboratory is working on key technologies in hypersonic air vehicles, directed-energy weapons and autonomy, or human-machine teaming, that will be “game-changers”

Air Force Research Laboratory scientists and engineers have developed an unarmed “cruise missile-like vehicle” that reached five times the speed of sound in tests, and have explored pairing drones with combat fighters in latest realm of technological advances

Pentagon futurists envision a third-offset strategy to leapfrog U.S. technological capabilities to stay ahead of Russia and China.

Military planners have honed in on artificial intelligence and robotics, an arsenal plane filled with airborne weapons, undersea sub-hunting drones, swarming autonomous vehicles, electromagnetic rail guns and directed-energy weapons like lasers and microwave energy, among other breakthroughs.

AFRL recently flew a manned F-16 in formation with a “surrogate” F-16 UAV — in other words, the surrogate has a pilot sitting in the cockpit to take over if something goes wrong, but the algorithms fly the plane. During this exercise, the manned and surrogate F-16s flew in formation together until the pilot in the manned plane directed the surrogate to execute a separate mission. The surrogate F-16 completed the mission and then rejoined the formation, Kearns said.

But Kearns wants to go beyond an automated fighter jet. AFRL is planning an exercise in 2022 that will demonstrate the technology is not just automated, but autonomous — that it can navigate, adapt to unexpected weather and easily change its flight path without direction from an operator.

SOURCES – Air Force Research Lab, Defense News