US Air Force to convert F-16 fighters for autonomous testing

Three aircraft were delivered to the 96th Test Wing and 53rd Wing to be prepared for the Viper Experimentation and Next-gen Operations Model program

The US Air Force (USAF) will begin converting F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters for autonomous testing. The first three supersonic jets were received by the 96th Test Wing and the 53rd Wing in Eglin Air Base, Florida.

The program, called Viper Experimentation and Next-gen Operations Model (VENOM), is focused on accelerating the development of software for manned and unmanned aircraft and will complement data obtained by artificial intelligence.

The USAF’s goal is to improve the concepts of Collaborative Combat Aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles that will operate on the battlefield controlled by manned fighters.

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“The VENOM program marks a pivotal chapter in the advancement of aerial combat capabilities. This transformative program holds the potential to redefine air combat paradigms by fostering novel autonomous functions for current and future crewed and uncrewed platforms,” said Maj. Ross Elder, VENOM developmental test lead. “


1,000 Collaborative Combat Aircraft

Despite the autonomous capability, the F-16s will fly with pilots on board to monitor the autonomy and ensures flight and mission systems test objectives are met.

The VENOM program appeared in the Air Force’s 2024 Budget, with an allocation of US$50 million. For 2025, US$ 17 million will be allocated.

The USAF is already developing autonomous flight software in the VISTA program, which uses an F-16 as a test bench.

The US Department of Defense plans to have at least 1,000 collaborative combat aircraft in the future, the first starting in 2028.


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