The Pentagon wants to test AI capabilities in aerial combat against humans

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For several years, different governments have been waging a war on the field of innovation, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI). Recently, the United States Department of Defense has raised a “very daring idea”: to fight two fighter planes, the first piloted by a human and the second completely autonomous managed by an AI.

Will artificial intelligence participate in future armed combat? The US Department of Defense appears to have taken a step in that direction, according to an article published by Air Force Magazine on June 4, 2020. According to Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, talks of a “Very daring idea”. The man in fact announced “a kind of aerial combat” between a fighter plane piloted by a human and a second directed by an autonomous AI. The objective? Test the warrior skills of an artificial intelligence.

Advances in artificial intelligence in the military are not a mirage. For example, the presentation of the latest Boeing military drone in May 2020. It is the Loyal Wingman (see below), an 11.7-meter-long drone with a range of 3,700 miles.

This device intended for the Australian Air Force is equipped with an artificial intelligence which makes it quasi-autonomous. In other words, a human operator gives the general direction to the AI and the latter then takes over. Other aircraft designed by Dassault (nEUROn), Kratos (XQ-58A Valkyrie) and China (Hongdu GJ-11) are already flying or will fly soon.

In any case, the ease with which these aircraft are exposed to the reflexes of human pilots is unknown. So, it looks like the United States Department of Defense wants to know more about it.

On the other hand, it could be that the way of fighting with autonomous devices is completely different. Lieutenant-General Jack Shanahan has indeed mentioned small swarms of autonomous drones. This form would then be preferred to the usual hunters whose wingspan is about twenty meters.

Finally, the idea of swarms of autonomous drones is not new. In March 2020, the US Army presented a new military strategy. There was talk of deploying container ships containing an army of Valkyrie XQ-58A drones. This plan aims to attack the enemy suddenly, an enemy which could also be China, whose presence in the Pacific Ocean seems problematic.