US Air Force Confirms it Held the First Successful AI Dogfight

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Key Takeaways

  • The US Air Force successfully conducted an AI-versus-human dogfight last year.
  • The X-62A test aircraft
  • AI is already present in modern wars like Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas.

The US Air Force has confirmed that a 2023 flight test represented the first successful AI dogfight.

The military branch’s Test Pilot School partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in what the two called a significant machine learning breakthrough in aerospace. 

Over the past four years, DARPA has been focused on developing its Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program to match-up human pilots with AI-powered machine learning systems. 

Within a year, ACE evolved from the initial use of AI into the systems of the X-62A to performing the first AI-versus-human dogfight, engaging with an F-16 fighter at visual range.

Crucially,  the AI recorded no significant violation, indicating the tests were completed as safely as with a human pilot. 

DARPA described the dogfight as “a fundamental paradigm shift” that would act as a platform for all future AI aerospace advances. Whether or not that’s true isn’t certain, however, as the Chinese are said to have already accomplished a similar feat in March 2023.

AI is already known to be in use in various conflicts, with the war in Ukraine often considered an incubator for the use of AI in combat. Both Ukraine and Russia have developed algorithms for use in autonomous navigation, target identification and engagement, and intelligence processing.

In the current Middle-East conflict, Israel is said to have used its ‘Lavender’ AI system to identify 37,000 potential targets based on their apparent links to Hamas.

This doesn’t guarantee that the USAF or other air forces will use AI for air-to-air combat. Ethical concerns persist about the use of fully autonomous vehicles and robots in war, such as the potential for civilian casualties. However, AI in some form is likely here to stay.