Home News Air Force Secretary to Test AI-Piloted F-16 Fighter Jet

Air Force Secretary to Test AI-Piloted F-16 Fighter Jet

Air Force Secretary to Test AI-Piloted F-16 Fighter Jet

In a groundbreaking development that could revolutionize aerial combat, the U.S. Air Force has announced plans for its secretary to ride in an F-16 fighter aircraft operated by artificial intelligence (AI) this spring. This event marks a significant milestone in the integration of AI technologies within the military aviation sector, demonstrating a new level of trust and reliability in autonomous systems.

The initiative is part of the Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program spearheaded by the (DARPA), aimed at advancing the Pentagon’s capabilities in autonomous systems. DARPA has successfully transitioned AI algorithms from controlling simulated F-16s to piloting an actual F-16 in flight. The aircraft, known as X-62A or VISTA, was specially modified and equipped with the necessary hardware to support the sophisticated AI software developed under the ACE program. This move from simulation to reality represents a pivotal achievement in DARPA’s efforts to revamp aircraft combat by enabling F-16s to engage in autonomous dogfights​​.

The AI’s capabilities were rigorously tested last December at the Air Force Test Pilot School (TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where multiple test flights were conducted. These tests aimed to evaluate the algorithms under various conditions, against simulated adversaries, and with simulated weapons capabilities. The AI algorithms demonstrated proficiency in executing takeoffs and landings, essentially acting as an advanced autopilot system. However, the primary focus of these algorithms is to assist pilots in flying and tactical maneuvers, allowing human pilots to concentrate on strategy, battle commands, and weaponry​​.

DARPA’s collaboration with entities from academia and the industry, including EpiSci, PhysicsAI, Shield AI, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, was crucial in testing different types of AI algorithms. The modified two-seater VISTA jet is equipped with the System for Autonomous Control of Simulation (SACS), a computer system that runs the software. Importantly, a pilot was onboard at all times during the tests to monitor the AI’s performance and to intervene if necessary​.

Further experiments are planned to assess how human pilots interact with the AI, particularly in terms of trust during automatic dogfights. These experiments involve flying L-29 jet trainers equipped with AI algorithms and sensors to monitor pilots’ physiological responses, providing insights into scenarios where pilots trust or distrust AI. Such studies are vital for understanding the dynamic between human pilots and AI systems in high-stakes environments​.

This initiative not only underscores the rapid technological advancements in military aviation but also sets a precedent for the future integration of AI in various aspects of air combat. As the Air Force Secretary prepares for this historic flight, the event symbolizes a significant leap towards realizing the full potential of AI in enhancing combat efficiency and pilot safety.


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