Air Force plans for broader use of autonomous systems and processes

Semi-regular review assesses the Air Force science and technology landscape

The Air Force may not have a crystal ball, but it does have “Technology Horizons” to assess the future of the service’s science and technology efforts and capabilities.

"This is a long-term look at what we can have in the future if we focus on the right technologies today," Air Force chief scientist Dr. Werner J.A. Dahm, said at the event.

In a DOD Live Blogger's Roundtable Monday, Dahm discussed the highlights of the latest edition of Technology Horizons, an assessment of what can be expected of the service’s science and technology efforts over the next 20 years. The last  assessment was conducted in 1995.

Dahm said that key findings in the latest Technology Horizons signaled increased focus on broader and deeper use of autonomous systems and processes. Also important: further development in human performance augmentation, including through the use of autonomous processes and better human-machine coupling; and greater freedom of operations in contested environments, including through spectrum and information dominance.

"We can't stop the world from flattening -- that train is rolling. But the Air Force needs to improve its information dominance," Dahm said.

But to do that, investment in Air Force science and technology must focus on meeting a trifecta of technology, teaching and budget, he added.

That last point is one that is particularly important in a climate of financial cutbacks across the Defense Department. "We've always had budget challenges. It's just a question of to what degree. Currently and for the foreseeable future, it's acute," Dahm said.

To maximize resources that are available, prioritization is critical, he said. At the top of the list are systems that can be verified and validated for atuomated decision-making and processing of data.

Right now, "human capabilities are widely mismatched for processing volumes of data," Dahm said.

One key aspect of automated systems in the Air Force is the development of unmanned and optionally manned capabilities that can be used with or without human direction.

"We're beginning down a path of discussing optionally unmanned systems in the near-to-mid-term," Dahm said. "We need flexible autonomy."

The Technology Horizons study is sourced from input from four working groups representing the service’s air, space and cyber domains as well as cross-domain interests. The working groups include experts from the Air Force science and technology community, intelligence community, major commands, defense industry, academia and other relevant fields.

 

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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