Combat drone to compete against piloted plane
The US Air Force will launch an advanced autonomous aircraft against an aircraft piloted in a challenge set for July 2021.
The project could eventually lead to an unmanned combat aircraft that uses artificial intelligence (AI).
Lieutenant Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, called the test “a bold and bold idea”.
Air Force magazine also described the development of autonomous fighter planes as a “big moonlight” for the military.
During a briefing organized by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Lt. Gen Shanahan said he exchanged e-mails last weekend with the project team leader, Captain Steve Rogers of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
He said that the AFRL team would attempt to field “an autonomous system to go against a human system and manned in a kind of air-to-air”.
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Shanahan said that at this stage, he may not use “a lot of artificial intelligence”, but over time humans and machines working together would make a “big difference”.
“Swarm” of drones
When it was announced in 2018, the project involved developing an unmanned fighter jet.
Asked by Air Force Magazine if this was still the target, Lieutenant Gen Shanahan said he didn’t know but added that AI-enabled systems could be used in other ways.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about a 65-foot wingspan, maybe it’s a small autonomous swarm capacity,” he explained.
Such swarms of drone aircraft could be deployed under the control of a pilot or operate autonomously. A U.S. military project called Skyborg will explore how a fighter jet pilot could control other drone aircraft, which would act as airborne aides.
These projects fuel an ongoing effort to explore ways of using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the capabilities of the US military.
But Shahahan said that legacy systems will not “go away overnight” and that it was about finding a balance and using artificial intelligence to make things more efficient.
“The last thing I would say is that carriers, fighters and satellites will disappear in the next two years,” he said.
Earlier this year, Elon Musk also took part in the discussion, telling the public at a military conference in Orlando, Florida that “the era of fighter jets has passed.”
Musk said that the competition of the F-35 fighter plane should be a drone, controlled remotely by a human being with maneuvers enhanced by autonomy.
“The F-35 would have no chance against it,” he tweeted.
Lieutenant Gen Shanahan said the military should absorb the best lessons from working on autonomous cars in the commercial sector.
But he warned that in the commercial sector, 10 companies that have spent $ 13-17 billion on research over the past decade had not yet developed a Tier 4 autonomous vehicle.
Level 4 vehicles are those that no longer require the attention of a human driver for safety reasons.
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