This article is more than 1 year old

Our Skyborg (actual US govt program) will be just like IBM Watson, beams Air Force bod

No joke, that's what they've genuinely named a 'fighter-like' military drone project

Rise of the Machines The American government is trying to buy military drones in a programme it has named Skyborg, with a US govt spokesman comparing the madcap project to both Star Wars’ R2-D2 and IBM Watson.

Aviation Week magazine, not known for producing light-hearted or spoof coverage, reported this week that the Skyborg project is intended to “produce a ‘fighter-like’ prototype of an unmanned aircraft that uses a software-controlled ‘brain.’

Military command tech news site C4ISRNet* expanded on this by paraphrasing Will Roper, the US Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, tech and logistics, as saying he “envisions Skyborg as an AI wingman that will train and learn alongside pilots.”

“I don’t want this to just be a laboratory project that lives and dies there in a petri dish. I want this to become a program,” Roper told American reporters at a conference earlier this week, as quoted by C4ISRNet. “I want to see real, operational demonstrations within a couple years. And I will push them to be faster than that.”

He also compared Skyborg to R2-D2 and IBM Watson. We can only assume Roper had not thought through the association with Watson, given that project’s prominent track record of failure.

While we at El Reg would love to get into the customary dissection of this Rise Of The Machines-style tech, we just can’t get past the awful name.


Don't mean to alarm you, but Boeing has built an unmanned fighter jet called 'Loyal Wingman'


For the less geekier reader, the Borg are a Star Trek race of assimilatory cybernetic alien conquerors whose slogan was “Resistance is Futile”. A turbo-nerdy Star Trek fan article about the Borg can be found here.

As public relations beings like to say, the name has “bad optics,” - though, in fairness the UK has managed worse.

For many years Blighty has maintained a military satellite constellation that some joker managed to name Skynet, as in the evil computer collective that takes over the world and enslaves humanity, requiring a robotic Arnie Schwarzenegger to explosively stomp around and steal clothes, keys and motorbikes from random Americans. (Terminator, if you haven’t spotted the reference)

A grownup in the British military establishment eventually cottoned on to the idea of names having a deeper meaning and thought autonomous warfare tech should probably dial it down a bit. This probably rather sensible move unintentionally gave rise to a Reg headline from a few years ago: “New British flying robot killer death machines renamed 'Protector'”. ®


C4, in the military context, can either mean plastic explosive or, with the addition of the letter I, command, control, communication, computers (the four Cs) and intelligence. S and R stand for Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

Readers who are interested and want to know more of this sort of incomprehensible thing are referred to the Ministry of Defence’s 373-page master list of military abbreviations, which includes 13 separate definitions of the abbrev “AA”, a translation of “modem” and several variations on “RSO” - but, weirdly enough, does not include the early/mid-2000s RAF acronym for a unit’s Physical Education Officer.

More about

More about

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like