General Atomics Aeronautical Systems received a contract from the US Air Force (USAF) to modify two of its company-owned Avenger unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) with Skyborg autonomy technology.

The modifications will include upgraded datalinks, the core Skyborg system design agent software, and other undisclosed payloads, says General Atomics on 6 January.

General Atomcs Avenger c General Atomics

Source: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

General Atomics Avenger

“These Avengers will then be used as part of various experimentation events in 2021 and 2022, which will enable manned aircraft to control Avengers while in flight and relay specific information between the manned and unmanned aircraft,” says the company. “Flights will be conducted from [General Atomics] flight centres in Southern California.”

Skyborg is intended to autonomously control multiple UAVs at once, in coordination with manned aircraft. The manned-unmanned teaming concept is seen as an important piece to the USAF’s attritable UAV development effort, a programme to create and manufacture drone teammates at such a low cost that the vehicles could be affordably lost to combat attrition.

General Atomics’ Avenger is a turbofan-powered UAV intended for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that has seen limited production.

The aircraft is also being used as a testbed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In a recent demonstration, DARPA’s Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment software program was used to control the manoeuvring of the Avenger UAV for more than two hours without traditional pilot input, General Atomics said last December.

And, in February 2020, General Atomics unveiled a conceptual version of the Avenger, called “Defender”, intended to serve as an air-to-air missile platform for protecting large and slow-moving aircraft, including in-flight aerial refuelling tankers.