Air Force conducts first successful test of AI-controlled aircraft

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency carried out combat drills with an F-16 piloted by artificial intelligence and another controlled by a human pilot.

The Air Force, in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), carried out the last round of tests Wednesday for the first successful trial of an aircraft controlled by artificial intelligence. On this occasion, the drill included turn-based combat (or "dogfighting") between two F-16s.

The test, carried out at Edwards Air Force Base in California, began in September 2023 and continued until April 17. The program, however, dates back much further. In December 2022, the Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program was approved to be carried out by DARPA. It had the objective of beginning to develop artificial intelligence that was capable of managing some U.S. Air Force planes.

The Secretary of the Air Force assures that AI tests are a success

To do this, an A.I. system was developed that was capable of autonomously flying a combat jet but, at the same time, complied with all Air Force safety protocols. Later, the tests began: a total of 21 flights to date where, as revealed The Verge, human pilots could deactivate the A.I. However, they assured, it was not necessary. since the test was a success, as Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall described in a statement:

The potential for autonomous air-to-air combat has been imaginable for decades, but the reality has remained a distant dream up until now. In 2023, the X-62A broke one of the most significant barriers in combat aviation. This is a transformational moment, all made possible by breakthrough accomplishments of the X-62A ACE team.

Kendall will soon fly on the X-62A VISTA to see first-hand how artificial intelligence works in a combat environment. This flight will be part of the tests that will continue during 2024 and will demonstrate whether this technology can be used by the U.S. Air Force.