The autonomous F-16 flight demonstrations had to show three key objectives in order to be deemed successful, Lockheed Martin said.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and Calspan Corp. did that and more at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The two F-16 drone demonstrations also showed that manned/unmanned combat teaming is possible — with the right technology.
An experimental F-16 acting as a surrogate unmanned combat air vehicle carried out an air-to-ground strike mission during the demonstration. It had to autonomously react to what Lockheed Martin called a “dynamic threat environment.” The first demonstration focused on advanced vehicle control. The F-16 autonomously flew in formation with a lead aircraft, conducted the attack mission and then automatically rejoined the lead aircraft after completion. The aircraft was linked with Lockheed Martin’s automatic collision avoidance system. The second demonstration involved putting the combat-capable F-16 in increasingly complex and changing situations. The aircraft’s system was required to adapt.
"The [onboard maintenance system (OMS)] architecture used in [the second demonstration] made it possible to rapidly insert new software components into the system," said Michael Coy, a computer engineer for AFRL. "OMS will allow the Air Force maximum flexibility in the development and fielding of cutting edge autonomous capabilities."
With OMS, the Air Force said it aims to develop industry consensus for a non-propriety mission system architectural standard. It would enable an affordable solution the decreases lifecycle costs, simplified mission systems integration, service reuse and interoperability. Lockheed Martin said it has also demonstrated OMS on its F-22, F-35, CATbird, U-2, Stalker and other classified programs. The company said it is responsible for many “firsts in the industry” regarding OMS. Its list includes: