A modified F-16 fighter jet has successfully flown and fought with another aircraft while fully controlled by artificial intelligence (AI).
During test flights, the jet aircraft, known as ‘X-62A’ or ‘VISTA’, performed takeoffs, landings and combat maneuvers for a total of more than 17 hours without human intervention.
Taking place in December 2022 at Edwards Air Force Base in California, USA, they showed that it is possible to fully hand over the reins to AI in combat.
The algorithms that power it were developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – the research arm of the US Department of Defense.
This is the first time AI has been used on a tactical aircraft, as prior to this milestone it was only used in computer simulations of F-16 dogfights.
During test flights, the jet known as ‘X-62A’ or ‘VISTA’ (pictured) performed takeoff, landing and combat maneuvers without human intervention for a total of more than 17 hours
Test flights took place in December 2022 at Edwards Air Force Base in California, USA, showing that it is possible to fully hand over the reins to AI in combat
The success has accelerated DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program – which proves the effectiveness of autonomous air combat – by a year.
WHAT IS THE X-62A?
The ‘X-62-A’ or ‘VISTA’ (Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft) is a modified F-16 fighter jet that can be propelled using AI.
The software can be programmed to perform like a variety of aircraft, expanding the space for the algorithms that power it.
During test flights in December 2022, it performed takeoffs, landings and combat maneuvers for a total of more than 17 hours without human intervention.
The algorithms that power it were developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – the research arm of the US Department of Defense.
A dogfight is a dogfight between fighter aircraft held at line of sight and while relatively uncommon in modern warfare, they have been seen during the war in Ukraine.
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Hefron said, “We’ve been on multiple missions [takeoffs and landings] with numerous test points performed on each flight to test the algorithms under different takeoff conditions, against different simulated opponents, and with simulated weapon capabilities.
“We didn’t encounter any major issues, but did experience some differences compared to simulation-based results, which is to be expected when transitioning from virtual to live.
“This highlights the importance of not only testing advanced autonomous capabilities in flight, but also on test benches such as VISTA, which allowed us to quickly learn lessons and iterate much faster than with other aircraft.”
Although the X-62A is a modified military F-16, the software can be programmed to perform like a variety of aircraft, increasing the possibilities for the AI that powers it.
During the test flights, a safety pilot was on board, ready to take over the controls if necessary.
The X-62A is currently undergoing a series of inspections, but will fly again this year.
Although the X-62A (pictured) is a modified military F-16, its software can be programmed to perform like a variety of aircraft, increasing the possibilities for the AI that powers it
In addition to developing effective algorithms that can power fighter jets in combat, the ACE program, which started in 2019, is working to increase pilots’ confidence in them.
This is important, as it would mean they can confidently leave maneuvers to the AI while they focus on bigger battle management tasks.
Pilots have participated in AI-powered flights of L-29 jets while their physiological responses were measured to gauge their comfort level.
In August 2020, DARPA pitted autonomous F-16 simulators against each other, with the winning algorithm beating an experienced pilot in a simulated dogfight.
At the time, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper revealed that an AI-powered warplane would engage in real combat with a piloted aircraft in 2024.
He also assured troops that AI will help improve US warfare, not completely replace pilots.
He said: “We see AI as a tool to free up resources, time and manpower so our people can focus on higher priority tasks and get to the decision point faster and more accurately, whether in a lab or on the battlefield. competition.’
In August 2020, DARPA pitted autonomous F-16 simulators against each other, with the winning algorithm beating an experienced pilot in a simulated dogfight (pictured)
The following year, a Chinese fighter pilot was also beaten in a simulated dogfight with an AI-powered jet.
Autonomous combat aircraft are being developed by defense agencies around the world because they can participate in dangerous situations without risking a pilot’s life.
They could also reduce the costs required to train pilots to fly them to the standard required for combat.
Boeing unveiled a 38-foot-long (12 m) autonomous fighter jet designed to aid piloted aircraft on long-range surveillance missions in 2019.
In 2020, the US Air Force first used AI aboard a military jet to “spot missiles” during a training mission.
The algorithm took over the radar sensors and tactical navigation systems of a U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane.
However, no weapons were present during the flight and the aircraft was still piloted.
Then, in 2021, the US Air Force flew an unmanned Kratos UTAP-22 tactical drone using its Skyborg “AI brain,” paving the way for autonomous fighter jets.
DARPA has also launched a program to introduce AI into the decision-making process of military operations.
It is about new technology that can make tough decisions in stressful situations, using live analysis of data, such as the condition of patients in a mass casualty event and the availability of medicines.
The US Pentagon is developing a new ‘weapon of mass destruction’ with THOUSANDS of drones
The US Pentagon is planning a new ‘weapon of mass destruction’ involving thousands of drones attacking by air, land and water to destroy enemy defenses – but experts fear people could lose control of the ‘swarms’.
The top-secret project, dubbed AMASS (Autonomous Multi-Domain Adaptive Swarms-of-Swarms), is said to represent automated warfare on an unprecedented scale.
AMASS is still in the planning stages, but DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) has collected bids from suppliers for the $78 million contract.
Small drones would be equipped with weapons and aids to navigation and communication, along with capabilities ranging from radar jamming to launching deadly strikes.
Read more here
The US Pentagon is working on a new “weapon of mass destruction” involving thousands of drones attacking by air, land and water to destroy enemy defenses. Stock photo