US Air Force Secretary to Flight-Test AI-Operated F-16

US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is set to fly in a newly-configured F-16 fighter aircraft operated by artificial intelligence (AI).

Speaking before US senators on Tuesday, Kendall said he volunteered to be a passenger because he wants to see for himself how the AI-controlled plane performs in the air.

He will be accompanied by a trained pilot but both “will just be watching” as the F-16 demonstrates its autonomous capability.

“Hopefully, neither he or I will be needed to fly the airplane,” Kendall remarked.

The much-anticipated flight test will take place later this year.

Part of Larger Program

The scheduled testing of the AI-operated aircraft is part of a larger US military effort, the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program.

The $6-billion initiative aims to develop a fleet of 1,000 AI-enabled drones to operate alongside human-piloted jets.

The so-called “loyal wingmen” will provide cover for the US Air Force’s most sophisticated warplanes and acts as scouts or communication hubs.

Each drone is estimated to cost between $10 million and $20 million – far less than traditional aircraft.

It could also be smarter, more efficient, and able to perform riskier maneuvers than existing aircraft.

Products of the CCA project are planned to be operational by 2028.

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