The US conducts the first aerial combat between an F-16 piloted by AI and another by a human

The Air Force of the United States has revealed that it has carried out the first combat simulation in a real environment between a F-16 modified and piloted by artificial intelligence and another whose command was a human pilot. This test, which was successfully carried out in autumn 2023, is part of the Collaborative Combat Aircraft, ACE by its acronym in English, which Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPAIs developing.

The agency has published a video that offers some details about this milestone, such as that the fighters came as close as 600 meters from each other at a speed of almost 2,000 kilometers per hour. The first simulation in a real environment of an aerial combat between an AI and a human pilot had the presence of a “safety” pilot in the F-16 modifiedcalled VISTA X-62Abut the exercise was entirely controlled by the AI.

The ACE program has seen notable progress throughout 2023 in which the United States Air Force Test Pilot School, USAF TPS, and the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFRL. ACE also involves other partners, including Shield AIwhich acquired Heron Systems in 2021. They were the ones who developed the AI ​​“agent” that won DARPA's Alpha Dogfight tests conducted in a completely digital environment.

However, these tests were not entirely representative of what a real combat could be since AI did not have to adhere to flight rules which include ensuring the safety of the aircraft and the pilot. The test carried out in a real environment yes, which made it more realistic. “2023 was the year that ACE made machine learning a reality in the air,” he says. Ryan HefronAir Force lieutenant colonel and ACE program manager in the video posted by DARPA.

The work has included the development of new machine learning methods to train and test the AI ​​agent on a variety of parametersincluding flight envelope protection, air and ground collision prevention, combat training rules, weapons engagement zones and clear fire lanes, according to Flightglobal.

VIEW X-62A.United States Air Force.

The X-62A, also known as Variable Stability Flight Simulator Test Aircraft, VISTA, is a heavily modified two-seat F-16D. Their flight systems can be adjusted to replicate those of almost any other aircraftmaking it an exceptional asset for a wide range of testing purposes requiring a real-world platform, including ACE.

The aircraft has completed for ACE 21 test flights, carried out from Edwards Air Force Base in California, between December 2022 and September 2023, when simulated combat between the AI ​​and a human pilot took place. During these tests, the artificial intelligence “agents” used required the reprogramming of more than 100,000 lines of code. The AFRL has emphasized the ability to further assist in these types of flight tests by rapidly training and retraining algorithms in fully digital environments.

The United States military has stated that Human involvement will always be necessary to operate autonomous weapons systems in the future. However, the extent of their involvement in the decision-making process is expected to change over time.