The Air Force has selected three programs relating to artificial intelligence, autonomous technologies and precision, navigation and timing (PNT) development for its first “vanguard” programs, meant to quickly demonstrate the viability of emerging technology efforts, Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Arnold Bunch said Nov. 21.
The programs from the Air Force Research Laboratory are Golden Horde, which examines ways to network together precision-guided munitions; Skyborg, the service’s program to develop an AI-driven “wingman” attritable unmanned aerial aircraft; and Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3), an effort to demonstrate new PNT technologies to bolster the Air Force’s GPS capabilities.
The Vanguards were identified for their potential to be “game changers,” Bunch said Thursday at a Defense Writers Group event with reporters in Washington, D.C. “We believe that [vanguards] can dramatically change the way that we fight and the way that we employ airpower.”
The service has allocated fiscal years 2019 and 2020 research, development, test and evaluation funds for the three efforts, Bunch added. Overall, AFRL’s vanguards are expected to represent about $2.8 billion in the Air Force’s science-and-technology budget, officials said earlier this year upon the release of the Air Force’s S&T 2030 Study (Defense Daily, April 17).
Bunch previously told reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference that Golden Horde would likely be one of the first vanguard programs. The effort seeks to network together several precision-guided munitions (PGMs), such as the GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb made by Boeing [BA] and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) built by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. The Air Force wants to integrate software-defined radios into existing weapons and allow them to exchange information, Bunch added Thursday.
Kratos [KTOS] has co-developed the XQ-58A Valkyrie aircraft, which has been performing flight tests as part of the Skyborg program for AFRL. Harris Corp. in April won an $84 million Air Force contract for the NTS-3 satellite development. In June, Harris officially merged with L3 to form L3Harris Technologies [LHX].
Since taking the helm of AFMC in May, Bunch has formed a team to move forward on an implementation plan to help fulfill recommendations within the S&T 2030 Study, he said. “We are real, we’re in the process of trying to realign our program elements … around the five technologies that were called out in the S&T 2030 plan.” Those five technology areas include: global persistent awareness; resilient information sharing; rapid, effective decision-making; “complexity, unpredictability, and mass;” and speed and reach of disruption and lethality.