Artificial Intelligence-driven Pilot Flawlessly Defeated F-16 Viper Pilots In DARPA’s AI Dogfighting Tournament

Artificial Intelligence-driven Pilot Flawlessly Defeated F-16 Viper Pilots In DARPA’s AI Dogfighting Tournament
Credits: DARPAtv / YouTube

Pentagon researchers pitted man against machine in an aerial dogfighting tournament to see if artificial intelligence algorithms can outsmart each other and a human F-16 pilot in combat.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s AlphaDogfight Trials hosted eight teams that have developed advanced AI that can simulate up-close combat maneuvers in flight. The program bolsters the technology needed for DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program, which aims to automate air-to-air combat and build human trust in machines that can act on their own.

A simulated F-16 Viper fighter jet with an artificial intelligence-driven “pilot” went undefeated in five rounds of mock air combat against an actual top Air Force fighter jockey.

Heron Systems, a company with just 30 employees, had beaten out Aurora Flight Sciences, EpiSys Science, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Lockheed Martin, Perspecta Labs, PhysicsAI, and SoarTech to claim the top spot in the last of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) AlphaDogfight Trials. This three-day event had started on Aug. 18, 2020.

You can watch the full live stream of the third day of the AlphaDogfight Trials below.

On the first day, all eight teams had spared against five different types of simulated adversaries that Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) had developed. This included one dubbed a “zombie,” with a flight profile similar to a cruise missile or a large drone, as well as ones that performed like fighter jets, such as the F-16 Viper, or heavy bombers, according to Air Force Magazine.

On Aug. 19, the teams ‘flew’ against each other, whittling down the number of competitors to four finalists – Aurora Flight Sciences, Heron Systems, Lockheed Martin, and PhysicsAI – who moved on to the last phase. Those four remaining teams then battled each other in semi-finals earlier today. 

Lockheed Martin beat Physics AI, while Heron Systems defeated Aurora Flight Sciences. Heron Systems pulled out a major upset over number two ranked Lockheed Martin before going on to face the actual human F-16 pilot, a Weapons School instructor pilot with the callsign Banger, in simulated combat.

This tournament was the third and final trial in a series of events that started in November 2019. That initial trial involved teams flying simulated F-15 Eagle fighter jets, while the second one, which took place in January of this year, shifted to using the F-16 as the representative aircraft. The teams taking part in the competition this week again used digital representations of the Viper.

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