It is a milestone in the development of AI-controlled combat aircraft – and a big step for the use of artificial intelligence for military purposes: As reported by the US Air Force, an unmanned drone flew over the Eglin Test Site for several hours on July 25 Training Complex on Choctawhatchee Bay in western Florida.

The test comes from the so-called “Skyborg Vanguard program”, which has focused on the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning for fighter jets for years. Before the flight, the AI ​​used at the controls of the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie was trained in “millions of simulation hours”.

The Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie will later be used when dangerous missions are pending. Thanks to AI control, you would no longer have to endanger human lives to get the planes to their destination. Another purpose would be to accompany manned aircraft as a so-called “wingman”.

A combat aircraft without a pilot’s cockpit also has great logistical advantages, because all the controls that take up a lot of space in conventional machines are no longer used in AI-controlled models. According to the media brochure, the wingspan of the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie is just 8.2 meters, the cruising speed is almost 900 kilometers per hour. The manufacturer specifies the maximum height as 13.7 kilometers, the range should be around 5500 kilometers. According to the manufacturer, the drone can fire “a mixture of deadly weapons from its internal bomb bay and wing stations”.

The US Air Force and Brigadier General Scott Cain are certain that the use of AI will become indispensable for military operations in the future. According to the military, humans cannot make important decisions nearly as quickly as artificial intelligence. The Air Force is still talking about “cooperation between man and machine”.

If it were possible to secure such a system appropriately and protect it from cyber attacks, the Air Force would also have a worthwhile opportunity to save a lot of money. The company behind the drone says the price would be around $2 million apiece for 100+ drones a year. For comparison: The USA is currently paying around 100 million US dollars for a modern Lockheed Martin F-35 “Lightning II”.