Autonomous Horizons

The Air Force is a few weeks away from releasing “Autonomous Horizons,” a new technology forecast focused on how USAF will expand its use of systems that “require less human interaction” to perform missions, outgoing USAF chief scientist Mica Endsley said Wednesday. She told reporters at the Pentagon there are “no plans” to remove human beings from functions involving the release of weapons, but that humans will need automation help to assimilate the overwhelming amounts of data now being generated by machines, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and diagnostic devices. Among many applications, the report will address how unmanned platforms could fly escort for manned combat aircraft, carrying additional weapons that the human flight leader could target with his own jet’s sensors. While that’s “not a program of record, yet,” Endsley said such a capability is five to 10 years away, and is “being explored by [the] Air Force Research Lab.” Nearer-term? autonomy is needed so that remotely piloted aircraft can continue their missions if communications links to ground-based operators are severed, she said. Autonomous systems hold promise for tasks ranging from runway repair to protecting satellites, which currently have little in the way of defensive systems, she also noted. The big tech push will be to expand “manned/unmanned teaming.”