DARPA, the US military research arm, has launched a program to train fighter jets to engage in aerial battle autonomously with the help of AI algorithms.
The Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program seeks to create military planes that are capable of performing combat maneuvers for dogfighting without the help of human pilots. Vehicles won’t be completely unmanned, however. DARPA is more interested in forging stronger teamwork between humans and machines.
The end goal is to have autonomous jet controls that can handle tasks like dodging out the way of enemy fire at lightning speeds, while the pilot takes on more difficult problems like executing strategic battle commands and firing off weapons.
“We envision a future in which AI handles the split-second maneuvering during within-visual-range dogfights, keeping pilots safer and more effective as they orchestrate large numbers of unmanned systems into a web of overwhelming combat effects,” said Lieutenant Colonel Dan Javorsek, ACE program manager.
It’s part of DARPA’s larger vision of “mosaic warfare.” The idea here is that combat is fought by a mixture of manned and unmanned systems working together. The hope is these unmanned systems can be rapidly developed, and are easily adaptable through technological upgrades so that they can help the military cope with changing conditions.
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“Linking together manned aircraft with significantly cheaper unmanned systems creates a 'mosaic' where the individual 'pieces' can easily be recomposed to create different effects or quickly replaced if destroyed, resulting in a more resilient warfighting capability,” DARPA said in a statement.
The ACE program will initially focus on teaching AI in a similar way that new pilots are trained. Computer vision algorithms will learn basic battle maneuvers for close one-on-one combat. “Only after human pilots are confident that the AI algorithms are trustworthy in handling bounded, transparent and predictable behaviors will the aerial engagement scenarios increase in difficulty and realism,” Javorsek said.
“Following virtual testing, we plan to demonstrate the dogfighting algorithms on sub-scale aircraft leading ultimately to live, full-scale manned-unmanned team dogfighting with operationally representative aircraft.”
DARPA is welcoming R&D proposals from academics and companies for its program and will fund the effort. Successful candidates will engage in the “AlphaDogfight Trials,” where these AI-crafter fighter planes will test one another in a competition to find the best algorithm.
“Being able to trust autonomy is critical as we move toward a future of warfare involving manned platforms fighting alongside unmanned systems,” said Javorsek. ®