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US Air Force’s Skyborg ‘Loyal Wingman’ AI Pilots Kratos Mako Drone for First Time

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Artificial intelligence is seen as a key component of the next generation of aircraft, both manned and unmanned, and networking them to operate as a cohesive unit over the battlefield is a major focus of projects funded by the Pentagon, as well as other nation’s militaries.

The US Air Force’s Skyborg autonomous AI piloting system took the helm of an aircraft for the first time last week when it flew an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) for the first time in a test at Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base.

The Air Force announced on Thursday that on April 29, the Skyborg team conducted a 130-minute test flight of a Kratos UTAP-22 Mako UCAV flown by the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS), which they dubbed “Milestone 1.”

“We’re extremely excited for the successful flight of an early version of the ’brain‘ of the Skyborg system. It is the first step in a marathon of progressive growth for Skyborg technology,” Brig. Gen. Dale White, program executive officer for fighters and advanced aircraft, said in a press release. “These initial flights kick off the experimentation campaign that will continue to mature the ACS and build trust in the system.”

The Skyborg autonomy core system launches aboard a Kratos UTAP-22 tactical unmanned vehicle at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla, April 29, 2021.

According to the release, the Skyborg ACS “demonstrated basic aviation capabilities and responded to navigational commands, while reacting to geo-fences, adhering to aircraft flight envelopes, and demonstrating coordinated maneuvering.” It was monitored by both ground and airborne observers.

Skyborg will be the basis of the “loyal wingman” system, which will allow a human pilot in an aircraft to direct one or several Skyborg-linked drones during combat missions. The system will be “attritable,” meaning it can be expended if necessary, such as taking gunfire or a missile intended for the human-flown aircraft like a sort of aerial bodyguard. However, it will also be able to scout ahead, fly diversionary maneuvers, and perform its own strikes according to the pilot’s directions.

Kratos’ drone is just one of several in the running for the Air Force program. Based on the BQM-167 subscale aerial target, the Mako was converted into a UCAV in 2015, but remains launched from a rail using a rocket-assisted takeoff. However, a previous prototype used for early Skyborg testing by the Air Force Research Laboratory, the XQ-58 Valkyrie, flies from runways like a typical aircraft; General Atomics GA-ASI Avenger and Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System (ATS) do the same.

The stealthy Valkyrie isn’t part of the competition with Boeing and General Atomics, but it could still one day receive the Skyborg system. The Air Force is continuing to test it for other uses as well. Last month, a Valkyrie flying out of Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona used its internal weapons bay to deploy an ATIUS-600, a small drone typically launched from a tube that can be used for scouting or delivering very small payloads. In December, a Valkyrie was successfully used as a “translator” for the immense computers on an F-22 Raptor and an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

In addition to testing AI for drones, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is also working on an Air Combat Evolution (ACE) AI that will be able to take the helm of a human’s fighter jet in a dogfight, freeing up the pilot to worry about other concerns. The AI has proven capable of beating human pilots in a simulated dogfight, but the greater challenge is convincing human pilots to trust the computer to fly for them in a life-and-death fight.



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Aid cuts make a mockery of UK pledges on girls’ education | Zoe Williams

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With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.

The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.

There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.

The issue has never been more important than during this pandemic, which in many countries is hitting a peak having already affected girls disproportionately.

These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.

Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.

The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”

This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.

Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.

Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.

“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”

Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.

There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.

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[Ticker] US backs WHO plan for further Covid-origin investigation

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.

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‘Freudian Slip’: Biden Confuses Trump With Obama in New Gaffe

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The 78-year-old American president is known to be prone to verbal gaffes and slips of the tongue, for which he is usually criticized or mocked by some people on social media.

US President Joe Biden appeared to confuse former US President Barack Obama for another former US president, Donald Trump, in a Wednesday speech, but swiftly corrected himself and suggested that the mistake was a “Freudian slip”.

“Back in 2009, during the so-called Great Recession, the president asked me to be in charge of managing that piece, then-President Trump,” Biden said while addressing the public in Pennsylvania. “Excuse me, Freudian slip, that was the last president. He caused the…anyway, President Obama, when I was vice-president.”

Apparently, Biden briefly messed up the timeline, confusing his predecessor, Trump, with the 44th US president, Obama. Even his quick apology did not prevent social media users from picking up on his gaffe.

​Some suggested that since a Freudian slip occurs as an action inspired by an internal train of thought or unconscious wish, it was Biden “dreaming” about working with Trump rather than Obama.

​Others argued that the 46th president does not know what a Freudian slip really is.

​Biden was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday speaking at a Mack Truck assembly plant in Lehigh Valley, promoting his administration’s new measures to encourage US citizens and companies to “buy American”. Particularly, he announced plans to modify the 1933 Buy American Act that requires federal firms and agencies to purchase goods that have at least 55% US-made components. 

Under the Biden plan, the threshold will be increased to 65% by 2024 and to 75% by 2029.



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