Air Force researchers are working on a combat drone that can take down a piloted plane in an air-to-air combat with the goal of pitting the two against each other in July 2021.
“It’s a bold, bold idea. Team leader Steve Rogers is probably going to have a hard time getting to that flight next year … when the machine beats the human. If he does it, great,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said during a June 4 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event.
The project could eventually lead to unpiloted fighter aircraft that use artificial intelligence (AI).
“At this stage, it may not use a lot of AI. But in time, humans and machines working together will make a big difference,” he added.
Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) launched its pursuit of an unmanned, AI-driven fighter jet in 2018, aiming to show promise within 18 months. Inside Defense reported in the same year that machine-learning technology may first be inserted into a less-advanced plane like an F-16 before trying it in a newer jet like F-22 or F-35 jets.
“Our human pilots, the really good ones, have a couple thousand hours of experience. What happens if I can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time? … How can I make myself a tactical autopilot so in an air-to-air fight, this system could help make decisions on a timeline that humans can’t even begin to think about?” asked Rogers.