(Source : Wired – Will Knight) – AI Could Enable ‘Swarm Warfare’ for Tomorrow’s Fighter Jets

A Pentagon project is testing scenarios involving multiple aircraft that could change the dynamics of air combat.


Two F-16s engaged with an opposing F-16 at an altitude of 16,000 feet above rocky desert terrain. As the aircraft converged from opposite directions, the paired F-16s suddenly spun away from one another, forcing their foe to choose one to pursue. The F-16 that had been left alone then quickly changed course, maneuvering behind the enemy with textbook precision. A few seconds later, it launched a missile that destroyed the opposing jet before it could react.

The battle took place last month in a computer simulator. Here’s what made it special: all three aircraft were controlled by artificial intelligence algorithms. Those algorithms had learned how to react and perform aerial maneuvers partly through a state-of-the-art AI technique that involves testing different approaches thousands of times and seeing which work best.

The three-way battle offers a glimpse of how AI may control future fighter jets—and the likely challenges of deploying the technology.

The Pentagon is interested. Last March, its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invited teams to develop AI systems capable of controlling fighter jets in aerial combat situations that exceed human abilities, including scenarios involving several aircraft. AI could allow multiple aircraft to “swarm” together in ways that could change the dynamics of air combat.

“One of the things that really stands out is the ability to enable what you would call swarm warfare—rapidly overwhelming opponents,” says Chris Gentile, an ex–Air Force fighter pilot who is a program manager at EpiSci, a military contractor that is developing the technology for the contest, dubbed Air Combat Evolution. He says pilots may someday tell an AI program to scan an area or take care of one adversary while the pilot engages with another. The instructions would be the equivalent of “cover me, basically,” Gentile says. (…)

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Photo © video below, DARPA