How the F-16 Could Fly For Decades to Come

U.S. Air Force

How the F-16 Could Fly For Decades to Come

A new program could help keep track of the different systems on a plane and could try to predict when a part, such as an engine, might eventually fail.

The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) has been working with industry to integrate new artificial intelligence (AI), automation and machine-learning technology into aircraft as a way to anticipate and predict potential maintenance failures.

If a pilot has advanced knowledge of exactly when and how an F-16 jet fighter might malfunction, and can therefore predict or anticipate engine failure or other potentially mission-impacting dynamics, the aircraft naturally has a vastly improved opportunity to improve operational functionality, service life and overall airwar effectiveness.

Engineering AI-enabled technologies precisely designed to monitor aircraft health is a huge mission enhancer, as a pilot will function in war with a specific understanding of how long its F-16 engines, weapons interfaces or electronics will function at an optimal level. By drawing upon a vast database of previously compiled and analyzed pools of data, AI-enabled algorithms can bounce new aircraft data off of a seemingly limitless database to make fast-determinations amid fast-changing combat circumstances.

The aims of the effort, which include using real-time analytics to anticipate potential points of failure, are to both improve mission effectiveness and lower sustainment, repair and maintenance costs. If a pilot knows in advance when an engine or onboard system may malfunction, he or she can adjust the mission accordingly.

In a collaborative effort with the Department of Defense and the Air Force, a firm called C3 IoT began several years ago to integrate AI-driven software into an F-16 and an E-3 Sentry surveillance aircraft. The plan is to gather and analyze data, such as operationally relevant maintenance information during or after missions so that crews and service engineers can utilize predictive maintenance. The AI-capable system will be able to assess fast-emerging specifics by virtue of having an ability to analyze, compare and draw upon previous failure instances and circumstances to make a precise prediction. AI can draw upon all available information and assess on-board systems to know when a given component might fail or need to be replaced, bringing logistical advantages as well as cost-savings and safety improvements.

The C3 IoT Platform enables the Department of Defense to aggregate and keep current enormous volumes of disparate data, including both structured and unstructured datasets, in a unified cloud-based data image, running on Amazon Web Services, company statements said.

Depending upon the kind of avionics in an aircraft, on-board sensors can collect essential maintenance data and either download telemetry upon landing or process information right on the aircraft, C3IoT officials explained several years ago during an earlier phase in the program’s development. The technology can in part come to fruition through effective use of a datalink such as the well-known LINK 16, an information-sharing system which can help compare new incoming avionics data against a vast database to make nearly instantaneous decisions.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.