By Clay Dillow / Fortune
March 31, 2016
The pilotless aircraft could take to the skies before driverless vehicles hit the road
The U.S. Air Force Research Lab is moving ahead with an initiative to turn aging F-16 fighter jets into unmanned, autonomous combat aircraft. The pilotless planes will fly alongside the newer aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Speaking at a forum in Washington, Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said he expects to see the autonomous aircraft plying the skies alongside manned jets before driverless vehicles enter service on the ground. Work spoke specifically about U.S. Air Force efforts to create autonomous wingmen for its fighter pilots that gave new life to older planes imbued with autonomous piloting technologies and teamed with next-generation aircraft.
“You take an F-16 and make it totally unmanned,” Work said. “The F-16 is a fourth-generation fighter, and pair it with an F-35, a fifth-generation battle network node, and have those two operating together.”