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Air Force announces Vanguard PEOs

Skybord depiction

Skyborg is an autonomy-focused capability that will enable the Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments. The program will enable airborne combat mass by building a transferable autonomy foundation for a family of layered, unmanned air vehicles.


The U.S. Space Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation provides unprecedented position and timing accuracy to the warfighter. Since the inception of GPS, it has become a global utility with commercial use far outweighing military use. Air traffic control, banking, farming, and cellular networks all depend on uninterrupted GPS coverage. Set to launch in 2022, NTS-3, America’s next experimental navigation satellite, will push the boundary of today’s position, navigation, and timing (PNT) technology to pave the way for a more flexible, robust, and resilient architecture for satellite navigation technology.

Golden Horde depiction

The Golden Horde initiative, chosen as an Air Force Vanguard program in 2019, will integrate datalink radios and collaborative behaviors on inventory weapon systems to demonstrate the mission effectiveness of networked collaborative weapon capabilities for our warfighters. This effort will validate an integrated system where different technologies work together to defeat targets.


The Air Force recently announced the Vanguard Program as part of its transformational science and technology portfolio identified in the 2030 strategy for the next decade. Vanguard programs will rapidly advance emerging weapon systems and warfighting concepts through prototyping and experimentation. With these programs, the Air Force aims to deliver game changing new operational capabilities that provide warfighters with superior advantages on the battlefield in the next decade.

The Vanguard program launched with the selection of three initiatives. The three programs are Golden Horde, Navigation Technology Satellite 3 (NTS-3), and Skyborg. Research execution and transition of these programs will be managed by a new, provisional Transformational Capabilities Office (TCO) under the Air Force Technology Executive Officer (TEO). Air Force Program Executive Offices (PEOs) were designated to develop and execute acquisition strategies for each individual program.  The PEOs for these first three programs are: Golden Horde – PEO Weapons; NTS-3 – PEO Space and PEO Agile Combat Support; and Skyborg – PEO Advanced Aircraft.

“Vanguards will transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air and space power. These are game changing technologies that will challenge what our opponents think about us, how they react to us, and ultimately pull them off their game plan. Vanguards will help us do that.” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Commander, Air Force Materiel Command.

Air Force Research Laboratory commander and TEO Brig. Gen. Evan Dertien explained that Vanguards are key to addressing future national security challenges and ensuring our technological superiority, “Vanguards will enable entirely new concepts of military operations and provide the warfighter with new possibilities.”

The PEO for Weapons, Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo, is lead for Golden Horde.  Golden Horde will demonstrate collaborative autonomous networked weapons by creating an integrated weapon system in which different technologies work together to defeat targets. These weapons will share, receive and analyze data to execute coordinated actions and react to enemy forces, and provide our future warfighters highly accurate, effective data to ensure destruction of enemy targets.

The PEO for Space, Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, and the PEO for Agile Combat Support, Paul Waugh, are the co-leads for NTS-3. The NTS-3 will enhance space-based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) across the ground, space and user equipment segments. The prototype demonstration includes a space-based test vehicle, enterprise command and control ground segment, and agile software defined radios. The satellite segment will operate for one year in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit to test new hardware, software, and operational capabilities. During the satellite system’s orbit, it will integrate experimental antennas with flexible and secure signals, increased automation, and commercial ground assets. NTS-3 will pave the way for new reprogrammable software-defined GPS receivers that can readily adapt to operational needs and respond to changing conditions. Warfighters will ultimately benefit from increased security and flexibility in navigation.

The PEO for Advanced Aircraft, Col. Dale White, is the lead for Skyborg.  Skyborg will attempt to integrate autonomous Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) technology with open missions systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. Skyborg seeks to deliver a prototype suite of technologies to enable autonomous UAVs with enhanced capabilities for Air Force missions. Autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews. Therefore, this technology can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the U.S. Air Force.

For more information, please visit www.AFResearchLab.com.