How AI Could Eliminate Our Dream F-22 and F-35 Dogfights

Michael Peck

Key Point: Dogfights look pretty cool.

Can a computer pilot defeat a human pilot in a dogfight?

DARPA seems to think so. It wants to turn human fighter pilots into drone managers, while artificial intelligence, or AI, handles the details of air combat.

The Pentagon’s pet research agency has created the aptly titled ACE (Air Combat Evolution) project to develop artificial intelligence that lets the drones do the dogfighting while the human pilot controls the drones.

“Artificial intelligence has defeated chess grandmasters, Go champions, professional poker players, and, now, world-class human experts in the online strategy games Dota 2 and StarCraft II,” says the DARPA announcement. “No AI currently exists, however, that can outduel a human strapped into a fighter jet in a high-speed, high-G dogfight. As modern warfare evolves to incorporate more human-machine teaming, DARPA seeks to automate air-to-air combat, enabling reaction times at machine speeds and freeing pilots to concentrate on the larger air battle.”

DARPA notes that while dogfighting is chaotic, it does have “a clearly defined objective, measurable outcome, and the inherent physical limitations of aircraft dynamics, making them a good test case for advanced tactical automation.” In other words, the laws of physics and aerodynamics are consistent enough that a computer should be to handle much of the flying.

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