Beyond Pixie Dust: A Framework for Understanding and Developing Autonomy in Unmanned Aircraft

ARLINGTON, VA | February 10, 2022 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce a new Research Study, Beyond Pixie Dust: A Framework for Understanding and Developing Autonomy in Unmanned Aircraft, by Heather Penney, Senior Resident Fellow at the Mitchell Institute, and Maj Christopher Olsen, USAF, with Foreword by Lt Gen David Deptula, USAF (Ret.).

Nearly every vision, strategy, and flight plan the U.S. Air Force has released over the past decade identified next-generation unmanned aircraft, autonomy, and artificial intelligence as technologies that are critical to securing a decisive combat advantage in future battlespaces. The Air Force is now developing new operational concepts for teaming manned fighters and bombers with autonomous UAVs—called manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T)—to perform strikes, counterair, electronic warfare, and other missions.

Developing this capability is challenging given the disconnect that often exists between warfighters and engineers. In this research study, Heather Penney and Maj Christopher Olsen propose a framework that represents both the warfighter and the engineer perspectives to provide a structure and common understanding for these two communities in creating autonomous systems that deliver needed capabilities. The Air Force needs this framework to better understand autonomous technologies and help guide the enterprise toward future AI-empowered U.S. operations.

The Mitchell Institute’s Research Studies serve as an authoritative avenue for innovative, in-depth, insightful, and effective ideas and solutions for strengthening America’s aerospace power.

For media inquiries, email our publications team at publications.mitchellaerospacepower@afa.org

Copies of Research Reports can be downloaded at https://www.mitchellaerospacepower.org/publications

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