AI Takes on Human Fighter Pilot

Fighter jet | Image by U.S. Air Force

Last week, the U.S. Air Force confirmed it had recorded the first successful dogfight between an AI-powered fighter jet and a human-piloted aircraft.

The test pitted a manned F-16 against the X62A VISTA, a modified F-16 backed by artificial intelligence. The experiment took place at Edwards Air Force Base in California as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program.

DARPA released footage of the monumental event on April 17. In it, two jets can be seen maneuvering at speeds of up to 1,200 mph. At one point, the AI craft flew as close as 2,000 feet to its human counterpart.

DARPA’s ACE program has been making significant strides in developing autonomous capabilities. While the outcome of the dogfight remains undisclosed, Lt. Col. Ryan Hefron, ACE program manager, said the AI agents “performed well.”

“We had lots of test objectives that we were trying to achieve in that first round of tests. So asking the question of, I’ll say, who won? It doesn’t necessarily capture the nuance of the testing that we accomplished. But what I will say is that the purpose of the test was really to establish a pathway to demonstrate that we can safely test these AI agents in a safety-critical air combat environment,” Hefron told reporters on April 19, per Defense One.

As military technology continues to evolve, dogfights have become increasingly rare. For example, during the first Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. lost one F-18. In contrast, during the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1973, 1,737 fixed-wing aircraft were lost during combat.

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