Orange Flag Test Demonstrates Skyborg Unmanned-Unmanned Autonomous Teaming

The United States Air Force’s Skyborg team successfully demonstrated unmanned-unmanned autonomous teaming during an October 26 test flight. The test flight, which took place during the Orange Flag 21-3 Large Force Test Event at Edwards AFB, California, used two General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger tactical unmanned aircraft equipped with the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS).

The test built on basic flight autonomy behaviors demonstrated at Orange Flag 21-2 in June, with the Skyborg ACS’ “matured capabilities” enabling both MQ-20s to fly autonomously while communicating with each other to coordinate their flights. During the test, the MQ-20s successfully responded to navigational commands, stayed within specified geo-fences, and maintained flight envelopes, with both unmanned aircraft monitored from a ground command-and-control station.

The Skyborg program aims to demonstrate an open, modular, government-owned ACS that can autonomously fly, navigate, and communicate, with other advanced capabilities to be integrated as the system matures. According to the Air Force, test events like the October 26 flight build user trust in autonomous technologies, as well as informing future operational use cases.

A General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger unmanned vehicle prepares for takeoff at El Mirage Airfield, Calif. June 24, 2021. The goal of the MQ-20’s test flight with the Skyborg Autonomy Core System on board and participation in Orange Flag 21-2 is to demonstrate an open, modular architecture that can autonomously aviate, navigate and communicate safely in a manned-unmanned environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tabatha Arellano)

“These operational experimentation tests continue to demonstrate emerging technologies and helps the enterprise posture to transition this capability to the warfighter while preparing for the high-end fight,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

“We have made tremendous progress in transforming ideas to reality in a short time frame. The team has continued the full court press to mature a Government-owned autonomy core and develop the foundational technologies for a future capability,” said Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, Air Force Research Laboratory commander.

“Large force testing of autonomous unmanned-unmanned teaming is the natural evolution to fielding warfighter capability for the future fight,” said Brig. Gen. Matthew Higer, 412th Test Wing commander at Edwards AFB, California.

The Skyborg team is described by the US Air Force as a “unique relationship”, pairing Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory as the Skyborg Technology Executive Officer (TEO) with Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft as the Skyborg Program Executive Officer. The Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force (ET-CTF), led by Lt. Col. Adam Brooks, is the executing agent for Skyborg test missions at the 412th Test Wing, which in turn is commanded by Brig. Gen. Matthew Higer at Edwards Air Force Base.