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

 In ASEAN, GDI, Land, Cyber/ICT, Air

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.

It’s part of an emerg­ing future of aerial war­fare where a human pilot in a manned air­craft teams up with swarms of combat drones, with the pilot giving basic instruc­tions to the swarm AI, which will handle the details. Lurking in the back­ground is the fact that machines can react far faster than humans.

Yet some fight­er jocks may not be happy with DARPA’s view of dog­fight­ing as a nov­el­ty that can be per­formed by a com­put­er. “Turning aerial dog­fight­ing over to AI is less about dog­fight­ing, which should be rare in the future, and more about giving pilots the con­fi­dence that AI and automa­tion can handle a high-end fight,” DARPA said. As soon as new human fight­er pilots learn to take-off, nav­i­gate, and land, they are taught aerial combat maneu­vers. Contrary to pop­u­lar belief, new fight­er pilots learn to dog­fight because it rep­re­sents a cru­cible where pilot per­for­mance and trust can be refined. To accel­er­ate the trans­for­ma­tion of pilots from air­craft oper­a­tors to mis­sion battle com­man­ders — who can entrust dynam­ic air combat tasks to unmanned, semi-autonomous air­borne assets from the cock­pit — the AI must first prove it can handle the basics.”

“We envi­sion a future in which AI han­dles the split-second maneu­ver­ing during within-visual-range dog­fights, keep­ing pilots safer and more effec­tive as they orches­trate large num­bers of unmanned sys­tems into a web of over­whelm­ing combat effects,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Javorsek, DARPA’s ACE pro­gram man­ag­er.

The belief is that World War II-style dog­fights are a thing of the past. The future of air combat may be long-range air-to-air mis­sile duels, or melees between swarms of combat drones con­trolled by a few human-pilot­ed air­craft. Then again, the U.S. mil­i­tary of the 1950s thought dog­fight­ing was obso­lete, only to painful­ly dis­cov­er the oppo­site was true over Vietnam.

U.S. pilots even­tu­al­ly relearned how to dog­fight through pro­grams like Top Gun. One ques­tion will be how adapt­able an air combat AI proves to be. It’s when the unex­pect­ed hap­pens, or that flash of intu­ition is needed, that machine may yet meet its match in man.

Michael Peck is a con­tribut­ing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook

Media: Reuters

Source: National Interest

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