US Air Force Stages Dogfights With AI-Flown Fighter Jet

US Air Force Engages in Dogfights with AI-Flown X-62A VISTA

The US Air Force in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has conducted the first-ever aerial dogfights featuring an AI-flown experimental fighter jet, the X-62A VISTA, pitted against a manned F-16. This initiative ‘US Air Force Engages in Dogfights with AI-Flown X-62A VISTA’ marks a significant leap in autonomous aerial warfare technology, potentially revolutionizing the Air Force’s approach to future combat scenarios.

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A Technological Marvel

The X-62A VISTA (Variable In-flight Simulator Aircraft), a highly modified version of the F-16, has been a pivotal asset at the Air Force Test Pilot School located at Edwards Air Force Base, California. For over three decades, VISTA has been at the forefront of testing cutting-edge aerospace technologies, with a recent focus on refining autonomous flight capabilities.

Enhancing AI in Air Combat

DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program has spent four years developing and testing how AI can be utilized in air warfare while also ensuring it gains the trust of human pilots. Col. James Valpiani, the commandant of the Air Force Test Pilot School, emphasized the complexity and inherent risks of within-visual range dogfighting, making it an ideal test for autonomous systems.

Simulation to Sky

Initially, the ACE program’s AI agents controlled simulated F-16s in virtual dogfights, achieving impressive results against human pilots. However, transitioning from simulations to actual flight introduced new challenges, such as adhering to strict safety protocols and combat training rules. In late 2022 and through 2023, the AI pilots began real-world test flights, culminating in September when the VISTA engaged in direct combat scenarios against a human-piloted F-16.

Building Trust and Capability

Over a series of 21 test flights, the AI-operated VISTA demonstrated robust capabilities, from defensive maneuvers to aggressive offensive tactics, without requiring human intervention. Lt. Col. Ryan Hefron, DARPA’s ACE program manager, highlighted the primary goal of these tests was to showcase the safe application of AI in critical combat environments. The specifics of the outcomes, such as the number of wins, were not disclosed, underscoring the focus on safety and performance rather than competition.

Beyond Dogfighting

The successful integration of AI in these tests paves the way for the development of autonomous “collaborative combat aircraft,” which could operate alongside manned aircraft in various mission profiles including airstrikes and reconnaissance. The ACE program’s lessons could greatly influence the strategic deployment of uncrewed systems, potentially transforming air combat dynamics.

This groundbreaking initiative not only demonstrates the potential of AI in enhancing combat capabilities but also ensures that the evolution of military aviation continues to incorporate technological advancements responsibly and effectively.

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