An AI pilots a military plane and successfully intercepts an enemy fighter in a combat test

Skunk Worksthe advanced projects division of Lockheed Martinhas taken a new step in the application of the artificial intelligence in the military field by demonstrating its successful use in air-to-air interception scenarios. In collaboration with the Operator Performance LaboratoryOPL, from the University of Iowa, Skunk Works has carried out the demonstration in a series of simulated combat tests in which the AI controlled an Aero L-29 Delfin. This is a military training aircraft developed in the 1960s in the former Czechoslovakia by the manufacturer Aero Vodochody.

As Lockheed Martin explains in a statement, AI piloted the jet to carry out a series of tactical exercises in which controlled the heading, speed and altitude of the plane. The exercises included combat situations in which the AI ​​was faced with a series of offensive and defensive scenarios against a 'virtual adversary'.

On every flight made by the L-29, the AIs were made 8 different tests, including dog-face engagements, off-front angle engagements, missile support, and missile evasion situations. The team observed during the tests a 'smooth transition of learned behaviors' from the simulation to the real world and they appreciated that the AI ​​acted 'with purpose and decision'.

'This was the first live exercise of the new flight interface; It is exciting to see the separate components successfully integrated into the L-29 to demonstrate new capabilities. The complete system worked even better in real flight than in simulation', states the Dr. Tom 'Mach' SchnellOPL professor at the Iowa Institute of Technology in the statement.

An Aero L-29 Delfin photographed at an air show in 2015.Oren Rozen.Wikipedia.

Matthew 'Gabe' Beard, Manager of Autonomy/AI and Machine Learning Engineering at Skunk Works, points out that 'live flight testing is a crucial aspect of advancing our expertise in AI and autonomy. These flights are powerful demonstrations of our ability to develop and Quickly test operationally relevant AI capabilities affordably'.

Lockheed Martin plans to conduct more tests this year under this tactical AI program that is part of a more ambitious effort to Rapidly develop and evaluate AI-powered autonomy for air-to-air missions.

News reports reporting the progress of AI in command of fighters are becoming more frequent, indicating the interest and effort that the United States and other countries have in autonomous military vehicles. Last month it emerged that the US Air Force had carried out the first simulation of air combat in a real environment between a F-16 piloted by a human and another by an artificial intelligence agent and in which the fighters approached up to 600 meters from each other at a speed of almost 2,000 kilometers per hour.

This is also not the first demonstration of artificial intelligence that Skunk Works has carried out with the Aero L-29. Last September, two human-piloted L-29s worked in tandem performing jamming support in a simulated air-to-ground mission commanded by AI. The pilots controlled their planes, but had to follow the instructions given by an AI agent that indicated aspects such as heading, altitude and speed during the test. The goal was to demonstrate how AI can provide data for rapid decision-making and reduce pilot workload.

Lockheed Martin notes that future tests will build on what has been achieved so far and They will incorporate more aircraft in offensive air counterattack and battle management scenariosthus increasing the complexity.