AI-controlled fighter jet

US Air Force’s AI-Controlled Fighter Jet Successfully Engages Human Pilots in Dogfight

In a significant advancement in military technology, the US Air Force has confirmed the successful testing of an AI-controlled fighter jet engaged in a dogfight against human pilots last year.

The endeavour, part of the Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program, saw the US Air Force Test Pilot School and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) collaborating to test a modified Lockheed Martin X-62A VISTA (Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft) equipped with AI software. This innovative aircraft, capable of emulating the performance of various other planes, underwent extensive testing starting in December 2022.

DARPA disclosed on Thursday that in September 2023, the AI-operated X-62A participated in its inaugural dogfight against manned F-16 aircraft above Edwards Air Force Base in California. These engagements, characterized by within-visual-range encounters, marked a historic moment in AI integration within military operations.

During the dogfights, the X-62A VISTA engaged in offensive manoeuvres, reaching speeds of up to 1,200 miles per hour and approaching within 2,000 feet of the human-piloted F-16s. Safety precautions were implemented, with the aircraft featuring a backup pilot and technician ready to intervene if necessary. Notably, the safety switch remained unused throughout the engagements, underscoring the AI’s capabilities.

With 21 successful test flights conducted thus far and ongoing trials scheduled for 2024, the X-62A VISTA demonstrates not only autonomous flight proficiency but also versatility for various applications, including reconnaissance, surveillance, and emergency response.

The potential implications of AI-controlled aircraft on traditional piloting roles have garnered attention, especially following events like the 2020 AlphaDogfight Trials, where AI agents outperformed human pilots in simulated dogfights. Despite concerns, DARPA emphasizes that human oversight remains integral in decision-making processes, ensuring ultimate control over engagement decisions.

While AI integration in military weaponry remains contentious, DARPA affirms that the X-62A VISTA’s continued development will offer valuable insights for research and educational purposes, shaping the future of aerial combat technology.

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