The rise of autonomous drones in US air strategy

The rise of autonomous drones in US air strategy

The US Air Force is planning a demonstration with an F-16 jet transformed into a drone, marking a step towards the adoption of autonomous drones in combat.

US Air Force autonomous drone fleet

The US Air Force is increasingly moving towards the use of autonomous drones for future operations. Frank Kendall, Secretary of the Air Force, announced at a Senate hearing on the 2025 budget his intention to personally test one of these aircraft. This will be an F-16 converted for autonomous flight, where he will observe the performance of autonomous technology in flight. This initiative illustrates the Air Force’s commitment to a significant transformation of its air combat strategy, integrating more than 1,000 autonomously operated drones.

The strategic role of drones in modern warfare

Drones are playing an increasingly central role in modern military strategies, as demonstrated by the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. These aircraft are no longer limited to reconnaissance missions or targeted strikes, but are also used for complex surveillance and communications jamming operations. In this context, the US Air Force envisages that each manned jet will be able to coordinate several AI drones, thereby increasing the operational efficiency and response capacity of the armed forces.

The rise of autonomous drones in US air strategy

Technological and financial implications of the drone fleet

The adoption of drones in the air fleet is not only a strategic issue, but also an economic one. Kendall pointed out that the cost of each autonomous drone would be around a quarter to a third of that of an F-35, or around €20 million. This lower cost could enable rapid expansion of this technology in the Air Force’s arsenal. In addition, drones offer the possibility of penetrating heavily defended airspace without risking human lives, a key advantage in conflict scenarios against adversaries with advanced defense systems, such as China.

Future prospects and implications of the Kendall demonstration

Kendall’s planned test is not only a demonstration of technology, but also a strong signal of the future direction of the US Air Force. By personally testing the converted F-16, Kendall is demonstrating the administration’s confidence in this technology and its potential to transform air warfare. This initiative could also serve as a test bed for future applications, expanding the role of drones from simple support to more active roles in air combat and other military operations.

War Wings Daily is an independant magazine.