AI Flawlessly Beats US Air Force F-16 Pilot in Simulated Dogfight

The digital fight is part of the Air Force's research on AI for assistance in future aerial combat.
Fabienne Lang

An artificial intelligence (AI) 'pilot' won five consecutive rounds of a simulated air fight against a real Air Force pilot 'flying' an F-16 Viper fighter jet. 

The fight was part of wider AI research by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which began last year, and is part of the larger Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program. 

The point of the program is to see how AI can benefit the Air Force with future air combat.


What happened during the digital fight?

The three day event, known as AlphaDogfight, took place between 18 - 20 August.

The ultimate winner was Heron Systems, who beat three other teams (Lockheed Martin, Physics AI, Aurora Flight Sciences) during the semi-finals on August 19, and ultimately beating the human F-16 fighter jet pilot who goes by the callsign Banger. 

All the fights were simulated and the tournament, which started in November 2019 per the Drive, came to a close yesterday. 

All the teams that flew during this third combat used simulations of F-16 Vipers. 

What's left to be made clear is what the outcome of this tournament will mean for the ACE program. Per DARPA, the hope is to "energize and expand a base of AI developers," as was reported in the Drive.

"As we are kind of pushing the roles and responsibilities of pilots into this battle manager category, then what we’re essentially doing in this program is enabling the autonomy to be even more capable to handle that aircraft maneuver and these rapid, high-tempo decisions in a dynamic environment," Air Force Colonel Javorsek said to Air Force Magazine.

The AlphaDogfight tournament demonstrated how the Air Force and its surrounding programs are looking to incorporate more AI into their future combat efforts. The hope is to ultimately develop new ways to advance the Air Forces capabilities

All in all, it's impressive to see an AI system systematically beat a top U.S. Air Force pilot.

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