The US Air Force is testing AI fighter jets
The US Air Force has been testing artificial intelligence systems for fighter jets. It has a training aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and Calspan for the United States Air Force Test Pilot School. However, Lockheed says it will not replace human pilots but enhance them with AI systems.
Did you ever think artificial intelligence would take to the skies? The idea seems like the plot of the 2005 science fiction film “Stealth” or another piece of sci-fi. Yet, modern technology has advanced so much that we may see real-life military AI soon.
This article will explain the US Air Force’s latest AI project. Later, I will illustrate how prevalent military AI is becoming by discussing another country’s military using artificial intelligence.
What is the US Air Force’s latest AI program?
#ICYMI – A joint @DeptofDefense team executed 12 flight tests in which artificial intelligence agents piloted the X-62A Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft to perform advanced fighter maneuvers @EdwardsAFB. https://t.co/3SQWpfPh6U
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) February 23, 2023
Global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin said the training aircraft is essential in AI development for the USAF. The jet’s name is VISTA X-62A or Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft.
Airforce-technology.com says it first flew in April 1992. However, it had several upgrades and modifications, improving the USAF’s testing of risky projects.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), US Air Force Test Center, and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) support VISTA. An AI agent took it on a 17-hour test flight in December 2022.
More importantly, it has Calspan’s VISTA Simulation System (VSS), Lockheed Martin’s Model Following Algorithm (MFA), and System for Autonomous Control of the Simulation (SACS). VSS enables the AI aircraft to mimic existing vehicles.
For example, it could perform like the F-16 fixed-wing fighter jet or MQ-20 fighter drone. As a result, the US Air Force can apply new AI systems to existing aircraft without risking them.
VISTA can travel as far as 2,800nm or 5,200 km. Its maximum speed is 2,170 kph or 1,170 knots, and it can fly more than 15,000 m or 50,000 ft.
Most would assume the United States would have an automated Air Force soon. However, Lockheed Martin said it will “keep people in control while enabling them to be safer, more effective, and better able to focus on higher-level tasks by empowering them to make more informed decisions quickly.”
The VISTA aircraft is only one of the four aircraft in the AFRL’s Skyborg program. It is an AI-driven project to create unmanned combat aircraft that assist manned fighter planes.
Skyborg will give key data to help pilots make quick, informed decisions in tense situations. Also, it will increase their situational awareness and survivability to pilots during combat.
Are other countries testing military AI?
Israel has also been testing artificial intelligence systems for its Defense Forces. It created the Fire Factory, an AI tool that organizes raids and performs other strategic functions.
The AI system “calculates appropriate munition loads, prioritizes targets, assigns them to aircraft and drones, and proposes a schedule.” In other words, it counts how many bullets and bombs air strikes need.
Fire Factory chooses which locations to bomb first, assigns them to aircraft, and schedules their operation. Colonel Uri, head of the IDF’s digital transformation unit, emphasized the benefits of AI.
“What used to take hours now takes minutes, with a few more minutes for human review. With the same amount of people, we do much more,” he said. Also, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett elaborated on the significance of Fire Factory to the Israel Defense Forces.
“The future of defense systems and of military will rely heavily on artificial intelligence. I’m talking about the analysis of massive data in intelligence. I’m talking about operating drones and other types of automatic and autonomous robots. Any country who seeks to be strong has to develop now an AI strategy,” the former head of state claimed.
The US Air Force has been testing AI capabilities for aircraft. Its VISTA plane mimics existing jets, allowing the USAF to test AI systems safely and efficiently.
It plans to launch AI-piloted aircraft to assist manned jets soon. Meanwhile, other countries like Israel have applied artificial intelligence to strategic planning.
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