F-16 Video Shows First-Ever Manned F-16 Versus X-62A AI-piloted Aerial Dogfight

AThe U.S. military has said that aerial combat took place between a manned jet and an artificial intelligence-controlled modified F-16 in a groundbreaking test.

A heavily modified two-seat F-16D X-62A, which is also known as the Variable-stability In-flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA), went head-to-head with another F-16. The U.S. military has said that the tests have shown how machine learning might transform the way in which fighter aircraft are engaged in warfare.

Footage released on Wednesday by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) showed the two jets maneuvering through the skies around each other at up to 1,200 miles an hour. The self-flying aircraft performed defensive and offensive maneuvers, getting as close as 2,000 feet to the crewed aircraft.

It was all part of testing launched from the Edwards Air Force Base, Kern County, California, last September. The U.S. military did not reveal which F-16 came out on top in the within-visual-range aerial combat, commonly referred to as “dogfighting.”

The test was a major breakthrough in DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution, or “ACE” program, which has been developing autonomous combat systems with AI-controlled aircraft, since its inception in 2019, The Debrief reported.

“Things are progressing as well or faster than we had hoped,” Lt. Col. Ryan Hefron, ACE program manager for DARPA, told reporters on Friday, but “we can’t provide more detail.”

Frank Kendall, secretary of the U.S. Air Force, said in a video released by DARPA that the X-62A Team had shown how machine learning-based autonomy “could be safely used to fly dynamic combat maneuvers.”

In the same video, Hefron said that 2023 was the year “ACE made machine learning a reality in the air.”

The ACE program, started in December 2022, has conducted 21 test flights, resulting in over 100,000 lines of flight-critical software changes.

Kendall told a U.S. Senate hearing in April that he will “get a ride in an autonomously flown F-16 later this year,” in which there will be a pilot just watching as the technology works. “Hopefully, neither he nor I will be needed to fly the airplane,” Kendall said.

Bill Gray, the chief test pilot at the USAF Test Pilot School, said that the X-62 Ace Program was more than just about aerial combat.

“Dogfighting was the problem to solve so we could start testing autonomous artificial intelligent systems in the air,” Gray said in the video,” but the research “applies to every task you could give to an autonomous system.”

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