DARPA Demos Aerial ‘Dogfight’ Between AI, Human-Piloted F-16s

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced the successful demonstration of an aerial “dogfight” between an AI-piloted and a human-controlled F-16 fighter jet.

Part of the agency’s Air Combat Evolution program, the initiative aimed to showcase “transformational progress” in human-machine teaming and increase trust in autonomous platforms.

During the demonstration, a manned Fighting Falcon went head-to-head with a modified F-16 known as the Variable In-flight Simulator Aircraft (VISTA) over California’s Edwards Air Force Base.

For safety reasons, a human pilot sat in the VISTA’s cockpit, but his help was not needed, as AI did all the flying.

US Air Force Test Pilot School Commandant Col. James Valpiani said the AI “performed well” in general, indicating that the program “is moving in the right direction.”

Who Won?

Before the demonstration, DARPA faced various problems, including how to ensure autonomy could be trusted to safely operate a high-speed aircraft.

It also had to ensure the AI would enable the VISTA to effectively maneuver and simulate a dogfight.

A video released by the agency stated that safety measures were implemented to prevent disaster and increase confidence in the AI-enabled platform.

It also said the VISTA did not violate human norms for safe flight during the “spectacular” trial.

Officials who witnessed the demo did not disclose which aircraft actually won the dogfight, telling reporters that the question “does not necessarily capture the nuance of the testing that we accomplished.”

Valpiani explained that the program’s more significant point is how machine learning can be applied to combat operations.

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