Lockheed Martin is investing $100 million of its own money to develop a sophisticated manned-unmanned teaming capability involving F-35 fighter jets and combat drones.
Dubbed “Project Carrera,” the initiative would see an F-35 pair up with “a network” of Speed Racer drones to conduct various missions.
It will focus on utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), upgrading the F-35s, and developing novel communications technologies to allow fighter pilots to operate drones in flight.
Under the project, Lockheed will also determine the advantages of drones for pilots and how to establish trust between human operators and the AI guiding the unmanned systems.
“This is not going to be a one-off stunt where, ‘Hey, look, we’ve connected an F-35 to this uncrewed system, and we passed a track and yay, success, we now have a media headline that says that we did crewed-uncrewed teaming,’” company official John Clark said.
“What we’re really focusing on is a systematic build up where we can evaluate that human and uncrewed system interaction, and understand how those behaviors build up over time.”
As part of the project, Lockheed wants small, expendable drones dropping from a C-130 aircraft to fly toward a formation of F-35s in future battles.
F-35 pilots who are heading towards their targets can command the drones to collect data or go forward to draw fire.
The drones can also be tasked to find the target or map an alternate route to make the operations safer for pilots.
“If you’re playing chess, you don’t want to put all your pawns on the back row, and leave the king and the queen exposed on the front row,” Clark explained.
“Just following fighters around is not an effective way to defeat a near peer adversary. You really have to have that ability to push in front of the fighters to either stimulate the integrated air defenses of the adversary, or you have to be providing information.”