While program is on track to extend the service life of the nearly four-decade old F-16 Fighting Falcon, Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks has been working with U.S.A.F. to lend unmanned capability to this dynamic multirole fighter aircraft. While F-16 drones are not the newest news – they has been used as targets for F-35s previously – it is, however, a news that it can now think and act on its own (which made me kind of go ‘yikes’). This means that this pilot-less fighter jet is capable of executing air-to-ground strike missions autonomously while reacting to contingencies and threats along the way before getting back to complete its objective.
Seriously, I can’t help but to relate it to the Terminator movies, where the machine will do what it needs to achieve the objective. Granted, Skunkworks’ program may not be that sophisticated, but the idea behind is the same. In many ways, the F-16 drone program is many steps up from the Predators and Reapers we know today. The awesome, or creepy, part (depending on how you look at it) is, these F-16 drones can actually plan and execute air-to-ground strike missions on its own, taking into considerations parameters like missions priorities and assets availability.
In other words, it is has artificial intelligence of sort that enable it to pull off the recent successful demonstration. But getting F-16s to do what Predators or Reapers has been doing already is not quite what the Air Force had in mind. These F-16 drones are part of a greater plan of enabling an advanced fighter like the F-35s to serve as the center to the sortie with the drones acting as extended sight and sound, and also, taking down enemies. I am sure you get the picture. It almost sound like a game where you are the F-35s or equivalent and you let your minions go do their stuff like snooping and clearing the path while you oversee the entire operation.
So, yeah. The future of air operations will be entirely different ballgame, but we suspect that, just like when the strike drones were introduced, the public may questions the morality of having machines deciding the dos and don’ts on our behalf and just how accurate they are in determining friendlies and foes, the guilty and the innocents. Food for thought, eh?
Images: Lockheed Martin.