WASHINGTON DC – The US Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced its intention to develop the Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program, which aims to create a robotic pilot capable of relieving the human pilot in aerial combat.
When it comes to flying skills, close-combat aerial combat is the most complex, and was practiced during World War II. Today, with the development of long-range air-to-air missiles and the improvement of on-board radars, it has become quite rare. However, all modern jet fighters continue to have cannons, which are vital in this type of combat.
Over the last few decades, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has reached a level where it can assume some of the functions previously performed by humans. Although the aerial advantage is still on the pilot’s side, which is able to make quick decisions depending on the changing situation, DARPA intends to change the situation.
If AI is taught to have all the aviator’s flying skills, it will be able to lighten the pilot’s work and allow him to focus on the overall picture of the battle . In the long run, the autopilot will be able to react to the changing situation in aerial combat much faster than a person.
These automatic AI robots will be trained in the same way as pilots, acquiring knowledge beginning with simple maneuvers and ending with the most complex ones.
Program divided into three stages
In the first phase artificial intelligence will practice aerial combat elements in computational simulations, while in the second stage it will be introduced in small commercial drones that will demonstrate in the air the capabilities acquired by the robot in real time.
The third and final part of the program consists of the installation of AI in a combat aircraft. The pilot will have to watch in real time how the artificial intelligence handles the tasks assigned to it.
In each phase, increasingly complex targets will be placed before the AI, having to be trained first to shoot down cruise missiles, then to attack bombers, and finally to fight super-maneuverable fighters.
Future of military science?
In DARPA they emphasize that, although close air combat is unpredictable, the “behavior” of the aircraft is strictly limited by the tactical and technical characteristics and by the laws of aerodynamics, that is, the AI would easily learn the tactics taught.
However, the agency explains that the main objective of the program is not to create a robotic fighter, but to develop technologies that will strengthen the link between human and artificial intelligence in the future. According to DARPA experts, this symbiosis is the future of military science.
The ACE program will become part of the Western concept of “mosaic” warfare, which provides for the massive use of unmanned automated systems operating in close connection with humans.
As an example of this concept, DARPA Head of Strategic Technologies Office Timothy Grayson described the use of four drones in a single combat formation with a manhunt: a drone must block enemy radars, the second must carry weapons, the third must seek the targets and the fourth must act as bait for the antiaircraft defense.
The ACE program will allow it to focus on the overall picture of the battle, while the plane and drones assigned to it will independently perform individual tasks. In this way, the program will create a hierarchical structure in which higher-level cognitive functions will remain with the human being, while aircraft maneuvers and tactical combat details will be the responsibility of the autonomous systems.
Military application of artificial intelligence
In February of this year, the Pentagon described its first strategy of military application of artificial intelligence. The document provides for the acceleration of the use of such systems in areas such as the collection of information as well as prediction of technical problems in ships and aircraft.
As the text points out, the United States needs to shift to the use of artificial intelligence, as other countries, notably Russia and China, make significant investments in these projects for military purposes.
Earlier, it was learned that the Pentagon intends to do research into the use of artificial intelligence to solve combat tasks. According to the US military budget, fiscal year 2020 is expected to spend $927 million on developments in this area.