US DARPA research agency recently awarded contracts to five companies to develop algorithms enabling mixed teams of manned and unmanned combat aircraft to conduct aerial dog-fighting autonomously.
Boeing, EpiSci, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Heron Systems, and physicsAI were chosen to develop air combat maneuvering algorithms for individual and team tactical behaviors under Technical Area (TA) 1 of DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program.
Each team is tasked with developing artificial intelligence agents that expand one-on-one engagements to two-on-one and two-on-two within-visual-range aerial battles. The companies’ algorithms will be tested in each of three program phases: modeling and simulation sub-scale unmanned aircraft, and full-scale combat representative aircraft scheduled in 2023.
“The TA1 performers include a large defense contractor, a university research institute, and boutique AI firms, who will build upon the first-gen autonomous dog-fighting algorithms demonstrated in the AlphaDogfight Trials this past August,” said Air Force Col. Dan “Animal” Javorsek, program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office.
“We will be evaluating how well each performer is able to advance their algorithms to handle individual and team tactical aircraft behaviors, in addition to how well they are able to scale the capability from a local within-visual-range environment to the broader, more complex battlespace.”
With the selection of the TA1 algorithm developers, performers for the program’s four technical areas are all now on contract. Performers for TAs 2-4 were selected earlier this year. TA2 performer SoarTech is developing experimental methodology for modeling and measuring pilot trust in dog-fighting autonomy as well as novel human-machine interfaces (HMI).
TA3 performers Dynetics and Lockheed Martin are developing a data set and model for large force exercise data analytics to evaluate how well TA1 algorithms scale to larger, more complex multi-aircraft scenarios.
TA4 performer Calspan is supplying full-scale L-39 aircraft for Phase 3 of the program, with the goal of demonstrating TA1 autonomous dogfighting algorithms and TA2 HMIs on full-scale combat aircraft with a human safety pilot on board.
“In Phase 1, the different technical areas will be participating in AlphaDogfight Trials-like scrimmages of increasing realism as we mature the tech and continue to reduce risk for the transition to sub-scale unmanned aircraft less than a year away,” said Javorsek.