The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) is seeking input from industry and academia to develop a fighter jet capable of engaging in dogfights by using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The project would go beyond air-to-air combat, “and more about giving pilots the confidence that AI and automation can handle a high-end fight,” the agency said in a May 8 press release.
Before human pilots can work with AI-capable aircraft, DARPA believes they must first learn to trust the new technology. The new initiative — called the Air Combat
Evolution (ACE) program — aims to do just that.
“Being able to trust autonomy is critical as we move toward a future of warfare involving manned platforms fighting alongside unmanned systems, said Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Javorsek, ACE program manager, who works at DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office.
AI aircraft, in essence, must be able to perform the extremely quick maneuvers inherent in dogfighting within visual range. Human pilots then would be able to do their part in managing the operations from safer distances.
DARPA describes ACE as a component of a larger “mosaic warfare” concept, in which manned and unmanned platforms would be developed and fielded quickly, with lower price tags, and able to keep human operators farther from harm’s way.
Artificial intelligence aircraft will learn under ACE how to dogfight the same way human pilots are taught, while the instructors will monitor how quickly they pick up what they need to know. In time, testing will expand to small-scale aircraft, before moving on to full-scale tests involving manned and AI aircraft.
AFWERX, the service’s innovation arm, will announce test dates on its website, https://www.afwerx.af.mil/, in the near future.