A seasoned US Air Force pilot got his butt kicked by artificial intelligence (AI) when he went head to head with the system in five simulated dogfights.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been holding rounds of its AlphaDogfight competition since last November, during which eight teams were selected to create (AI) ‘agents’ that would be capable of simulating a real dogfight between fighters.
The fights, referred to as ‘within-visual-range air combat maneuvering’, kicked off last year and saw virtual pilots engage with one another in simulated combat environments. The second round of the competition was held in January, and it came to an end with the third and final round last week.
Thursday’s fights had the four finalist firms squaring off in a round robin, and when victor Heron Systems emerged victorious, it was time for the AI to take on a human. Heron is a small, female- and minority-owned company with offices in Maryland and Virginia.
The human pilot involved was reportedly a graduate of the Air Force’s Weapons Instructor Course who goes by the callsign ‘Banger’, but their experience in the field was no match for the AI, as it racked up the first four wins in quick succession.
According to , the AI system leveraged its incredibly precise aiming to diminish the ‘life’ of Banger’s aircraft in a series of looping merges. In the final dogfight, Banger changed approaches and swept his aircraft out away from Heron’s F-16, but the pilot still never managed to score a single hit.
The simulation was characterised as a ‘one-on-one combat scenario’ in which combatants fired ‘forward guns in a classic, WWII-style dogfight’.
While the pilot might not have been too impressed at losing to the robot, DARPA held the competition to try and improve drone aircraft systems as well as increase the level of trust between human pilots and AI systems.
Artificial intelligence is already a large part of many of our day-to-day lives, and in the future these kinds of artificial pilots will likely be flying alongside humans. With AI pilots in the air, humans can outsource some tasks to the systems to allow them to focus more of their bandwidth on situational awareness and the task at hand.
Ben Bell, Heron’s senior machine learning engineer, admitted to the human pilot was at a disadvantage as he was flying in a simulated environment using a VR headset, which doesn’t equate that well to a real fight in the sky.
DARPA officials said AI still has a long way to go before it would be ready to take the helm from Air Force pilots during combat, but the system’s achievement in the competition is a significant one.
You can watch the livestream of the final round here.