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Airbus Defence and Space and Helsing, one of Europe’s leading defence artificial intelligence (AI) and software companies, signed a framework co-operation agreement at the ILA Berlin 2024 aerospace show, Airbus announced on 5 June.

According to the agreement, the companies will work together on AI technologies that will be used in applications such as Airbus’ Wingman concept, which was shown for the first time at ILA Berlin 2024. This unmanned fighter-type aircraft will operate with current combat jets and receive its tasks from a pilot in a command aircraft, such as a Eurofighter.

As a response to increasing operational requirements by the German Air Force, the Wingman concept is intended to augment the capabilities of manned combat aircraft with uncrewed platforms that can carry weapons and other effectors.

“The current conflicts on Europe’s borders show how important air superiority is,” Mike Schoellhorn, CEO at Airbus Defence and Space, was quoted as saying in an Airbus press release. “Manned-unmanned teaming will play a central role in achieving air superiority. With an unmanned Wingman at their side, fighter pilots can operate outside the danger zone. They give the orders and always have the decision-making authority. Supported by AI, the wingman then takes over the dangerous tasks, including target reconnaissance and destruction or electronic jamming and deception of enemy air defence systems.”

“Whilst we will always have a human in the loop, we must realise that the most dangerous parts of an unmanned mission will see a high degree of autonomy and thus require AI,”, added Gundbert Scherf, Co-CEO at Helsing. “From the processing of data from sensors over the optimisation of subsystems to closing the loop on system level, software-defined capabilities and AI will be a critical component of the Wingman system for the German Air Force.”

Under the AI agreement Airbus will provide its expertise in the interaction of unmanned and manned military aircraft, so-called ‘manned-unmanned teaming’, and as prime contractor of major European defence programmes such as the Eurofighter and A400M military transport, while Helsing will contribute its AI stack of relevant software-defined mission capabilities, including the fusion of various sensors and algorithms for electronic warfare.

Michael Schoellhorn, CEO at Airbus Defence and Space (left), and Gundbert Scherf, Co-CEO at Helsing, in front of the Airbus Wingman concept model at ILA Berlin 2024. The two companies will work together on AI technologies applicable to manned-unmanned teaming among air platforms. (Photo: Airbus)